Tango, Health and Well-Being

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Probably every dancer looks for something slightly different from tango, and offers something a little different to it.  You might become hooked on the music, on that mysterious connection with a partner, or even on the shoes.  It might also help you stay fit.  For some of us, tango forms an essential component of well-being. 

Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of dance in general, and Argentine tango in particular, for people with particular health needs.  Teachers and dancers in Cambridge discovered for themselves the profound benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease.   Ellie McKenny, John Connatty and Kate Swindlehurst worked together to explore the impact of Argentine tango on Kate’s experience of Parkinson’s and recorded what they’d learnt, first in an article which was published in the Spring 2013 issue of Animated, the magazine of the Foundation for Community Dance.  You can read the article ‘Tango and Parkinson’s: the view from the dance floor’.

Kate says: We didn’t stop there, but went on to write a book about our experiences.  Dancing with Kate is still out there, looking for a publisher.  You can read more about the book on Kate’s website.

In March 2013 Kate was contacted by Marie Vejvodova, a broadcast journalism student who wished to use Kate’s story in a short documentary on dance and Parkinson’s, for her final MA assessment.  Both trailer and film were completed in the summer.  The trailer can be seen above. 

Cambridge Tango aims to offer a supportive environment for all.  If you are interested in tango, either as a beginner or a more experienced dancer, and have particular needs, we may be able to offer support that will enable you to enjoy a mainstream class.  And if you have any information or links that may be useful to others, do get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you.  

You can watch the 15  minute film by Marie Vejvodova here

 Further reading:

American research findings on Parkinson’s Disease

3 Responses

  1. Kate Swindlehurst
    | Reply

    A new study from the Washington team led by Gammon M. Earhart http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3557593/
    highlights the importance of social and community aspects of tango for those with Parkinson’s, in line with our findings. Their work has already shown that tango has more impact on the physical symptoms than other forms of dance. The new research reports that individuals with Parkinson’s who took part in a community-based Argentine tango course went on to take part in more activities, some new activities and some they’d stopped after diagnosis. The team’s recommendation: ‘Incorporating dance into the clinical management of PD may benefit participation and subsequently quality of life for this population.’ Interestingly, all individuals were required to dance in both leader and follower roles, and to change partners every ten minutes.

    A similar approach in adopting both leader and follower roles and in changing partners is used by the Houston Area Parkinson’s Society http://www.hapsonline.org/images/tango.pdf They have been teaching tango for five years and last year added a new beginners class. They also host a regular ‘Milonga of the Open Heart’. They sound like a nice bunch!

    How’s your German? A recent article from Deutschlandradio http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/wissenschaft/1601437/ (yes, in German, although Google translate makes some sort of sense of it) focuses on a range of illnesses including Parkinson’s, and the power of Argentine tango not just to promote health but to help those on medication to reduce their dose. Tango teacher Ilias Oikonomou and Barbara Schultz, head of physiotherapy in Alsterdorf, Hamburg have joined forces to run this health-centre based ‘integrative’ project, where the emphasis is on the dance and communication between the dancers, rather than who has what; indeed, the classes cater for all comers, including those with no illness. Barbara Schultz doesn’t like the term ‘therapy’, insisting that the class should be ‘a completely normal situation – that’s what helps these people most’.

    This concurs exactly with my feelings. During last weekend’s Tangamente Late, I had one of those moments: between dances, looking around at dancers chatting in the lamplight, listening to the start of the next song and beginning to move – how amazing, to be part of all this! I’m pretty sure that signs of my Parkinson’s don’t always disappear when I’m dancing, as they do for Albert Schultz in Alsterdorf, but I want to keep dancing in this mixed community for as long as I can. So my enthusiasm for a new Cambridge initiative under the Dance for Parkinson’s banner is, I’m afraid, limited. This nationwide network certainly has provided exciting therapeutic opportunities for many and local organiser Faye Chadwick (contact her at foc24@cam.ac.uk if you’re interested, though there’s no tango involved) describes her experience of Dance for Parkinson’s so far as ‘truly uplifting and inspiring’. But the approach of tailoring classes ‘specially suited to their needs and limitations’ doesn’t sit comfortably with me: isn’t the complexity and challenge of tango an integral part of the medicine?

    (all links thanks to Robert Shields)

  2. Robert
    | Reply

    I agree with Kate-I don’t like the idea of ghettoizing those with PD or other “illnesses” into separate groups-its rather like the old idea of separate education for those with some sort of disablement-my view is that as far as possible they should be integrated into the main stream-and it is our job to welcome them into our community

  3. Robert
    | Reply

    I am interested that the tango classes for those with PD teach leader and follower roles equally to all-this is so that participants spend equal time walking forward and backwards. It may be a bit radical-but would this be an idea for all the classes? There are quite a few women who lead on occasion-but no men who follow; having danced as a follower I enjoyed an epiphany-it’s something men should do more often-perhaps it should be integrated into Cambridge teaching? Views?

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