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What do Meditation and Argentine Tango Have in Common?

by Cris Puscas

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Here I am, the perfect example of someone who is impatient. I stomp my feet if things don’t go my way. I fidget all the time. And when I must wait for something, I’m constantly checking my wristwatch. Being delayed when I travel is my worst nightmare. Unfortunately, my attempts at slowing down through breathing have only worked exactly two times when my trusty fitness band guided me. I was never even tempted to try again.

But then, I discovered Argentine Tango. I started out impatient to the point of almost throwing fits during the first two classes. However, all of a sudden, magic happened. It was as if I had an epiphany, and suddenly at each class, dancing takes me into a different state of mind – something many achieve during meditation. Time flows differently and I feel way better.

After my first lessons, I became interested in the benefits of tango. The more I read about it, the more I discovered my own feelings and the sensations took a new meaning.

So, follow me as I go through the interesting things that meditation and tango have in common, as well as talk a little about the therapy known as “the healing tango embrace”.


But first, what is Argentine Tango?

Unlike ballroom dances, Argentine Tango is an intimate, improvised dance. There is a leader and a follower who engage in dialog using their bodies, all guided by music. The leader initiates and navigates, while the follower receives and responds.

The dialog is non-verbal, and the dancers must be in a highly attuned state with one another. The leader also must be attuned to the environment (the follower often closes their eyes when they dance, further enhancing the flow state).

Learning Argentine Tango has been compared to learning a new language. The structure is simple: there are six steps in which you learn and then create your own figures.


Meditation and Argentine Tango

Argentine Tango
Photo credit: Cris Puscas

Much like when you start to meditate, when you start to tango, the initial period is of anxiety and not of calmness. Remember the first paragraphs in which I mentioned that I was almost throwing fits during the first two classes? I was very anxious and almost at the brink of tears. But then I learned to trust the process and remained present and the dialogue between me and my partner finally led us both into that “tango moment”.

In tango, dancers do not make eye contact. The follower always has the leader’s chest in sight. Just like in meditation, the eyes are turned inward.

If tango quickly becomes an addiction, there’s a very good reason for that. Most Tango dancers enter the flow, the place of no time, and no clock, experiencing tango’s meditative quality.

According to a major study, “mindfulness-meditation and tango dance could be effective complementary adjuncts for the treatment of depression and/or inclusion in stress management programs”. When you tango, you must manage the rhythm of your breath, which in turn, reduces the stress levels and energizes your everyday activities. 

tango treats depression
Photo credit: Cris Puscas

Meditation makes you slow down, create a steady rhythm and this will help you focus on the present, observing your thoughts and breath. That’s exactly what tango forces you to do. You need to slow down through movement. As you dance, you become aware of the movement planes and body-landmarks.

You are always keeping your mind and body active when you tango. You need to focus on breathing and be present, thus cultivating mindful attention to the present.

Another study in which the brain activity of dancers was measured found out that tango dancers rely on internal focus and attention, much like the mindfulness meditation practitioners do during meditation. The more experienced the dancer, the more they can enter the relaxed states.

So next time you feel blue, you may want to put on the dancing shoes and crank up the tango music!


Tango’s healing embrace

tango healing embrace
Photo credit: Cris Puscas

There is such a thing as “tango therapy”. The term is used to describe the therapeutic purposes of the dance. The use of dance as therapy is not new. However, it is only recently Argentine Tango has become a new form of treatment for patients suffering from neurological diseases such as Parkinson and Alzheimer’s.

The coordination needed to do the tango walk and the need to keep one’s balance as they dance have been proven effective for the above-mentioned patients. During a study which took place in Canada, researchers compared tango against waltz and foxtrot and found that “the treatment using the tango always proved either equal or superior to the other exercise methods”. 

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