There are so many reasons why people all over the world choose to start dancing tango every day. For many of us, it happens because we see it somewhere and are fascinated by it and think: I want to be able to move like this as well. Some of us already have a dancing background and we welcome the new challenge the tango offers to us. Some of us just stumble into the world of tango on the search for a nice free time activity, not seldom with our life partners.
In the following article, however, we would like to talk about the many maybe not so obvious ways in which Tango Argentino can improve and/or enrich our lives.
The therapeutic virtues of tango have been studied for over a decade.
If you have emotional baggage or trauma (and who doesn’t?), tango will ask you to unpack it, evaluate it, and perhaps send some of it to the emotional Goodwill.
Dancing around life’s inevitable difficulties while retaining mental and emotional balance can require some fancy footwork.
It’s hard to feel blue while you’re doing the tango!
Tango as a therapy is used to improve natural resilience, to gain self-esteem and self-confidence and to treat stress, anxiety, depression, heart disorders, symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Tango is also used as couples therapy, to help rebuild the couple’s relationship.
In a nutshell, tango is recognized as an innovative therapy in various fields of physical and mental health.
Let’s see more in detail some of the tango benefits.
The 4 M’s of Tango, Music / Movement / eMbrace / Mindfulness, are a natural way for the human race to get over tragedies. Because life is often tragic, people are prone to a bout of crippling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes the disorder never is fully treated. Tragedies harm animals psychologically but because we human beings are the over-thinking animal, we are more susceptible to enduring psychological disability. As a result, we need all four M’s to get over Post Traumatic symptoms, whether mild or disabling.
- Music. If we lose music, we lose our humanity. Music allows our minds to be more resilient with all the tragedies and emotional pain we endure on this planet and in a lifetime. Music creates a way to survive after tragedies for us over-thinking animals.
- Movement. If we don’t move, we lose our minds. Even if we are listening to music, our brain is automatically moving our bodies – even in our apparent stillness. Movement can continue with meditative walking or small motor movements, such as with art and hobbies.
- eMbrace. Children and adults need physical touch or we perish. Adults learn how to take care of their touch-needs themselves, such as in hygiene, hair brushing, and sexual self-pleasure. Take away touch and people perish at any age. Embrace is the best balm for the tragedy of neglect.
- Mindfulness. The fourth M, “mindfulness,” is actually “mind-bodyfulness.” The purpose of mindfulness is paradoxically to not be in your mind but get into your body and to be attentive to your partner and environ. Mindfulness / Bodyfulness allows us to get into a space of “flow.” Without mindfulness life becomes a whirlwind of events and it seems that life is passing us by. Mindful, attentive awareness brings to human experiences which do not fade but are added to a matrix of the experiential reality of timelessness. These experiences follow us everywhere, something like a first kiss, which stays with us for a lifetime.
Self-esteem and self-confidence
Tango is a dance that positively reinforces self-esteem and self-confidence.
Tango offers the opportunity to go out, to socialize and to forget one’s problems for a while. The need to synchronize with another person has a positive impact on morale.
Tango can be quite a challenge, especially in the beginning. Not only it asks us to change habits about how to move our bodies, but also we need to do this in sync with another person. Transferring our normal way of walking as one body with two legs into walking as one body with four legs makes us work on our balance, posture and listening of the other. But this is also the reason why it is all the more rewarding once we succeed for the first times – and then we want to know more. The constant loop of challenge, effort, overcome and success, together with the truly visible and tangible positive changes in how we move and carry ourselves, is highly motivating. And if we can see this progress not only in ourselves, but also in our partners and the way we communicate with them, the gain is doubled. After all, if we achieve something through hard work, it makes us feel happy.
Thanks to that, people who initially join a tango class with low self-esteem and self-confidence can, after few classes, be observed to become different personalities once they enter a room in which tango is danced – confident, social, curious and open to make new contacts. And then they carry over this behavior into their everyday life.
Researches have shown that the tango is effective in improving everything from balance to self-esteem to quality of life, says Rosa Pinniger, a PhD candidate and psychologist at the University of New England in Australia.
Stress, anxiety, depression
One of the characteristics of tango is the embrace, a way to hold to another person, which is not as superficial as in other dances.
According to Dr. Trossero, one of the pioneers of tango therapy, the embrace has a positive effect against symptoms caused by excessive stress. It provides a feeling of well-being and security, a key aspect which has therapeutic virtues. Studies in both Germany and at the University of New England, Australia, found that tango lowers levels of stress hormones and significantly lowers levels of depression. It, furthermore, results in tranquility and a sense of happiness, which contribute to the prevention of disorders caused by stress, such as hypertension, heart attacks, etc.
In a related study, it was found that dancing with a partner to music has more positive effects than dancing alone or moving with a partner without music. This study indicates short term positive emotional effects from dancing, particularly dancing the tango.
According to Rosa Pinniger, learning tango requires you to focus attention and be fully present in the moment, much like the practice of mindfulness. Tango is unique in that you must maintain constant awareness and connection with your partner. Pinniger believes that this mindful focus can switch off the negative thought patterns associated with stress and depression.
In a study published in the journal Music and Medicine, academics in Australia have shown that dancing the tango has significant health benefits for people experiencing mood disorders. Participants showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Satisfaction with life and self-efficacy were significantly increased.
Mindfulness and meditation have been widely studied for their stress reduction and mental health benefits. However, meditation does not appeal to everyone.
Research results suggest that tango dance is an innovative and promising approach, as effective as mindfulness meditation in reducing levels of self-reported depression. The tango may be a useful adjunct to mindfulness practice or may be a way to attain mindfulness for those who are not interested in traditional meditation practices.
Tango requires ‘a strong connection’ with a partner, synchronisation and improvisation. This activity helps to focus on the present moment and mentally switch off from the feelings of stress and distress.
In tango therapy a lot of emphasis is also put on walking. Aerobic activities are recommended for people with heart problems, hypertension or diabetes. For these people, tango is a form of sports therapy. In Buenos Aires, in some hospitals specialized in the treatment of heart diseases, free tango classes and milongas with orchestra are organized for patients.
The energy expended by a person dancing tango during 30 minutes is equivalent to that spent walking on a treadmill. Dancing milonga for 30 minutes will make you consume as much energy as if you were running on it. The positive side of tango is that you walk with a partner and among friends. So people are less likely to give up and train more regularly.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease was discovered as recently as 2012. Patients with this disease lose control of their bodies, their hands and feet tremble, their muscles remain tense the expression of their face freezes, their voice falters. The disease is also accompanied by depression. Tango therapy helps relieve all these symptoms.
Patients who practice tango therapy are first asked to perform warm-up movements so that the rigidity of their muscles and their body tremors can give way to fluid motion. Then they start dancing with a companion or a member of their family. The quality of the embrace doesn’t matter at that stage, the key is that the patient feels his body axis and the weight transfers. He’s then able to prevent any loss of balance and can react instantly. Furthermore, by synchronizing with a dance partner, patients get to walk. For people who find it hard to move on their own, tango is a safer sports therapy because they don’t walk alone.
People with Parkinson’s disease also have troubles in coordinating more than two or three movements, which is often required in daily life. Unlike other therapies based on dance, using large movements, tango requires movements of reduced amplitude, but occurring in different parts of the body. In tango therapy, people have to do different little movements at the same time, just as in the everyday life, but with the support of music.
While dancing tango, patients with Alzheimer’s disease have to remember and execute steps. The practice of tango also has a positive impact on their morale, which is in turn good for their well-being as the symptoms are weaker when patients feel well. The relationship based on trust, which is established between the patient and the accompanying dancer, also has a beneficial effect.
The relationship build between two tango dancers is one of trust, that’s why tango is also used to solve conflict situations within couples.
The interaction of a man and a woman dancing tango reflects the ideal relationship partners should have in life: the woman, while walking backwards, must trust her partner. The man must pay attention to the woman he dances with. Both remain independent, but must respect each other and be able to feel their respective movements.
“He’s doing it wrong again!” “Tell her I don’t want her to criticize my dancing anymore!” “Why does s/he always blame mistakes on me?”. Part of learning to dance tango is learning to give gentle feedback only when asked. This applies to dance partners, life partners, and to random people you dance with once and never see again.
Tango requires both dancers to entrust themselves to a new experience in which both people are impacted by the actions of the other person. The dance is done close together, touching bodies. For many people, dancing like that requires a level of trust rarely seen in modern life. Tango seems to invade this space, asking us to depend on the other person and merge into the couple, losing our individuality.
Tango actually requires the dancer to maintain the individual self and care for the self, in order to dance well as a team. However, it takes a deep level of trust to allow another person that close. To try something new, something complex, with another person–let alone in front of other people–brings up all of our fears about making a fool of ourselves. Trust is a big issue for many people coming to tango.
Enjoying how you feel dancing is an enjoyment of the senses. Tango is all about enjoying how the body feels when it is moving to music, expressing itself, and interacting with other people’s bodies.
If you have intimacy issues, tango really pushes your buttons.
On the other hand, you learn that you can be intimate and sensual on a non-sexual level that you may not have found before. At its best, tango allows you to connect more closely with your fellow human beings in a deeply profound manner.
Learning to love your body
So many of us don’t like our bodies! To dance and become aware of the shape of our body on a deeper level, to find how it works (or struggles) to dance, can push a lot of buttons about not feeling good about body issues.
The body awareness that tango teaches is invaluable but not easily built. On the way, you have to learn to listen to your body and hear what it is saying. This allows you to care for your body, improves your balance and alignment, and retrains to move in a healthy, pain-free way.
When you really feel your body and live in your body, you have to accept how it is shaped and how it works.
Tango is a 50-50 dance. Both people need to do half of the work for it to function. The leader does make some decisions for the couple, but the follower has veto power. The follower can also inspire the leader to change the plan for the next move; the speed of a move; the flavor of the dance. In short, the follower is the motor of the dance. No motor, no dance.
Yes, if a man is leading and a woman is following, buttons about traditional roles will be pushed. However, try to reserve judgment about what it looks like tango is, and see what you can make of tango for yourself.
Besides, the terms leader and follower are gender neutral – in a tango couple, there can be a woman leading and a man following, and also two women or two men dancing together. But what tango teaches you is that it works best if the roles are set clearly and both partners do their part to make the dance together truly complete.
You can let yourself be led or build your dance around your follower’s needs. It’s a conversation, a dialogue, not a monologue.