While walking and jogging are great for boosting health and mood, the benefits of dance rates even higher, and Argentine tango seems to top the list.
So what is it about tango that makes 50-somethings feel like 30?
We checked out a Taos Tango practica last week, where dancers fairly rave about their experience with Argentine tango — “addictive” being the operative word almost to a person.
Andrea Szekerez of Taos finishes her cross-crawl-spiraling moves she was trying out with a partner and hauls off the dance floor to talk about her love of tango.
After Szekerez fractured both tibial plateaus in a car accident seven years ago she found tango through her Pilates instructor Carrie Field, co-founder with Mike Malixi of Taos Tango, which the pair started in 2009.
“I'm completely addicted to it,” Szekerez admits freely about tango. “It's a mood elevator. I hiked the ridge (at Taos Ski Valley) today,” she says, as an indicator of how much improved she is since dancing Tango for five years.
“Now I'm learning to lead. Tango is great physically, emotionally, even spiritually — because of the Zen-like meditation, I think, because you're so present with each other.”
Taoseña Paloma Villalobos also finds the mental aspect of Tango compelling.
“It really causes you to stay in the present. It's being able to communicate with your bodies and not just mentally; you have to be in the moment to know what's going on with your partner,” Villalobos says.
Guest instructors of the evening, Guillermo Cerneaz and Marina Kenny of Bueno Aires, make the point that, unlike most (or all) partner dancing, the leader in tango must never run 'up' on the follower, because the follower needs the space to stay in place.
“You are always walking without pulling or pushing your partner,” Cerneaz says.
The “walking dance” of Tango has come under investigation by Assistant Professor Madeleine Hackney, Geriatric Medicine Faculty of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga.
“Hackney brought to light through her research how dancing Tango is improving the gait of people with Parkinson's Disease,” Connie Field says.
Field travels to Georgia in April to do a weekend workshop with Hackney in order to start a Taos program, something her Pilates students with Parkinson's have asked Field to begin, hopefully for this summer.
“You need volunteers with 'fall training' to be dance partners with Parkinson's people,” because of Parkinson's imbalance issues Field explains. “You see a lot of backwards walking in tango — the cross-crawl-spiral that naturally occurs in walking,” and which Hackney's research postulates is even more beneficial for Parkinsonian neural deficits than even ballroom dancing.
“This is my way of giving back,” Field explains about the free program she envisions for Parkinson's tango therapy, “my community service for all that tango gives to me.”
A similar sentiment is expressed by another tango teacher in Taos, Shahin Medghalchi of The Tango House.
“I don't even consider this is a business,” Medghalchi says. “I do tango for my heart.”
“Tango is actually more than just physical work, it's energy work that helps people to change their thoughts,” Medghalchi says during a break between classes in a private home studio where she teaches tango in Taos. Medghalchi also has a practice in Santa Fe as well as various teaching gigs out of state.
John Pruit, a student of Medghalchi, has been dancing two-step for 50 years in Taos and the Southwest. He finds there's a lot more discipline in tango.
“Tango needs a lot more body control. It requires a lot more of me than two-step. In two-step you use your arms a lot for turns. In tango, you're very close, right to your chest, it's tortional; the lead is with your chest.”
Formerly a five-year competitive ballroom dancer, since devoting her work to Argentinian tango and teaching throughout the U.S., Medghalchi's most impressive example of tango's health and fitness benefits is here in Taos with an octogenarian.
“It saved his life,” Medghalchi states unequivocally (being a local, the gentleman asked to remain anonymous).
“He came to me at age 85, very depressed since his wife died; he'd had major heart surgery - he was very disabled, with swollen ankles, his knees hurting, and bent over at the waist.
“After one to two lessons a week for two years, his whole life completely turned around. Today (three years later) he is three inches taller, he's lost 20 pounds and he has decreased his medication,” Medghalchi says. “Tango moved him into a different place physically, emotionally, everything. Tango saved his life.”
To see if Argentine dance is for you, ask your medical professional if you are healthy enough to start dance practice; check out Taos Tango and The Tango house online; and see the sidebars for more information.