(published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Winter 2015)
Unlike the stylized dance seen on TV or performed on stage, Argentine tango is an intimate, improvised dance that consists of a leader and a follower having a dialogue with their bodies in response to the music. Connected by a warm embrace of their upper bodies, the dancers move as one body with four legs. In simplified terms, the leader’s role is to initiate and navigate, and the follower’s role is to receive and respond.
Dancing Argentine tango requires the dancers to be in a highly attuned state to one another and to their environment, because the non-verbal dialogue that is exchanged is subtle and quick and highly variable from partner to partner and from moment to moment. For this reason, many people come to experience tango as a dancing meditation, and are able to cultivate total presence in the moment with another human being.
Studies are now looking to explore the effectiveness of Argentine tango as a form of stress reduction. An experiment by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, showed that Argentine tango is as effective as mindfulness meditation in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A study at St. Mary’s College of California measured the brain activity of tango dancers using an Electroencephalograph (EEG) and found that many dancers, especially the more experienced dancers, were able to enter a deep state of relaxation. They were able to detect increased levels alpha-wave activity in the brains of the highly skilled dancers, in the same way that advanced meditators are able to enter deep states of relaxation.