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Tango Your Way to Mental Health

• August 29, 2012 • 12:15 PM

New Australian research suggests people suffering from stress or depression can greatly benefit from tango lessons.

Dancing around life’s inevitable difficulties while retaining mental and emotional balance can require some fancy footwork. For those suffering from stress and depression, newly published research finds a promising self-help program involves literally getting out on the dance floor.

It’s hard to feel blue while you’re doing the tango.

“Preliminary results suggest that tango dance is an innovative and promising approach, as effective as mindfulness meditation in reducing levels of self-reported depression,” writes a team led by psychologist Rosa Pinniger of the University of New England in Australia.

In the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Pinniger and her colleagues describe a study featuring 66 people, all of whom reported high levels of stress, anxiety and/or depression. They filled out detailed surveys to measure their emotional health at the beginning and end of a six-week period.

In between, a third of them took part in weekly tango lessons. Another third participated in weekly mindfulness meditation classes, based on the program formulated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The others were placed on a waiting list and became the control group.

After six weeks, those who took the tango and meditation classes both showed greater reductions in depression than those who did neither. But the tango students lowered their stress more than either the meditation students or those on the waiting list.

And in something of a surprise, the tango students reported a greater increase in mindfulness than either the control group, or those who had specifically studied the Kabat-Zinn technique. Upon reflection, this makes some intuitive sense; one has to be fully engaged in the present moment to execute complicated dance moves.

Disappointingly, neither the meditation classes nor tango classes reduced anxiety much compared to the control group. But altogether, these results suggest that, at least for certain people, tango classes may be a more effective way of reducing stress than sitting still and meditating.

Why choose between two mental-health-boosting activities—vigorous exercise and concentrated attention—when you can simultaneously do both?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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