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Argentine Tango Foundation
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Fundación Tango Argentino
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Tango and parkinson

Free tango lesson for people with Parkinson and practice. Every Tuesday at 5.00 pm. in Av. Córdoba 5942 Buenos Aires.

Tango therapy

Mercedes Serrano (colaboradora), Verónica Alegre(danza terapeuta) y Marcela Montiel (Neuróloga)

We employ Tango in a therapeutic way to integrate and promote the personal development of people with Parkinson's. The main goal of the workshops at Fundacion Tango Argentino is to overcome the motor symptoms caused by Parkinson's disease.

We do not consider these symptoms to be impediments and believe they should not be isolating in everyday life. In therapy we adapt the movements to each student, taking full advantage of the melody and rhythm of tango. The intention is to transform the negative belief that "I can't do it" to a positive belief that “My body can do it” by building an integrated motor pattern.

Dance Therapy: Tango used therapeutically versus tango as an aesthetic dance

In therapy we seek the physical and emotional integration of the individual. The purpose of our workshops is based on Norberto Levy's definition of dance therapy: "... it is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and the dance in a process that promotes the psychophysical individual integration ..."

The difference between aesthetic tango dancing and tango as a therapeutic tool is that in the former we are trained to follow strict forms and techniques, whereas the therapeutic approach is much freer.

What that the patient achieves is neither good nor bad but has personal value in itself. We view the dance from the perspective of its content rather than its form. The dancer's movements are not for the benefit of the other but to benefit himself. This makes it more inclusive.

The professional dancer and choreographer David Leventhal (Oakland, California) teaches dance to people affected by Parkinson's disease and believes that "…both people with Parkinson's and non-parkinsonian dancers face the same challenge: to find conscience in the movement. The difficulty is not only for the people who have a motor disorder, but for anyone who wants to rule his body..."

At Fundacion Tango Argentino we believe this as well. Following Leventhal's reasoning, can we not say that we all suffer something like Parkinson's at some points in our lives? How many times have we heard that we don't know where to go or where we stand? We have all used these phrases. The body speaks for us and through dance we can change habits which one day will help relieve symptoms. At home those movements can be repeated with the assistance of family or therapeutic assistants, who have an important role in helping this community.

Application of Dance Elements and of Tango in the Workshop of Tango Therapy:

About the tango therapy technique that Professor Veronica Alegre has developed at Foundation Tango Argentino:

I use elements of dance therapy and the world of tango in all my classes. I realized that this combination is critical when I noticed that in class I was not only teaching a dance, but helping students deal with buried emotional traumas through communication with another person. Somehow, I accidentally became a kind of "therapist" for the people who came to learn how to dance tango. So I decided to dedicate myself to teaching tango using a therapeutic approach. The combination of both is absolutely positive. I was excited to take on the challenge to experience dance therapeutically in my own body and try to express it and broadcast it. I am happy to see when my students take the workshop as a moment for themselves. In this workshop people feel. I think this point is important because during that time they forget the duality of their lives. Instead they enjoy the space, the music, the movement, the reunion with their bodies, muscles, energy, the different centers of the body, and all the social aspects related to the workshop. This is fundamental to the whole experience. Here they can express themselves and forget if they are "off" or "on".

What does it mean to be "on" or "off"?

These terms are commonly used by both patients suffering from Parkinson's as well as their caregivers. Being "off" means the person is without the effect of the medication that controls their disease. And being "on" means they are under the effect of medication. If we translate literally into Spanish we would be talking about being offline/online or unplugged/plugged.

In my opinion, this language is representative of certain physical and emotional prejudices. It would be prudent to replace these terms with others that are not conditioned to physical or emotional states.

How do we transform exclusion into inclusion?

As we know students with Parkinson's have disrupted movement that manifests itself as tremors, stiffness, atrophy manifested in gait, slowness of movement, or impaired balance.

The aim is to use the ordered structure of tango to relieve symptoms and return the student to his own rhythm. By ordered structure I mean the following:

Rhythm: Working in groups and individually, we do music listening exercises to practice stepping on time. This technique uses the ground through the feet as well as through the whole body.

Respiration: Concentration on the breath allows the student to clearly observe the different body parts. At the same time we us the fundamental element of sound. Through his voice he can unblock the muscles of the mouth and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and reduce involuntary movements of the mouth.

Look: When the student fixes his eyes on his partner it helps his concentration. This helps the student maintain and direct the movement through time and space.

Audio Perception: According to Gabriel Salvador Adamo, professor at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Buenos Aires, audio perception is the "... musical language learning from what we perceive with our ears, as well as with the rest of our body...".

Applying it, we use movement to interpret the music. Audio perception works as a bridge and allows the body to react to sound stimulus with dynamic movements. Thus, we open the channel of sensation from the playful possibilities offered by tango music.

Postural Shaft: The main goal of tango therapy is the reconstruction of the postural axis of a student with Parkinson's, the spine. By strengthening this axis we work on balance and steps using the center from which the movement is born.

Using muscle exercises and warm-up we focus on the calves and thighs and how to direct energy one's energy. We use the idea of treating the floor as a friend. It is said that Parkinson's forces the students close to the ground and this is thought of as an impediment. We instead think of this as an opportunity, using the idea of pushing into the floor to do exercises that condition the muscles. Being glued to the floor is not a bad thing.

Thus the warm up for the workshop not only prepares the body but the mind as well by reversing a negative preconception. From the foot we begin to reconstitute the allegedly lost body axis and awaken the allegedly lethargic body.

Energy Use in The Circuit Embrace: It is important that the student work with someone who does not have Parkinson's so as to observe his partner's centre and thus begin to find it with himself. Through the transfer of energy in the embrace, the students begins to feel and understand where his companion is. Eventually the information he feels can manifest itself in his body.

Coordination of internal and external spatiality: In tango we move together. With permission, we enter and exit our partner's space. Through the arms and embrace there is a shared spatiotemporal relationship.

This is possible because tango movements allow creativity while still being clearly defined and comfortable for the other person.

From a technical and physical perspective the tango has important props such as the feet, which bear all the weight of our body, and awareness of how to use and place our knees to regain the supposedly lost muscle tone from Parkinson's. Some students are able to handle breaks that are generated, for example, a walk with your partner. So we banish the word "freezing" because they themselves manage their arrests and their fluency in the walk. All these concepts are enrich the body through tango therapy. The connection to the floor is the axis that keeps us alive.

This fact for a student with Parkinson's is sometime forgotten due to the progression of the disease. But this can be improved using the driving dynamics of tango therapy.

The internal and external rhythm of the city and the tango is a way to include these students in daily life and this gives you the opportunity to transform disadvantages into advantages.

Closing statement:

  • That the inclusion of student with Parkinson's depends on how we see with the problem.
  • It depends on how we treat the condition with our language. Also, to see a bit of progress in this community it is important to let go of the aesthetic focus of tango and embrace the therapeutic focus.
  • You need to have the goal of realization that all things can change and new roads will always be travelled. This leaves room for personal and community integration.
  • As a final thought, we adhere to the motto of the International Dance Council of UNESCO that integrating the excluded into dance, is a moral duty.

Veronica Alegre