Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tango's score as a Stress-Beater: an amazing 8 out of 9!

In the May 2009 AARP Bulletin (my mother's copy ;) ) the feature article is "Stress - Why it's making you sick". by Barbara Basler. (Page 14.)

The headline on the bulletin's cover is:

"What, Me Worry?
Economic stress
can wreck your immune system,
increase your blood pressure and
speed up aging.
9 ways to loosen up."

The adjacent photo shows a fifty-something man with furrowed brow, eyes full of anxiety, and all 10 fingernails rammed into his teeth. The photo is shot from above, with a lense that makes his head and hands-in-his-mouth look large and his feet look distant and tiny, making him look powerless.

The sidebar interested me the most. It summarizes the author's recommended antidotes to health-robbing stress. I did a quick tally on how Argentine Tango rates as a stress-beater. I'll quote the 9 items on the list for you and tell you how tango fits in.

Here's the author's list:


- Socialize. See friends, relatives, go to club meetings. Stay connected. This is paramount.

Well, almost everyone who frequents milongas (tango dance evenings or events) will agree that part of the attraction to going to dance tango is the context in which we dance. It's almost universally a warm, welcoming environment that attracts people who have something strong in common with each other. It's the one environment I know of where strict physical barriers between people melt away, and friendly affection is comfortably expressed. When people say they need a "tango fix" (like an addict might say), they're probably not talking only about the dance per se, but also about the entire experience of dancing plus being in the tango community. The advice says "Stay connected. This is paramount." Tango people build a connection with each other - not just between dance partners.

Score: 1 point.

- Talk, laugh, cry, get angry. Let it out.

Dancing tango is a creative outlet for a broad range of human emotions. Much of the music helps us connect with our emotions, and closely embracing another person, especially one of the opposite sex, helps us communicate emotion through our bodies and our movements.

Score: 2 points.

- Exercise regularly. Studies show exercise reduces anxiety, releasestension and spurs the brain to pump out endorphins, chemicals thatcreate a sense of well-being. Try for 30 to 60 minutes three times aweek.

We all know that dancing is a pleasant form of exercise. Tango can be danced with a mild, tranquil energy, or with increasing degrees of dynamicity. Many tango dancers say that tango is addictive, and I'm convinced that's because it's a big endorphin producer (thanks only in part to the physical activity aspect).

Score: 3 points.

- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Many tango people eat healthy diets, but some don't. Red wine, the traditional tango beverage, does have a pretty high ORAC rating - that is, it's rich in antioxidants. But I can't justify conceding any points to tango on the healthy diet.

Score: remains 3 points.

- Block stress by losing yourself in activities you enjoy deeply -reading, playing music, gardening, visiting friends. Add these activities to your daily or weekly schedule. Be disciplined about this.

Tango is by far the activity I know of that best engages participants from all walks of life in deep and satisfying concentration. How many thousands of people have mentioned experiencing the "tango trance"? In my own publicity for tango lessons, one of the benefits I list is: "Become absorbed in something so different that you can live a vacation on demand, as if by flicking a switch" and I talk about "getting swept away by something marvelous".

I'd give tango double points on this, but let's remain conservative and give it one.

Score: 4 points

- Get perspective. Remember past hardships and problems you've overcome.

I'll give this one a slight twist. In all my years of building a community of intelligent and accomplished people who learned to dance tango, one thing I encountered surprisingly often is that people said "Tango saved my life!" and confided in me about how when they discovered and embraced tango, they were going through a painful transition or a crisis in their professional or personal lives -separation or divorce, loss of a career, etc., often having to start over in some way. Ask a dozen avid tango dancers whether tango ever helped them through a rough time in their lives, and I'll wager that you'll get at least half a dozen emphatic testimonials.

Score: 5 points

- Live in the moment through activities you enjoy, and small escapes like movies and TV.

Different from the "deeply absorbing" aspect, tango also has its light side and is a lot of fun. When you enter place to dance tango, it's pretty easy to leave your worries outside the door! Ask any tango dancer how tango ranks on a list of diversions like watching tv, and see what comes out on top.

Score: 6 points

- Practice slow, deep breaths. Shallow, fearful breathing seems to send stress signals to the brain.

People who want to dance good tango tend to master their breathing. Tango is full of pauses, moments to breathe deeply and gather your partner better in your arms, or just to connect more fully, not necessarily physically. Often you become aware of the your partner's breathing, or the breathing of the two almost synchronizes.

Score: 7 points

- Try yoga or meditation. If you don't enjoy them, don't force yourself - try another activity.

. . . such as tango. I start most of my lessons with the students' tango walk, everyone walking forward individually to the music, down the length of the room, and then back, walking backwards, repeating the sequence till the song ends. It is the best thing I know of to help people detach themselves from all the issues at work or at home that may make them tense or anxious, and feel "centered". By the end of 3 tangos - about10 minutes - of walking, focusing on their alignment, their balance and, most of all, on the music, they have usually cleared their heads of all external stresses, can breathe freely, review old information, absorb new information, connect with another person, and move fluidly. But even just going to dance socially has a meditative effect. I've often heard the comment from new tango dancers, "Tango for me is like meditation". I think most of us will agree that, with or without "the tango trance" (personally, I prefer to stay fully alert), tango can be a form of meditation.

Score: 8 points!!

Your feedback and comments are welcome.

So I believe we do a good deed by promoting and sharing this miracle elixir that helps people stay healthy, balanced and positive in hard economic times!

I'd love to hear your personal Tango Stress-Beater story; please write me at htreitman@gmail.com. I will publish selected stories in my new e-zine.

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