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Tango goes hand in hand with happiness

Mental exercise … dancing the tango has been found to beneficial for sufferers of stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance or insomnia, and may even help people with multiple sclerosis.

Mental exercise … dancing the tango has been found to beneficial for sufferers of stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance or insomnia, and may even help people with multiple sclerosis. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

FEELING blue? Tango is an unlikely answer, with researchers identifying the dance as one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. The combination of exercise, social interaction and intense focus alleviated depression and a wide range of associated symptoms better than cross-training exercises or meditation.

''Tango dance was associated with improved outcomes that were persistent - so when we measured them a month later, the improvements were still there,'' said Rhonda Brown, from the Australian National University, who supervised the research by Rosa Pinniger, from the University of New England.

''We found out that tango dance was effective in not only reducing feelings of depression but also the degree of sleep disturbance or insomnia, whereas the other treatments weren't as effective in normalising such a broad range of responses.''

Dr Brown said the study measured the effects of tango on people who self-reported mood disorders, but also had a group of people with macular degeneration, with results suggesting the therapy could be used to treat people with wider ranging physical disabilities.

''It was a small study [but] it was exciting because these are people who are blind or almost blind and they were able to participate in the activity,'' Dr Brown said.

''We're also looking to broaden this therapy to make it available, for example, [to] people with multiple sclerosis - because although they often have impairments in mobility, the lovely thing about tango is that you've got quite a rigid embrace with the tango leader, and they can sort of stabilise someone who's a little unsteady on their feet.''

So successful was the tango research program that participants have formed friendships and continued dancing, with the teacher and dance partners volunteering their time to continue it.

It has led Ms Pinniger to set up an organisation - the Institute of Tango Therapy - to allow an expansion of the programs, as she notes regular commercial tango classes may not produce the same results.

Tango teacher Serkan Alasya was not surprised by the research findings. He labelled the Argentine tango as an ''introverted dance'' which allowed people to express themselves.

''People are encouraged to be individuals and it's basically all about your own movement and your partner, and you don't really care about anyone else in the room and whether they might be watching or not,'' the Canberra teacher said.

''It can help people get out of their shell a little bit.''

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