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On April 13, 2015, an article published in the McGill Reporter, written by Anita Kar, indicated that dancing the Argentine tango could potentially have health benefits for people at certain stages in the development of Parkinson’s disease. A new study conducted by researchers at McGill, The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital-The Neuro, and the research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) examined the changes in forty patients’ motor abilities after the completion of a twelve week tango course. Additionally, this is also the first study to assess the effect that the tango has on non-motor symptoms.

The forty patients who participated in the study were diagnosed with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and were from the Movement Disorders Clinics of the MUHC. The participants took studio dance classes with two professional dancers. The study examined whether a physical and social activity linked to music, such as the tango, could have possible therapeutic value for Parkinson’s disease patients who typically suffer from motor dysfunctions-tremor, rigidity, gait dysfunction- as well as from non-motor symptoms, such as fatigue, depression and cognitive degeneration.

Dr. Silvia Rios Romenets, lead researcher in the study, is a clinical research fellow at the Movement Disorders Clinics at The Neuro and Montreal General Hospital. According to Dr. Rios Romenets there is accumulating evidence that habitual physical activity is associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, which then suggests a potential slowing of progression of the disease. She goes on to state “In the study we found the tango was helpful for improving balance and functional mobility, and seemed to encourage patients to appreciate their general course of therapy. We also found modest benefits in terms of patients’ cognitive functions and in reducing fatigue. No significant changes were detected in overall motor functions.”

The tango may be especially helpful for improving balance and functional mobility in patients with Parkinsons’ disease since it requires specific steps that involve rhythmically walking to and fro. This may be especially helpful for walking difficulties especially for freezing  of gait and to prevent backward falls. Also, the tango requires working memory, focused attention and multitasking to incorporate newly as well as previously learned dance elements, to stay in tempo with the music and to navigate the dance floor among other dancers.

Traditional exercise programs are not appealing to many Parkinsons’ patients and fewer than half of Parkinsons’ patients complete their recommended dose of daily activity. A connection between music and the dopamine systems in the brain exists and is very important for establishing and maintaining behavior. Thus, the combination of music with exercise, such as the tango, can increase accessibility, pleasure and motivation, as well as improve mood and stimulate cognition. The social interaction and support involved in the tango also have positive results on both mood and compliance.