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Passionate and precise, the Tango is also therapeutic

Scientists in the United States have confirmed what researchers around the world have suspected for some time: “Slow…slow…quick-quick-slow,” the basic steps to the dance pattern known as the Tango, are good for your mental and physical health.

At the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Gammon Earhart, a professor of physical therapy, found that tango dancing in patientswith Parkinson Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, improved their motor symptoms and balance over a 2-year period. Parkinson’s patients have trouble walking and especially turning while walking.

“Participation in community-based dance classes over 2 years was associated with improvements in motor and nonmotor symptom severity, performance on activities of daily living, and balance in a small group of people with PD,” the study’s authors noted in the September 5 online edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. “This is noteworthy given the progressive nature of PD and the fact that the control group declined on some outcome measures over 2 years.”

This is not the first time the Tango has made headlines.

In 2005 a study out of McGill University in Montreal found that after 10 weeks elderly tango dancers showed boosts in everything from self-esteem and multi-tasking to memory and motor coordination.

In 2009 patients in Buenos Aires’ largest psychiatric hospital took part in regular tango sessions where they danced with doctors and nurses.

“Treatment is not just about therapy and drugs, it’s about giving them a nice time to enjoy themselves,” Trinidad Cocha, a psychologist who taught the weekly tango class at the hospital told reporters at the time. “They relax and all the labels disappear. We’re not doctors, nurses, musicians or patients. We’re just tango dancers.”

The therapeutic effects of tango span Alzheimer’s patients, where it helps memory, to couples undergoing counseling, where the tango’s tight embrace and backward walk require not only intimacy but communication and trust between the dance partners.

“With tango, you have the advantage of having many different styles of dancing to fit each specific patient,” Martin Sotelano, founder of the International Association of Tango Therapy, told Reuters in 2009. “You focus on the embrace and communication for couples counseling; the eight basic steps of tango for Alzheimer’s; and the tango walk that requires so much grace and rigidity can help a patient with Parkinson’s.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Amy Ellis Nutt

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