Tango therapy: let’s dance!

And one, two, three, four… Join us as we dance the tango! But not just any tango: therapeutic tango. Our first stop for this report is the geriatric hospital in Albigny-sur-Saône, north of Lyon, where some twenty residents are getting ready to start, guided by an accordionist and a professional dancer.

Tango is the dance that comes closest to natural walking’, explains the dancer. Making it particularly suitable for elderly people. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, regular dancing enables them to relearn simple but forgotten movements, such as rocking from one foot to the other, turning around and walking backwards. As well as improving motor skills, therapeutic tango stimulates memory, promotes social contact and increases overall quality of life. Positive effects that have all been demonstrated by France Mourey’s research team by measuring the residents’ capacities before and after 3 months of therapeutic tango workshops. So come on, head high, shoulders back, and let this Argentinian rhythm be your guide!

Une femme âgée, assise sur une chaise, chante avec joie.

As a warm-up, the residents start by being invited to sing Tino Rossi’s Le plus beau tango du monde. ‘I love it! It’s pure happiness’, exclaims resident Mariane Le Cosquino.

Musician Patrick Bullier accompanies them on the accordion. No sooner do the first notes sound than some of the residents get up to sing. ‘It’s sharing through music, we’re able to create emotions like that.

Un homme joue de l’accordéon et une femme âgée lui fait face l’air enjoué. Une jeune femme les regarde en souriant.
La jeune femme de la photo précédente danse avec une femme âgée qui ferme les yeux, comme emportée par la musique ou le moment.

Therapeutic tango helps us to reconnect with and discover the residents in a new light. For some of them, it’s been a revelation’, confides psychomotor therapist Jaël Gelay (right).

Tango is first and foremost a dance that invites contact. ‘We have residents who were previously withdrawn into themselves now looking for someone to dance with’, says the caregiver team which is highly invested in the initiative.

Une femme âgée danse avec une femme plus jeune très souriante, elles se regardent dans les yeux.
Un homme d’une trentaine d’années tient des baguettes en bois dans chacune de ses mains. Il est entouré par deux femmes âgées qui tiennent des baguettes identiques et viennent taper sur les siennes avec les leurs.

Those who want to can also set the pace using percussion instruments. A way to regain a sense of rhythm. Advanced practice nurse Renaud Jamet (centre) has just set the tempo.

Un homme âgé en t-shirt et en short se tient dans la position d’un danseur de tango. Il est entouré de nombreuses caméras.

Our next stop is Dijon, which is where the research component of the therapy takes place. In the Cognition, Action and Sensorimotor Plasticity (CAPS) laboratory, volunteers such as Pascal Godon are asked to perform a series of movements that are recorded.

Reflective spherical sensors attached to the volunteer’s arms and infrared cameras measure the electrical activity of the muscles and the characteristics of the movement. The volunteer’s movements are then reconstructed using a computer. The aim of this research is to decipher the mechanisms of movement and the impact of ageing on it, and ultimately understand the influence that tango music can have.

Around forty establishments for the elderly have adopted tango therapy: in a neurodegenerative disease context it can be used instead of or in addition to medication.

France Mourey is a researcher in the Cognition, Action and Sensorimotor Plasticity (CAPS) unit (unit 1093 Inserm/University of Burgundy) in Dijon.

Photos: Inserm/François Guénet
Author: L. A.