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A Dance for Life

by Kalia KelmensonNovember 03, 2015
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Tango is often thought of as a sultry dance for the young and flexible. New research shows that this passionate form of movement offers mighty benefits for all ages—backbending not required.

If you have ever met anyone who dances tango, you know how passionate they are about the dance. I’ve known friends who have taken an introductory class for kicks, and ended up completely hooked, spending three or four nights a week immersed in the sensuous music and honing the steps.

Dr. Patricia McKinley, working with a team of researchers at McGill University, has devoted herself to studying the rehabilitative effects of different types of dance. Recent research from these studies show the effects of Argentine tango on populations who might not fit the mold of your typical tango dancer.

Dr. McKinley has found that tango helps patients with mild to moderate depression. She found that when compared to standard aerobic exercise classes and mindfulness training, tango showed the strongest response (though all groups showed some response), as measured by lower levels of depression and less ruminating. Tango also showed the highest rate of participants who kept doing the activity after the study was over.

McKinely suggests that this continued participation in tango is because it induces a state of ‘flow.’ Flow is described as a state of total engagement in what you are doing. She believes tango offers this to its participants because there is not an exact sequence of steps that must be followed. Instead, dancers must be completely attuned to their partner, themselves and the music so that they are able to improvise with the steps that they know. The intricacy of the dance steps can always be improved, so there is always the possibility to increase the challenge of the dance. This increasing challenge along with ability has the potential to keep the dancer in a state of flow and mindfulness.

Tango can also offer hope to people with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and those with equilibrium problems. McKinley qualifies that doing tango may not cure these issues,  but will “help keep them on an even keel, and will keep them from declining more.” She says that often patients with orthopedic or neurologic problems have a tendency to become inactive, only moving when they go to physical therapy. Tango, on the other hand, offers a highly pleasurable way to stay active, and that most participants want to keep dancing forever because it enhances their entire sense of well-being. It also enhances their social life, keeping them from withdrawing and becoming isolated in their lives.

With an emphasis on strong posture and continuous movement, Argentine tango offers participants a fun and engaging way to stay active, social, and engaged. Perhaps it’s time to hit the dance floor.

Kalia Kelmenson

Kalia Kelmenson founded Maui Mind and Body to support women's health. She is the creator of Core Strength Balance and Mind Body Booty Camp and is the editorial director at Spirituality & Health. Kalia explores the fascinating intersection of fitness and mind-body health. Find inspiration for your movement practice from research and stories that are emerging from this intriguing field.

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