What is our affinity with dance? D.H. Lawrence aptly stated “We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive… and part of the living, incarnate cosmos” (2002). Forms of dance have been in existence for over 9000 years. Argentine tango (referred to as tango hereafter) is one form that provides more than pure pleasure for individuals around the world. Since the average age of a tango dancer is approximately fifty (Targhetta Nalpas & Pascal, 2013), it is essential to explore the benefits of dancing tango for older adults. When looking through the lens of health and social science, there are many reasons to dance tango. Over the past decade, several scientists have looked into the health benefits of dancing tango. This article explores some current research on the health benefits of dancing tango for older adults and introduces the authors’ research on the subject.
Stebbins (2007), a noted social scientist with an extensive background in research, coined the term serious leisure activity. Stebbins explained that in order to be considered a serious leisure activity, individuals must experience the following six characteristics: 1) need to persevere at the activity, 2) availability of a leisure career, 3) need to put in effort to gain skill and knowledge, 4) realization of various special benefits, 5) unique ethos and social world, and 6) an attractive personal and social identity. Many tango dancers, experience all six of these characteristics. Research suggests that serious engagement in leisure activities improves quality of life, physical function, and health and well-being of older adults (Kim, Yamada, Heo, & Han 2014).
Recent studies over the past ten years have been designed to determine the health benefits in older adults, who are introduced to dancing tango. In the studies below, all the older adults danced tango one to three hours in weekly lessons, for six to twenty weeks. The topics and results of these studies follow.
One of the major findings of these studies is a reduction in physical signs that lead to falls. The study of fall prevention is an essential undertaking since one in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year (National Council on Aging, 2018). When an older adult falls, it often causes injury that is difficult to recover from and can ultimately threaten independence. Prediction of falls can be attributed to noticeable physical changes such as slowing of walking speed, difficulty balancing and lessening mobility. These changes or signs of a potential fall, are in many cases preventable.
On the subject of improving signs of a potential fall, dancing tango was found to specifically improve mobility, and fast walking speeds forward and backward in seniors (Hackney et al., 2015). When dancing tango was compared to a conventional walking program, the tango program showed that tango may improve walking speeds and balance more than the walking program (McKinley et al., 2008). Fallproof is a widely used, clinically proven, fall prevention intervention taught by PT’s, OT’s and exercise specialists. One research team (Hackney, Hall, Echt, & Wolf, 2015) compared Adapted Tango to Fallproof in older adults with visual impairments. Both groups had reduced fall risk, but the group that danced tango showed higher improvements in physical endurance and cognitive dual tasking (which is walking while doing a thinking task).
Parkinson’s Disease is by far the most studied specific population using tango as an intervention. A systematic review of eleven different studies (Lotxke Ostermann & Bussing, 2015), found that nine of the studies showed improved walking speed, improved balance, lessened fatigue and improvements of movement.
Some scientists have looked into how wellbeing improves from dancing tango. In one study (Pinniger, Brown, Thorsteinsson, & McKinley, 2012) addressing adults over 65 with macular degeneration, dancing tango showed a reduction in depression. This same study also revealed these individuals experienced an increase in self-esteem, well-being, and contentment with life. Another study (Pinniger, Thorsteinsson, Brown, & McKinley, 2013) involving adults experiencing insomnia found that dancing tango was effective at improving sleep levels and lowering self-reported levels of depression. Additionally, in a study of adults experiencing depression, dancing tango significantly reduced self-reported levels of depression and stress and increased mindfulness. Also, a study of older adults dancing tango (Zafar, Bozzorg, & Hackney, 2017) showed all experienced an emphasis on resilience in the face of challenges.
Activities we perform every day are fundamental to our being. These activities include self-care such as dressing which is quickly taken for granted when not challenged. A study that examined the effects of ballroom dance with older adults in assisted living (Borges et al, 2012) found a substantial improvement in decreasing the speed of putting on and taking off a shirt. A study being conducted in Albuquerque in 2019 will address two questions: 1) Do older adults who participate in a series of twenty Adapted Tango lessons improve their perceived performance in activities of daily living that pose some difficulty? and, 2) Do tango dancers who experience tango as a serious leisure activity improve their self esteem when volunteering as a dance partner to these older adults?
In conducting this research as a part of the Occupational Therapy Graduate Program at the University of New Mexico, I hope to take one more small forward step towards including dance programs in our health care system. For those of us who dance tango as a serious leisure activity, it appears our involvement may be as significant as the act of dancing itself. As summarized by E. Denby (1998), “There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good” (p. 288).
Written by: Carrie Jane Hortense Field
Borges, E.G.S., Cader, S.A., Souza Vale, R.G., Cruz, T.H.P., Alencar Carvalho, M.C.G., Pinto, F.M., (2014). Postural balance and falls in elderly nursing home residents enrolled in a ballroom dancing program. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 59, 312-316. doi: .org/10.1016/j.archger.2014.03.013
Denby, E. (1998). Dance writings & Poetry. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press
Hackney M.E., Byers C., Butler G, Sweeney M., Rossbach L., & Bozzorg A. (2015) Adapted tango improves mobility, motor-cognitive function, and gait but not cognition older adults in independent living. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 63(10), 2105-2113. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13650
Hackney M.E., Hall, C. D., Echt, K. V., and Wolf, S.L. (2015). Multimodal Exercise Benefits Mobility in Older Adults with Visual impairment: a preliminary study. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 23, 630-639. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/japa.2014-0008
Kim, J., Yamada, N., Heo, J., & Han, A. (2014). Health benefits of serious involvement in leisure activities among older Korean adults. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, 9, 10.3402/qhw.v9.24616. http://doi.org/10.3402/qhw.v9.24616
Lawrence, D.H., (2002). Apocalypse and the writings on Revelation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press
McKinley P., Jacobson A., Leroux A., Bednarczyk V., Rossignol M., & Fung J. (2008) Effect of a community-based argentine tango dance program on functional balance and confidence in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 16, 435-453. doi: 34485817.pdf
National Council on Aging (2018). Fall Prevention Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/falls-prevention-facts-
Pinniger, R., Thorsteinsson, E.B., Brown, R.F., & McKinley, P. (2013). Tango dance can reduce distress and insomnia in people with self-referred affective symptoms. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 35, pp 60-77. doi: 10.1007/s10465-012-9141-y
Stebbins, R. A. (2007). Serious leisure: A perspective for our time. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Targhetta R, Nalpas B, Pascal P. (2013). Argentine tango: Another behavioral addiction? Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 2(3):179-186. doi:10.1556/JBA.2.2013.007.
Zafar, M., Bozzorg, A, & Hackney, M. (2017). Adapted tango improves aspects of participation in older adults versus individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Disability and Rehabilitation, 39:22, 2294-2301, doi: 10.1080/09638288.2016.1226405