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Tango as therapy

tango terapia e abbraccio
Now many European therapists, as well as in Argentina, see the dance as a possible therapy tool.
This is not only for people with relationship problems, but also for people with diseases such as Parkinson and Alzheimer to depression, or simply to improve the quality of life of elderly or lonely.
Tango especially, for its endless nuances of the music and for his complex dance technique, as well as for its perculiare intimacy of “connection” between the dancers, appears to be particularly appropriate for medical treatment, so that was even coined the term Tangotherapy.

For a basic bibliography you can see “Books“.

Strictly Leadership
Last Friday I attended an Argentine tango social dance known as a milonga. I had a lovely evening and some great dances, but what struck me, as I made my way home from the dance, were the parallels between relationships played out on the dance floor and those found in the business world. You might think that it’s quite a stretch but I feel it’s worth exploring.
Tango is a dance that when danced socially progresses around the room which means that everyone has to keep moving forward otherwise the whole dance floor grinds to a halt. In the tango world, as in the business world, there are leaders and there are followers. The leader is very much in control of negotiating the dance floor, which is often very busy, and they have a certain responsibility to keep their follower and the other dancers safe from being bumped and from the flying feet. The follower is generally moving backwards and unable to see the direction that the leader is taking them in, so there has to be some trust on their part. This places the leader in a privelaged position of being able to see what lies ahead and to understand the possibilities for the dance. They will make a decision about where there is space to move to and what can be achieved in terms of the dance within that space. There are times when advancing is not possible and the leader has to show restraint until they see the opportunity to move forward. If the leader is inexperienced or just reckless and charges ahead regardless, it is usually the follower that suffers, although a consequence might be that the dance ends abruptly and a potential dance relationship flounders.
In the business world leaders are generally making the decisions about the direction and strategy for their organisation and followers often have to trust in their leaders judgement. The trust required between leaders and followers to run a successful business is as important as it is to dance an enjoyable tango. Leading an organisation in the wrong direction could get bumpy and ultimately be disastrous, and moving the business ahead too fast could overstretch it and, like tango, end up with followers nursing some bruises and just possibly walking away in annoyance and frustration. In return for their follower’s trust it is vitally important that leaders give consideration to their needs. Respecting one’s followers, attempting to keep them safe and accepting a responsibility towards them should provide a good solid frame that followers are then able to rely on and place their trust in.
Next time I’ll consider communication in tango and business.
10 Surprising Benefits of Tango You Probably Had No Idea About
Nine months ago I started taking Argentine tango classes.
Two months ago I took on the role of assisting my tango teacher.
From my experience so far as a student and as a teaching tango partner, I discovered some very interesting, sometimes surprising benefits of practicing tango.
Before getting there, let me clarify the type of tango I am talking about.
It’s not the competition, sport like tango. It’s not the rose in the teeth and handle the woman like she’s furniture cliches type of tango.
The tango I am talking about here, is a connection based one.
It is one where both partners are co-creating the dance, in spite of the names of “leader” and “follower”.
One where the embrace is used only for the pleasure of it and not to handle your partner.
And it is one where you relax, have fun and enjoy the ride!
To make things simpler I’ve divided the benefits into four categories: body, mind, emotions, social/relationships.

Body level:

1. Sensitivity and Body Awareness

Like with every new skill you are trying to develop, in the beginning you’ll probably feel clumsy. In time, with practice, you’ll become more aware of the whole of your body.
You will notice you have muscles you had never really put to work before.
You’ll learn to dissociate in between your upper and lower body.
This means being able to maintain the upper body relaxed and straight while your legs are doing some crazy, sexy moves.

2. Posture, Flexibility, and Relaxation

In tango is important to have an elegant, straight but relaxed posture.
In the beginning the mistake is to get tensed and become really stiff.
In time, by increasing your awareness you start to relax.
And when you relax everything goes smoother. Your sensitivity increases with relaxation so you are more receptive to your partner.

Emotions level:

3. Opening of the Heart Center. Ability to Connect from the Heart with Many Different Persons

In Argentine tango you learn to connect from the heart. To pass on the message, the leader doesn’t use his hands, like in salsa.
He uses his chest and his whole body. In order to give and receive the feed-back you need to be open and relaxed.
In tango is important to dance with as many partners as possible. That is because each person has a unique way of “talking” the tango language.
So you will need to adjust and connect in as many different ways as partners. In time, you will notice that your connectivity skills have improved a lot.

Mind level:

4. Being in a State of Active Meditation. Being Present and Mindful

To be able to really connect and feel what your partner is “telling”, you need to be 100% present every moment.
You can’t have a chat and dance tango.
As a woman, if you close your eyes while dancing you will enter a meditation like state.
I am not good at practicing still, sitting position meditation. Tango has given me the gift of being in meditation while dancing.
It’s a wonderful place to be in, you need to experience it to understand what I am talking about.

5. Spontaneity and Creativity Through Improvisation

Tango is all about improvisation. There are no fixed sequences to follow.
Once you learn the basic steps and principles you start using them as you like.
The man is leading and deciding what he will do next based on his creativity, inspiration and the response and contribution he receives from his partner.
It is a powerful boost for your creativity and spontaneity muscles, both for men and women.

Social/relationships level

6. Expansion of the Social Circle and Enriched Social Life

The most important way of learning and practicing tango after you start taking the classes, is by going to milonga parties and practices.
A practice is a place where you go with a partner or by yourself in order to apply what you have learned in the class. It’s a relaxed, non-formal environment, a great way to meet new people and learn together.
A milonga is a tango party. For this one you usually need to dress up, you can’t go to a milonga in your regular clothes.
This is a more formal environment, with specific rules that you learn about during your tango classes.
You should know about how you ask someone to dance, how you use the dance floor and a few more details before attending a milonga.
This is a great way to meet new people, dance, socialize, have a drink and a chat. The music is usually not very loud so you can easily have conversations while resting in between dances.

7. Men Become More Men

By assuming the leader role, men become more grounded in their male energy.
In our modern day society we assist to reversed gender roles: women becoming more masculine, and men more feminine.
This situation has it’s positive sides and negative sides. This is not the place where to talk about this controversial, politically correct gender issues.
However, on an energetic, primal level, I’ve noticed that what makes a couple function naturally well, in tango and in life, is the fact that each partner is honoring his role.
That means the men honoring their male energy, the women honoring and embracing their female energy. And tango offers a wonderful way of putting things back in their natural state.
Among other things, being a good leader means knowing what you do and what you are going to do three steps ahead.
And also paying attention to your partner, to the music and to other couples on the dance floor so you do not bump into each other.
Sounds like a lot to handle but it becomes natural in time. Remember when you started driving? The same happens in tango.

8. Women Become More Women

Assuming the follower role, a woman is embracing her feminine traits like receptivity and sensitivity.
For many independent, corporate type women, this is a difficult task.
I have many friends who have very good dancing abilities but they refuse to learn tango because they are stuck into the “I don’t need a man to show me what to do” feminist ideas.
Tango is a wonderful way for women to become more feminine and more sensual.
From my experience so far I’ve noticed I became more receptive and more sensual.
I’ve also become more open to expressing my femininity and sexuality through more feminine sexy clothes and shoes. Some women are already doing this greatly.
But for those who are not yet so comfortable doing this, tango is a great incentive and environment to learn that.

9. You Develop Your Relationship Skills

I’ve noticed you can have a pretty good idea about how things are working in a couple by watching them when they start learning tango.
One of the first benefits they get is that they learn to stop blaming the partner for any “mistakes”. In time they learn how to work together to create a beautiful dance.
You learn to give each other space.
You learn to trust and follow your partner’s lead and feed-back without criticizing even if it might be quite different from what you thought you would receive.
You learn to smile and get over the occasional bumps, clashes, stepping on toes inherent in the beginning.
You learn to integrate a “mistake” and make it look like a natural part of the dance.

10. Having Loads of Fun

Oh, yeah! Dancing is fun. It should be fun.
If you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?
So when you get all to serious about it, remember to smile and even laugh at yourself. It helps you relax and enjoy it more.
After all, that’s the main reason you are doing this: to enjoy and have fun!


How dancing boosts brain cells and lifelong learning

There’s a hidden value to dancing.

Merely art? Recreation? Dance may be the Cinderella of education. About 400 studies related to interdisciplinary 21st-century neuroscience lead to the discovery that there is a hidden value to dance education for young and old alike.
Dance is a language of physical exercise that sparks new brain cells (neurogenesis) and their connections that are responsible for acquiring knowledge and thinking. Dancing makes some neurons nimble so that they readily wire into the neural network. Neural plasticity is the brain’s remarkable abil­ity to change through­out life. As a septuagenarian, I’m dancing: flamenco, belly dance, jazz, and salsa!
Dance stimulates the release of the brain-derived protein neurotropic factor that promotes the growth, maintenance and plasticity of neurons necessary for learning and memory. And dance is a means to help us improve mood and cope with stress that can motivate or interfere with learning. Influenced by body senses, environment and culture, the brain “choreographs” dance and more.
The mysterious brain, probably the most complex living system in the world, hides from our sight the wondrously complex operations that underlie the feat of dance. I was surprised to witness 6,800 people fill a room at a Society for Neuroscience annual meeting to hear renowned choreographer Mark Morris field questions about creativity and the process and production of dance. Although there are many secrets to unravel about the power of the brain and dance, advances in technology, such as brain scanning techniques/experiments of dancers, dance-makers, and dance-viewers, reveal to us that dance activity registers in regions of the brain responsible for cognition.
The brain is comprised of about 100 billion electrically active cells (neurons), each connected to approximately tens of thousands of its neighbors at perhaps 100 trillion synapses (the spaces between neurons where information transfers occur between the senders and receivers). These atoms of thought relay information through voltage spikes that convert into chemical signals to bridge the gap to other neurons. All thought, movement and sensation emanate from electrical impulses coursing through the brain’s interconnected neurons. When they fire together they connect and reconnect, and the connections between them grow stronger in impacting our perception, comprehension and different kinds of memory.
If a pattern is repeated, the associ­ated group of neurons fire together resulting in a new memory, its consolidation and ease of retrieving it. Neurons can improve intellect, memory and certain kinds of learning if they join the existing neural networks instead of rattling aimlessly around in the brain for a while before dying.
Scientists have turned to dancers creating, doing and watching, primarily not to improve dance teaching, learning and performance. Rather the researchers find dance is a rich and multifaceted source to try to understand how the brain coordinates the body to perform complex, precise movements that express emotion and convey meaning. Dancers possess an extraordinary skill set—coordination of limbs, posture, balance, gesture, facial expression, perception, and action in sequences that create meaning in time, space, and with effort. Learning a dance genre requires discipline, persistence, engagement, auditory sensibility, visual acuity, memory, and imagination. Studies explore how dancers’ brains can illuminate the relationship between experience and observation.
As a method of conveying ideas and emotions with or without recourse to sound, the language of dance draws upon similar places and education processes in the brain as verbal language. Dance feeds the brain in the process of communication. The brain does mind and consciousness, a state of mind with agency. Through dance, a person can learn about herself, including sexual, gender, ethnic, regional, national, and career identities.
We acquire knowledge and develop cognitively because dance bulks up the brain. Consequently, dance as an art in education is a good investment in well-being. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio points out, “Learning and creating memory are simply the process of chiseling, modeling, shaping, doing, and redoing our individual brain wiring diagrams.” The “brain that dances” is changed by it.
Brain research has given us many insights for dance and other kinds of education. Illustratively, we can apply what psycholinguists have found about learning a second or third verbal language to learning more than one nonverbal language—that is, another dance vocabulary (gesture and locomotion) and grammar (ways movements are put together), and meaning. Children who grow up multilingual have greater brain plasticity and multitask more easily. Learning a second or third language uses parts of the brain that knowing only one’s mother tongue doesn’t. Students who learn more than one dance language not only are giving their brains and bodies a workout, they are also increasing their resources for creative dance-making.
A goal in teaching is to enhance procedural learning; that is, how to do something. In traditional approaches (blocked), the learner is encouraged to focus on mastering a particular dance movement before moving on to new problems. By comparison, varied practice (interleaving) that includes frequent changes of task so that the performer is constantly confronting novel components of the to-be-learned information is more effective. If dance education has such brain-enhancing potential to promote cognitive growth, how can it be offered? Multiple venues range from arts magnet schools and academies to dance in regular schools K–12 and universities, studios, and community and recreation centers.
Venues may have their own dance faculty. Performing arts organizations, nonprofit operations and dance companies offer dance education, often as partners with academic schools. Illustrative dance programs, some established in the last century but continuing to develop, show how dance education promotes skills for academe, citizenship, and the workplace. Obviously curricula and assessment vary. Dance may be a distinct per­forming art discipline with in-depth sequential exploration of a coherent body of knowledge guided by highly qualified dance teachers. Dance may also be a liberal art, complementary to or part of another subject. Brief introductions to dance may fill gaps in school curricula. Historical serendipity, leadership, teacher interest, parent involvement, and economic resources affect how youngsters experience dance.
Society privileges mental capacity—mind over matter and emotion. Talking, writing and numbers are the media of knowledge. However, we now know that dance is a language, brain-driven art, and also a creative knowledge base for learning subjects other than dance. In short, dance is a way of thinking, translating, interpreting, communicating, feeling, moving, and creat­ing. As multimedia communication that generates new brain cells and their connections, dance at any age enriches our cognitive, emotional, and physical development beyond dance to most facets of life.

Judith Lynne Hanna is author of “Dancing to Learn: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement” (2015). She is a former California-certified social studies and English teacher who has taught dance. Learn more at

Tango dancing greatly improves quality of life for older people, researchers say
“If you can walk you can tango,” or so says the researcher behind a Houston-based study trying to prove that, even if they appear frail, seniors can benefit greatly with the synchronized – and touchy – Argentinian dance.
Martina Gallagher, assistant professor at the University of Texas’ Health Science Center School of Nursing and an avid tango student, says her interest in conducting this research was sparked when she visited a relative who lives in an assisted living facility.
“I went to see my aunt who is elderly and has Alzheimer’s disease and noticed that her body position was one of hugging herself,” said Gallagher to Fox News Latino. “In tango there is a move, a way you dance and we call it the embrace. Tango is basically dancing in a hug,” she added.

“What this research intends to prove is that tango is a feasible way of engaging seniors in a physical activity in an enjoyable way, and that they can do it for a lifetime,” she added.
The combination of physical contact, motion and balance that occurs while dancing tango was precisely what prompted Gallagher to propose the research to her colleague Dr. Sabrina Pickens.
For Pickens, who specializes in geriatric research, it is apparent that the implementation of this type of dance could bring not just physical but also emotional benefits to the elderly.
“With tango, I believe it can improve their balance and their range of motion,” she said. “As far as cognition, I believe it can improve if they have depression, release some of those symptoms and improve their own quality of life.”
Could the physical proximity tango is known for, be too intimidating for the elderly? “Not at all,” says Pickens. “Studies have shown that older adults in assisted living facilities welcome physical touch. That’s in part because their immediate family usually lives far away and the physical touch they are exposed to is limited.”
For now, Gallagher and Pickens are focused on securing the funds to conduct the study — they are planning to submit grants proposal to various organizations by the end of this year. In the meantime, they are conducting assessments with seniors and staff in assisted living facilities while engaging their nursing students.
“What tango has done for me is that I have learned a lot about the role of following a leader and the role of the follower. The role of the follower is actually very important,” said Gallagher, who estimates the study will take approximately six months.
“We hope that based on our preliminary studies we can implement tango lessons throughout the United States and different assisted living facilities and perhaps even nursing homes,” she said.

Love is tango and tango is love! Yes, it is a dance, yet so much more then just any dance. It is an ongoing conversation between two souls, two hearts and two bodies. It is a sacred dance we enter in with one another, where both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ feel fully expressed and honored.

Ilona Glinarsky, Tango instructor and life coach


Dancer Ego Syndrome, and How To Keep Yourself Protected
Generally speaking: the stronger a dancer gets, the larger their ego becomes. Very often, the speed of ego expansion surpasses their actual dance growth. As the ego grows, it’s also a potential side-effect that the speed of dance growth will slow, and that they will become a toxic dance presence.
Who is at Risk?

All dancers are at risk of developing Dance Ego Syndrome, but you may be at an elevated risk if you fall into one of the following categories:

Have been dancing more than 1 year
Are no longer taking dance classes
Are popular with dancers of the opposite or same gender
Are frequently told you “look good” by other dancers
Have a high dance ambition level
Are considered to be a fast learner, or ‘naturally talented’
Got the bulk of your instruction through YouTube, or other video devices
Are considered physically attractive to the other dancers in your dance scene

Of course, falling into a category also does not guarantee that a dancer will develop DES, but the dancer must watch their ego carefully.
What are the Symptoms of Dance Ego Syndrome?

  • Beginning to teach before ready, or before being trained by a professional
  • Teaching and failing to upkeep professional development
  • Taking advanced classes before ready, and focusing on patterns over technique
  • Being overly critical of other dancers, and unable to accept constructive criticism of their own dancing
  • Blaming others for a “bad dance” and/or being unable to have fun with a lower level dancer
  • Feeling superior in a class setting
  • Not taking advantage of opportunities to better their dance

How can a Dancer Prevent or Heal Dance Ego Syndrome?
By taking advantage of every opportunity to learn.

Never feel you are “too advanced” for a basic class, or that you are so competent you will get nothing out of attending a workshop on safety or technique. This is a key to stagnation in dance.

Recently, my partner and I taught a free Safety Workshop for our community. Online, the entire community was readily sharing/re-posting and commenting on what a great initiative was, and we had a great turnout.

But… missing were some of the people in the community who were very vocal about the workshop online, and/or those who needed it most. Many of those who felt their dancing was not “risky” do, in fact, engage in some of the behaviors we were trying to correct. By keeping ego in check and taking advantage of learning opportunities, you can only ever grow.
By focusing on their own learning in class, rather than the level of other dancers.

I have heard of and, occasionally, seen dancers who are far more concerned about everyone else in class rather than themselves. When you do this critique of others, you slow your own learning. If your partner is bad, work on how you can compensate the movement. If they’re too fast, work on following even if your partner is on time. This way, you will only ever grow, and your ego will recognize that by focusing on your own learning, you can see the holes in your own dancing and keep any burgeoning superiority crises under control.
By honestly assessing and asking for feedback on their actual dance level from professionals.

Social dancers are great, but unless they are a teacher-level dancer who can feel how you dance, they’re probably not the best qualified to give feedback. Even if every social dancer tells you that your dancing is amazing, there are likely still holes. Seek your feedback from the Pro’s, who are in a position to give you honest feedback on your progress. It’s very tempting to listen to all of the “you’re amazing”‘s and ignore the “this is not there yet”‘s, but doing so sabotages yourself and fosters an unrealistic ego.
By recognizing the areas they need to focus most on for improvement (particularly connection).

It is not easy to take critique and swallow the areas of dance that you need to work on, but it’s a surefire way to keep your ego in check. If someone gives you feedback (especially a professional), barring certain exceptions you should recognize there may be something there.

I pride myself on my ability to emote and perform, but I also have occasionally received feedback specifically in relation to unclear dramatic presentation. It would be very easy to write this off as “oh, well, they just didn’t get it”… but underneath, if they “just didn’t get it”, I didn’t do my job as well as I should have. Being able to take this feedback is critical to containing ego and moving forward as a dancer.
By reminding themselves that they are no better or worse than any other dancer in the room.

It is tempting view a less experienced dancer as less-than, but try to see beyond ego and recognize that every person in the room with you has different skills. You may be among doctors, lawyers, concert violinists, accountants, and auto repair geniuses. It wouldn’t be very nice in their area of comfort if they treated you like an idiot or inferior human.

Let your ego recognize that, while this may be your home, they have other skills you can learn from and other attributes. Even on the dance floor, if it is a strong dancer aspire to be like them. If they are struggling but really trying, admire their will in learning something that for some is incredibly tough. If they are doing this for fun, recognize that they have a rich enough life that this hobby is a fun, relax time… and admire that they still carve the time out to come out and share this love with you.

A dancer is not solely valuable because of their surface dance ability. At the center, all of us are multifaceted. I’m a law student, theatre technician, dance instructor, and absolutely horrible figure skater. I’m really glad that no one judges my worth on my skating skills, and hope that in dance we can set our dance ego’s aside to value other dancers as people.
In Conclusion:

If we keep our minds awake, we can prevent and reverse Dance Ego System. Spread the word, and remember:

Keep Dancing, Stay Happy, and Be Dance Humble


How TANGO could stave off the effects of Parkinson's disease - and healthcare could one day cover robot dance partners as treatment

How TANGO could stave off the effects of Parkinson’s disease – and healthcare could one day cover robot dance partners as treatment

  • A swell of research is showing how dance can benefit Parkinson’s sufferers
  • Ballet training affects posture, and tango dancing affects balance
  • Emory University professors Lena Ting, a neuroscientist, and Madeleine Eve Hackney, a rehab scientist and dancer, explain how dance affects the brain
  • They also explain their research into robot dance partners for patients

To dance is human; people of all ages and levels of motor ability express movements in response to music.

Professional dancers exert a great deal of creativity and energy toward developing their skills and different styles of dance.

How dancers move in beautiful and sometimes unexpected ways can delight, and the synchrony between dancers moving together can be entrancing.

To us as a neuroscientist and biomechanist (Lena), and a rehabilitation scientist and dancer (Madeleine), understanding the complexities of motor skill in a ballet move, or the physical language of coordination in partner dance, is an inspiring and daunting challenge.

Understanding how dancers move has important real-world implications, too. In our work, we’re studying gait and balance in different populations, as well as how holding hands – such as in partner dance – can actually help people walk and balance better.

The ultimate goal is to help better design and prescribe rehabilitation to those with reduced mobility, as well as to develop robots that can physically interact with people to help with both motor assistance and motor learning.

Ballet training affects walking and balance

It’s easy enough to distinguish a dancer from a football player just based on the way they walk in everyday life – one glides like a liquid, the other is grounded and solid. That fits with our finding that ballet training alters how a person walks.

But it also counters the sports training principle that motor skill is specific to the practiced movement, such as such as swinging a bat or doing a cartwheel.

On the other hand, rehabilitation relies on the idea that motor skill generalizes across different tasks. It would be impossible to practice every possible scenario a person with mobility impairment will encounter in real life.

Therapists hope that helping patients develop strength and skill in a few tasks in the gym will be generalizable to improvements out in the world.

In a study led by Andrew Sawers, now an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we didn’t look at ballet dancing per se.

Dancers and non dancers walked across narrow beams. Would they use their normal walking movement pattern when challenged with tough, novel tasks?
Dancers and non dancers walked across narrow beams. Would they use their normal walking movement pattern when challenged with tough, novel tasks?

Instead we took advantage of the dancers’ rigorous, years-long training regimen to test whether learning to move in a specialized context affects how we perform everyday tasks. We wanted to know whether ballet dancers actually differ from you and me in performing tasks that they didn’t explicitly practice.

It turned out that, when confronted with a challenging, narrow beam, ballet dancers still used the same preferred, habitual patterns of muscle coordination that they used when walking across a normal, level floor.

These patterns are called ‘motor modules’; the nervous system uses them to construct movements, akin to the concept of ‘muscle memory’.

To find each participant’s motor modules, we measured the electrical activity from many muscles in the leg and trunk as they walked across beams of varying difficulty.

In contrast to the ballet dancers, non-dancers who struggled to traverse the beam couldn’t rely on the same motor modules they used in normal walking.

Why? Our research suggests that the long-term ballet training of the dancers refined a set of motor modules used for walking so that they could also be applied in more challenging related tasks; this in turn changed how dancers walk in everyday conditions.

Using dance training in rehabilitation settings

The same principles of motor skill acquisition in highly trained individuals – like the ballet dancers – may also be at play in rehabilitation and motor skill reacquisition in people with mobility impairments.

Dancing can be effective rehabilitation for balance and gait impairments, particularly in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Madeleine developed Adapted Tango rehabilitation, in which participants learn a progressive series of tango dance steps specifically designed to address problems that people with PD have with balance, forward and backward walking, turning and navigating complex environments. It improves clinical metrics of balance function and walking. But how?

In a pilot study, we found that after an intensive three-week program of adapted tango rehabilitation, participants with PD became more like the highly trained ballet dancers.

Lucas McKay, an assistant professor in Biomedical Engineering at Emory specializing in mechanisms of balance impairment in Parkinson’s disease, showed that participants improved muscle activity for balance after adapted tango.

Jessica Allen, a soon-to-be assistant professor at West Virginia University, and expert in human gait, further showed that their motor modules were also more consistent in walking and balance tasks.

Like the ballet dancers, adapted tango participants with PD could use the same motor modules across different motor tasks.

That is, as they practiced their tango dancing skills, they developed motor modules that also helped them walk and balance in everyday situations. This mechanism may explain why practicing dance can beneficially alter gait and balance.

Dance with me: physical cooperation between a human and a robot

We also collaborate with Georgia Tech roboticist Charlie Kemp, who is interested in ways that robots can interact physically with humans in intuitive and beneficial ways. For instance, could rehabilitation robots some day dance with people with Parkinson’s disease to help them improve their motor skills?

Advancing the science of human physical interactions is critical to developing this kind of technology. Researchers are only just beginning to study the forces between two humans performing either cooperative (carrying a table together) or competitive (tug-of-war) tasks.

In partner dancing, the physical forces between the leader and follower are key to the two individuals being able to stay in sync with one another. Such complex coordination between people can happen even with their eyes closed.

We wondered if nuanced insights from partner dance could be used to develop intuitive physical interactions between humans and assistive robots.

Roboticist Tiffany Chen had already developed a way for a humanoid robot, Cody, to be led by the hand by a human. The robot could follow a nurse through a complex environment simply by interpreting the forces from hand-holding.

Does holding a robot follower’s hand feel like interacting with a person? Tiffany tested Cody with partner dancer instructors in a simple, partnered stepping task. Our expert partner dancers were surprised at how well Cody followed their touch.

They felt that Cody could interpret subtle guidance through forces at the hands that signaled the direction and pace of movement. This type of physical guidance provided a much more intuitive way to direct the motion of the robot compared to the gaming pad that’s typically used.

But we still wanted to compare the force at the hand and body movements of the human-robot partnership to two people dancing. Did Cody and a partner look like two people doing the same task?

Our expert partner dancers headed back to the lab with Andrew. We found that the forces at the hands for coordinated movements in humans (even without vision) were less than a few pounds. That’s less than Cody needed to follow a person, so how we’d programmed the robot to respond to forces was less sensitive than a person.

We are only just beginning to understand how the subtle changes in forces at the hands of human partners is interpreted.

Since these forces were the only channel of communication between participants in our study, we know they contain information about motor intention (where we want to go), motor performance (how we are actually moving), as well the skill level of the partners.

But the area of human-human physical interactions is ripe for guiding the design of assistive robots that interact safely and intuitively with humans.

Two steps forward…

Can a robot ever be an effective rehabilitative dance partner? So far, we’re just starting to learn about the effects of dancing on human motor skill, as well as the physical interactions necessary to perform partner dance.

More fundamentally, we seek to discover how we learn and re-learn to move, and how physical interactions help us to move better. Answering these questions may help us stay light on our toes.


Why there is so little dance in people dancing tango

Why there is so little dance in people dancing tango

In one of my articles I wrote that the most difficult thing for a tango teacher is not teaching the correct movement, it is getting people to dance. So what is it that we teachers (and dancers) find so difficult? Common dictionaries define dance as “moving rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps”. On the surface this definition is correct and according to it every single person on the dancefloor is dancing. But soldiers marching to a military song are also moving rhythmically to music. Intuitively you always recognise people who are dancing and who are just “moving rhythmically” when you are in a milonga. You will always prefer to watch those who dance.

So what is it you like watching? What is dance? Let’s first see what it is not.

Dance is not technique. You don’t need the perfect technique to dance, it is actually the other way around. You need to dance to build a skill. Dance does not come from the understanding of shapes, balance and dynamics, nor from the physical ability to create those shapes, balance and dynamics. You need the technique to make your dance effortless and expressive, but even a small child can already dance. In great artists you admire the technique, but it is the dance that touches you emotionally.

Dance is not physical movement. Or, to be precise, it is not ONLY physical movement. A purely physical exercise is common in sports, for sports are about getting a result. Dance does not strive for a result, it strives for expression. Like pushing piano keys is not necessarily music, so moving in space is not necessarily dance. Dance is not effort, either, it is effortlessness, which simply means effort that is adequate to the task.

Dance is not the embrace, the embrace is where dance is created. Tango is known as “the dance of passion” and historically shows a sensual play between a man and a woman. Sensual or sexual tension is not necessarily present between the dancers, it is merely expressed. A common confusion in tango is that this sensual connection, or in simpler terms a flirty attitude is the source of the dance. However, embracing a man or a woman sensually will not create a dance. The connection in tango goes much deeper than a sexual connection between a man and a woman, it is a profoundly human connection. Sensuality can enrich the dance, but not replace it. This is why tango is possible between two men or two women or between a female leader and a male follower.

Dance is not your connection to the music, either, although your musicality is an important factor in creating a dance. Whether you are able to translate the way you hear the music into movement depends on many things, but like the embrace, music is only one of the ingredients for the creation of a dance.

Dance is about your energy using your body to express feelings and ideas that originate in how you hear the music, associated with a specific movement vocabulary and in connection to your partner’s movement. Every creative act, from cooking to telling a story, needs ideas, energy and ways of expression. In dance the way of expression is your body. Therefore dance is not something you DO, it is something you must BECOME.

So, why is there often so little dance in people dancing tango?

The specifics of tango is that it has two equally important components: the need to move yourself and the need to communicate with your partner (impulse exchange, or leading/following). You can work on your own movement, but for tango this is only half of the story. You need to spend almost as much time learning to communicate with your partner by very subtle, practically invisible movements and intentions. You dance embracing each other and even the slightest movement of your body is felt clearly by your partner. The embrace in tango is an extremely sensitive environment and can be a source of huge discomfort or profound joy.

Tango is a conversation and in order to have a conversation you need silence. To communicate by impulses with another person you need to create a quiet space so that the tiniest of intentions is transmitted. This is what makes tango such an introvert and a fulfilling dance emotionally, for we do not remember the steps, we remember the quality of the connection. We remember sensations.

People who start learning tango are confronted with the fact that they cannot “just dance to the music”. If they do, they disconnect from the partner. Tango classes are built on two levels, teaching people to communicate by subtle movements and to move expressively themselves, so that they can match the energy of the music. This is what you see in highly skilled dancers: they look calm, natural, often unmoving in the upper bodies, locked in the embrace, yet as a whole they can create most extreme dynamics and become infused with the music. The teachers have the complex task of showing both the dynamic side and the stillness of tango.

What does a beginner imitate? That which is most visible to the eye. When the teachers show very dynamic dancing, the students naturally copy the big movements, to the detriment of the connection in the couple. When the teachers do the “small stuff” the students copy that, with the effect that they stiffle their desire to move in order to be “quiet”. They cannot yet move freely AND lead/follow subtly at the same time. By stifling the desire to move they block their energy from flowing, with tension as a result. The embrace becomes a rigidly fixed shape. Add to this the necessity to navigate a space full of other stressed-out couples and the picture is complete.

All over the dancefloors we see people stifling their natural desire to move, trying to remain “fixed” in this extremely sensitive environment of their jointed embrace. The desire to move is often also blocked by personal difficulties. Shyness, fear of exposure, fear of failure, fear of contact, inability to connect to the music and therefore to get the ideas and feelings to express. We also see the opposite: people letting their energy run free, moving a lot inside the embrace, which does create a sort of a dance, but the communication between partners amounts to two people shouting at each other while standing only a foot apart.

In order to learn tango you have to do it wrong before you can do it right, which means allowing your energy to move no matter what. It does not necessarily mean move A LOT, but sometimes this is what will inevitably happen. When children or puppies learn a new skill they start moving with a simple goal in mind and do it again and again, moving too much or too little, falling over and getting up, trying this way and that, until they get the right reflexes activated and the movement is stripped of everything it does not need to be effective. But to become like a child or a puppy is a very hard thing for adults. It is challenging for people to find themselves novices at something, especially when watched and judged by other people around them. Children do not mind doing it wrong, but adults want to do it right from the start. The quickest learners in tango are those who are not afraid to move, not afraid to lose themselves in movement and music, not afraid to look ridiculous.

Besides, most of us come to tango after having had a largely intellectual education. We live in our heads and our computers, not our bodies. We try to process intellectually what is happening to us. This is not effective when learning movement. Your body works in ways you cannot fully fathom, let alone fully control by your mind. Do you control your digestion? Do you activate your heartbeat? Do you consciously push the blood through your veins? In your brain there are more neural connections than there are stars in our galaxy, and this is a fact, not a figure of speech. Are you controlling them? Or are they controlling you? Stiffness in a dancer is often the result of his or her conscious mind trying to understand and control every movement BEFORE it happens, which is simply not possible. Your mind is not running the show, it only helps you to understand the intention and the mechanics of the movement. This is why leaders implore their followers: “Please stop thinking!”

To be able to “become dance” you have to allow your whole being to abandon itself to the energy that you are generating yet stay fully present and aware of what is happening. Mere abandonment will lead to automatic movement. Aware abandonment will create true dance and the true bliss that we are all looking for in tango. Dance is that special state of being called “flow”. It sounds difficult, but actually it is not. To flow is the most natural thing for a human being to do. It is what you do when you are not trying to control what happens, when you are not “efforting”. You need to become a dancer before you can become an advanced dancer, and to dance means to embody each movement fully. This way, no matter your skill, you can dance from your first tango day to the last. Isn’t it good news?


Neuropathy patients take to tango as therapy

Neuropathy patients take to tango as therapy

By the time doctors diagnosed Tim Hickey’s cancer, it had spread to his liver and bones.

‘I think they took odds that I wasn’t going to make it,’ said Hickey, 65, who had Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which affects the immune system. ‘But I fooled them.’

After chemotherapy successfully treated his lymphoma, Hickey, who had served as a district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, was unable to walk and had to use a wheelchair. One side effect of certain chemotherapy treatments is peripheral neuropathy.

‘A lot of people feel like they’re walking with a thick pair of socks on,’ said Lisa Hartkopf-Smith, an oncology clinical nurse specialist at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, adding that as many as 40 percent of chemotherapy patients develop neuropathy.

But for Hickey, an unconventional therapy got him get back on his feet again. How? He learned to tango. Argentine tango, to be exact.

Mimi Lamantia, a recent Ohio State University graduate, received $12,000 from Pelotonia to conduct three 10-week sessions of Argentine tango as another form of physical therapy. The classes were primarily attended by cancer survivors.

Lamantia, who majored in dance and pre-medicine, studied the medial-lateral sway of her students, one of the best biomechanical indicators of a patient’s risk of falling.

Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a physical-rehabilitation specialist and assistant professor at Ohio State, had been working with Hickey and collaborated with Lamantia on the research.

Worthen-Chaudhari, who used to dance professionally in San Francisco, said the art of dance and the science of physical therapy go hand in hand.

‘Dance is the art of movement, and biomechanics is the science and mathematics of movement,’ she said.

To test the effectiveness of the classes, the researchers measured the medial-lateral sway of patients by having them stand on a sensor connected to special software. Patients stood with their eyes closed for 30 to 60 seconds while the sensor measured their balance.

Hickey said that when he began dancing, he had feeling only in the balls of his feet and was constantly at risk of falling. Halfway through a 10-week session of classes, the researchers saw a 56 percent drop in sway. Hickey even had more sensation in his feet.

‘I was able to tailor the movement of the dance to the movement deficits people were going through,’ Lamantia said of coordinating the dance classes.

She started the classes with basic exercises and moved into dancing after the group was warmed up. Some dances used as many as 12 steps.

Hickey said he feels only occasional tingling in his toes and walks with just a brace on his right knee ‘ scarlet and gray for his beloved Buckeyes.

‘He’d rather talk sports, but he’s got an artist in him,’ Worthen-Chaudhari said.


More Than Two Can Tango: Study Finds Many Benefits When Survivors Dance

A tango program for cancer survivors is showing to have benefits far beyond developing graceful dance moves.

Since beginning treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012, Tim Hickey struggled with his balance and was forced to use a wheelchair. Five months in remission, Hickey, who at the time needed a walker, embarked on a course of physical therapy. While traditional PT helped, this determined survivor found relief for his mobility challenges from another, unexpected source: dancing the Argentine Tango.

Research conducted by a team at The Ohio State University discovered that dance therapy — specifically the Argentine Tango — can counteract some of the balance and movement problems survivors like Hickey experience.

Up to 70 percent of survivors who have been treated with chemotherapy are affected by peripheral neuropathy, which can cause loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet and toes. One in three patients will continue to experience this problem six months after treatment.

Long-term neuropathy in the feet and toes can affect a person’s balance and gait, which is concerning because it increases the risk of the survivors falling and injuring themselves during their day-to-day activities.

A combination of traditional physical therapy and use of the rehabilitation biofeedback tool “embedded arts” helped Hickey “tremendously,” he says, and he graduated from a walker to a cane. But when his shoulder locked, and he needed a new approach, he found that the Argentine Tango group was just what he needed.

Led by Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, associate director of the Motion Analysis and Recovery Laboratory at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the study Hickey joined followed 31 participants, 25 of them cancer survivors.

When patients first began the dance therapy program, their standing postural sway (eyes closed) was measured with a computer-aided force platform. It was recorded again after attending dance therapy sessions twice a week for ten weeks with Mimi Lamantia, a pre-med and undergraduate dance major at Ohio State who inspired the study and instructed the participants.

After just five weeks, patients’ medial and lateral sway already had decreased by 56 percent, suggesting the tango as a potential method of controlling impaired balance post-treatment.

“Argentine Tango is a great example of doing all the practical motions — walking forward, walking backward, walking sideways — things you would do in physical therapy class,” Worthen-Chaudhari explains, because it combines strength, conditioning and aerobic components.

She also notes that the type of tango most Americans are familiar with is more of a dramatic, performance-based routine, with fast-moving feet and lots of poses. The Argentine tango, however, is a community dance.

“People go to a social club or a hall and do the dance for fun with their community, and it’s literally called the ‘walking dance.’ It’s not performative in the way we tend to think of tango.”

“There’s always a mind–body element in dance where the cognitive and neuro-motor have to work together,” Worthen-Chaudhari continues. “This is a really engaged dance and requires patients to work improvisationally. You have to own it — you can’t just follow directions.”

After starting the dance therapy, Hickey reports being able to do several activities he hadn’t been able to do since beginning his anticancer treatment in 2012.

“The balance is amazing. I can actually go out and hit a golf ball without falling down. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t jog. I can do that now.”

In addition to physical improvements, many participants reported they enjoyed the dance therapy far more than physical therapy, which is often hard and feels like work. Dance therapy, on the other hand, is fun and social, making people want to attend.

“More than just balance, I think the companionship of fellow survivors was a definite plus with the program,” Hickey said. “We all had that same weight on our shoulders that cancer brings. We all had a better disposition leaving the program than going into it. I would definitely recommend it not just for the mental part of it, but the physical part was fantastic, too.”

The feedback from participants overall on their satisfaction with the intervention bears this out:

“We asked questions such as, ‘Did you have more or less energy at the end of your last chemo session?’ notes Worthen-Chaudhari. “We found really high satisfaction with the intervention, and a lot of people had more energy at the end of the session. Instead of feeling like they had really worked out and they need to take a nap, people feel exhilarated.”

The next step in this research is to do a larger study with a control group to see if the positive results are replicated. Until then, traditional physical therapy is prescribed as the primary rehabilitation therapy.

“Right now, the recommendation would be to do the dance therapy as a supplemental activity,” Worthen-Chaudhari said. “It’s not going to hurt — it will only help.”

Echoes Hickey: “It has helped improve my outlook on life and my anticipation that there’s more life to come.”


Dancing the Tango Could Help Cancer Patients Regain Balance

Dancing the Tango Could Help Cancer Patients Regain Balance

Some cancer treatments may leave patients with balance problems, but researchers have found that teaching them to dance tango may help improve their balance.

According to the researchers, up to 70 percent of patients who undergo chemotherapy experience peripheral neuropathy as a side effect. This condition may cause loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet and toes. One-third of patients still struggle with this condition even six months after the treatment.

The researchers said that long-term neuropathy in the feet and toes can be extremely problematic as it may affect the person’s balance and gait, putting them at risk of tripping and falling when engaging in daily activities.

“That’s a big deal because many more people are surviving cancer. Dealing with the issues that impact a person’s quality of life after cancer is extremely important,” Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, faculty member of Ohio State University’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The Ohio State University-based research team also found that Argentine Tango can significantly help patients improve their balance and reduce their fall risks.

“As a dancer, I study the art of movement and as a biomechanist and rehabilitation scientist I study the math and the science of movement. We thought that it would be a powerful combination to put all those together to try to help cancer survivors,” Worthen-Chaudhari said.

In the study, the research team designed a dance intervention course comprised of 20 sessions of adapted Argentine Tango, where patients participated for one hour twice a week for 10 weeks.

The researchers measured the patients’ standing posture while swaying using a computer-aided force platform. Patients were also asked about their satisfaction after the activity.

After the 10-week dance classes, researchers found that patients were able to improve their balance by 57 percent. The patients also showed changes in their core strengths, which often becomes depleted due to muscle loss caused by cancer.

Moreover, the patients reported enjoying the dance therapy.

Mimi Lamantia, pre-med student of the Ohio State University who taught the patients the Argentine tango, said that the dance had remarkably enhanced the quality of movement of the patients.

“Teaching them to tango not only helped them improve physically, but it had a social, creative and expressive components to it as well,” Lamantia said in a report by NewsMax.

“I was able to see the improvement in these individuals, not only in how they moved, but their confidence and how they walked into class. That was really beautiful to see.”


Why musicality is hard to teach, but not impossible
One of the most difficult topics for teachers as well as for students is musicality. It is fairly easy to explain musical theory, the rhythmical structure of a tango song, how to identify the strong beat, follow the melody, recognise various instruments and understand when a phrase starts and when it finishes. However, all this information, albeit essential, will not make anyone dance musically. No matter how much time a teacher spends talking about musical theory, this in itself will not produce dancers who are more musical. Then what will? And how can someone who has never danced before become a musical dancer in tango?

First, we need to understand what it means to be musical.

Sensitivity to music is the ability to recognise musical patterns: feel the rhythm, identify the melodical line, distinguish harmonies, sounds and so on. This ability comes in various degrees. Some people only recognise musical patterns and feel them, but are not able to move their body rhythmically (clap the hands, tap the feet, walk in the beat). Other people not only hear the music well, but can also associate what they are hearing with a rhythmical movement of the body. The first musical instruments in the prehistoric times were drums (therefore the word “beat”). Music-making and dancing were often one and the same activity, for ritual and shamanic purposes. Primitive tribes still make music by adorning their bodies with sound-making objects and then dancing. We also sing to make music, human voice becoming a musical instrument.

Nowadays our musical instruments are technically so complex and the various dance forms so rich that we have a clear specialization in “musicians” and “dancers”. (For the sake of the argument I will keep the singers in the “musicians” group as singers use their body to reproduce music as if it were an instrument). We also know that it requires two different talents to become a musician or a dancer. If the body of a musician uses its movement to extracts sound waves from an object, the body of a dancer does something very different: it creates an association between a musical pattern and body movement in such a way that the the two fuse into one coherent expression. (Orchestra conductors are possibly the ones who still do both: they “dance” to extract music from the “instrument” that is an orchestra. They are the contemporary shamans).

We can therefore identify three different abilities: hearing (sensitivity to music), hearing + playing (making music) and hearing + dancing (associating movement with music). Most people have at least some degree of musical hearing and this is why music is still the most widely enjoyed art of all, in any culture.

What does it mean to be a musical dancer? It is not enough to be simply musical, although this is the necessary starting point. A dancer needs to have this particular ability to associate music to movement, to become music that has become movement. Like musicians, people who dedicate themselves to dance have this gift from birth. Yet, as I said, this ability comes in VARIOUS DEGREES. One can be basically musical or exceptionally musical. Just like there are many naturally musical people who play instruments without becoming a musician, there are many “natural born dancers”. Most children dance naturally when very small. While growing up we often lose the naturalness of our musical movement, our brain and body giving priority to developing other skills. Yet some people keep it and are easy to spot: they have an unstoppable urge to move the moment they hear music that they like. You can see them in night clubs, at parties, even on the street swaying or tapping their feet to the sound coming out of their headphones. People who learn to dance at an adult age are often from this group, because dance is always looking to express itself through their bodies. However, in tango classes I also see a lot of people who either never were “natural born dancers” or have somehow lost this particular connection between hearing and moving.

When a person is a “natural dancer”, certain things in a tango class will be easier for him (her) than for others. Stepping in the beat, recognising accents, making pauses, slowing down or accelerating together with the music, all this will not have to be explained, just shown. This student’s ability will be further finetuned to the particularities of tango as a music and a dance, often less by watching a teacher than by simply finding his or her own ways of expression. The “naturals” often prefer not to hear too much of musical theory for it takes them out of their intuitive following of music, confuses them, requires a mental effort they never had to do. They would dance to a syncope naturally but have a hard time analysing why and how they do it.

When a person is not a “natural dancer”, things will be more difficult for him (her) and subsequently also for the dance teacher. Everything, from stepping into the beat to choosing when to pause or to accelerate, will require a lot of attention and practice. Because it needs so much work, many teachers (and students) tend to give up on the musicality altogether or keep it to basic theoretical knowledge. People tend to believe that it is not possible to make someone a truly musical dancer: you either have this gift or you don’t. I would rephrase it: I believe it is much easier to help someone become a musical dancer when s/he is already naturally gifted for it, but the other task is not impossible either.

As I said, most of us have a musical hearing built into our brain. Anything we already have as neural connections in our brain can be further developed and reinforced. Learning a particular dance is about learning to associate a given movement vocabulary to a given music in a meaningful way. Here the “meaningful” means following the musical parameters. By training your brain to better understand and recognise the parameters of a musical piece can help you to associate your movement to it in a more precise way.

To tango students who struggle with musicality, I would give the following advice. You will need to reinforce two areas of your skills: first, your hearing of music and second, your music-to-movement association. Your hearing of music can be improved by listening to it a lot and learning to consciously recognise and identify its parameters: beats, structure, phrasing, melody, instruments and so forth. Here I am talking not only of the theoretical (rational) recognition but also of the “sensations” that hearing creates inside your being. Hearing the violin struck a phrase also means feeling something inside yourself respond to it as if you were a violin yourself (NB: a violin, not a violinist). It might sound strange to you, but this is what happens when you listen to a piece of music you truly love: inside your being something BECOMES it, as if somehow your soul took on that musical shape.

The second skill can be improved in two ways (and I suggest you use both). The first method is to associate the music to some kind of simple movement: walking, tapping of feet, nodding of the head, even singing, until it becomes intuitively right. This will reinforce your sense of RHYTHM. The second method is to allow yourself to dance in a completely free way to tango music, letting go of the tango vocabulary. Thinking of doing the correct moves often requires so much effort on our part that we become incapable of doing it musically. So, take time alone to dance to tango music whichever way you please. Groove to it. Hiphop to it. Sway, rock, swing, whirl, shake your bonbon to it. You will do your brain and your body an immense favor: your nervous system will start building neural connections between what you hear and how you would like to move to it. It will start liberating your DANCE EXPRESSION. In the tango class associating the “proper” vocabulary to music will then become easier because your body will feel more free moving to music at all. These methods are used with children when teaching them to dance or to play instruments. In your learning process you should take advantage of both becoming like a child again AND using the power of your conscious mind.

For those who find themselves thinking “yes, this is all very nice, but I truly have no sense of rhythm, I am so stiff in my body, I feel helpless and awkward when asked to move to any kind of music” I can say the following: think of people diagnosed with autism. They find themselves incapable of recognising emotions of others and adequately reacting to them. Yet, with proper technique and practice, they learn to do it by working with the visible PARAMETERS they CAN recognise. They learn to associate a certain facial expression with “fear” and rationally choose an appropriate response. They do not become truly empathic but can live a much more connected life socially. If you feel you are “musically autistic”, remember that your brain has a plasticity you are not aware of and that there are methods of developing your musicality, just as there are methods for autistics to lead a social life. It will require dedication, patience and work, but it will pay off in ways you never imagined.

For teachers I would suggest not to give up on the “unmusical students”. Giving up on them says more about your own inability to teach them than about their inability to learn. Most dance teachers are naturally musical, intuitive dancers. If you are one of those, then your responsibility as a teacher is to ANALYSE rationally what you do and to explain it to students who are not able to just copy it. You will have to know a lot more about rhythmical structures, how to count the beat, where to find the syncopes, what makes a phrase a phrase. Just like to an autistic person you would say “I am fearful therefore my body become rigid and my face serious” you would have to explain to some students “I pause and hold the pause here because I hear this instrument stop playing and the other instruments hold the same note”. It sounds like a laborious and counter-intuitive way, but believe me, it helps with the cases everyone (including themselves) consider helpless. Of course, you can also just give up on them. You can always say that without a natural gift one cannot be a dancer. You will always be right, at least partially, and you will create an air of superiority around your own talent and that of the “chosen ones”. Yet, I personally believe that tango, of all dances, is one that people can enjoy at any age, with any body type and any innate abilities. I also believe that talent is only the beginning of things, never the end, and that with the right kind of practice we can arrive in places we never dreamt of before.


Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain

Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain

As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that led to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one’s balance.

While previous research has shown that physical exercise can combat age-related brain decline, it is not known if one type of exercise can be better than another. To assess this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed. The traditional fitness training program conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.

Dr Rehfeld explains, “We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.”

These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group. Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to trial new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain.

“Right now, we are evaluating a new system called “Jymmin” (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.”

Dr Rehfeld concludes with advice that could get us up out of our seats and dancing to our favorite beat.

“I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”

This study falls into a broader collection of research investigating the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan.

More information: Kathrin Rehfeld et al, Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2017).


Tango Isn’t for Everyone

Tango Isn’t for Everyone

When someone expresses an interest in learning tango, I often hesitate. I know tango looks fun, sexy and beautiful, but it can be a serious commitment. It’s a hardcore pursuit. Yes, some people casually dance tango as a hobby. But here’s the reality: tango is like a vampire that bites into your heart and changes your soul forever. Once it bites you, you will be seduced into an endless quest that steals your time, money, mind – and your heart. Therefore, be warned…

You better LOVE technique. If you have a passion for nitty gritty, detailed technique that teaches nuances of movement, leading/following, connection, posture and body organization, then you will be captivated by tango. The amount of technique to learn will deeply humble you. If you just want to have fun, remember that your partner’s idea of having fun is usually based on doing this skillfully. Most tango dancers don’t just “play around”. Technique is what makes the dance feel amazing to your partner. If you care about that, awesome! If you don’t, maybe partner dancing isn’t for you….

It takes money. If you aren’t investing in truly learning tango, you probably won’t be dancing much or enjoying it when you do. Private lessons, workshops, tango shoes, milongas, practicas, outfits – it adds up quickly and it’s quite addicting. You’ll drop serious money on private lessons. I know a guy who blew his annual tango budget by February. Tango is like a heroin habit. Only death and paralysis can stop it.

It’s a long commitment. Tango is not a dance that gets mastered in six months or five years. It’s not a “once a week” kind of a dance. There’s no “low hanging fruit” in tango. This is a multi-layered skill that endlessly unfolds for those who seek its elusive mastery. You’ll think you learned a move – and then you’ll spend years learning how to do it correctly. Ochos are only easy when you’re doing them wrong.

And it’s intimate. A good dance for me goes like this. “Hi, I’m Karen”. Seconds later, I have melted into his body and my lips are barely inches from his. It’s four legs and one heart – and we are slowly stripped into total vulnerability as we unveil ourselves through a 9-minute exploration of one another’s skills, potential and expression.

By the end, we know each other in ways we may only intuitively understand. I know if he embraces a woman with tenderness, command or caution. I sense whether he seeks the heart, mind or body of a woman first. I know whether he thinks or feels more. I feel where he is confident, where he is shy and where he is selfish. I sense what he hungers for and what he fears. I know whether he sees me as a conquest, a collaborator or an executor of his command. I know if he is a risk-taker, an explorer or an inventor. I know if he approaches tango as an artist, an engineer or an architect. I know if he is a witty conversationalist or a curious listener. I discover what makes him sexy, beautiful and profoundly captivating – even when all he is doing is “just dancing”.

Tango can be insanely difficult. Expensive. Toilsome. Humbling. And deeply unmasking.

It’s not for everyone. For some people, it’s not for them “right now”.

When I began, I was told that I didn’t find tango. Tango found me.

Let tango find you. And be ready when it does, for tango is a relentless thief. It will gently swipe away your time, money and perhaps your ego – if you have the courage to surrender it. Tango unmasks our true character, our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses and our magical unwrapped talents. But only for those willing – and able – to give tango what it asks of us first.


Some useful bibliographic suggestions available on Amazon: