Jul 5, 2006

Chapter 13

It takes two to Tango
From Argentina, with love

What is the craziest thing we could do?
What could we announce that would make people say "That is a stupid idea"?
Let's take people with Parkinson's movement disorders, and teach them to dance the Tango ! So what if they can't walk without falling down, we are not asking them to walk. We are asking them to perform the most complex dance moves, forwards and backwards, in harmony with another dancer.

Let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late.

True confession: the photos above are not people in my Parkinson’s Underground. They are tango dancers; reaching out to us from Argentina. We are an older and not so handsome group. We used to be that sexy, but now we ache in the places where we used to play. But Parkinson’s people are dancing the tango, around the world. And the medical community does not seem to want to take note.

Thus, we started in Chapter 1 with this:

“… Many mental illnesses are now known to undermine the ability to dance or perform rhythmically – schizophrenia and Parkinson’s, to name just two – and so the sort of rhythmic dancing and music making that have characterized most music across the ages serves as a warranty of physical and mental fitness, perhaps even a warranty of reliability and conscientiousness…”
- page 253 of “This is Your Brain on Music” by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, neurologist at McGill University, published by Penguin, September 2007
- Scientific American Book Club Selection; L.A. Times Book Award Nominee; New York Times Best-seller for 5 weeks.

…Scientific American, NY Times best-seller, world renowned neurologist… no cause, no cure, levadopa is the only treatment, and it is universally acknowledged that those of us with movement disorders most certainly cannot dance, because if we could, then how to explain that we have such difficulty doing anything other than dancing? How can that be possible? Eh?

"Undermine the ability to dance." Well of course, people who have difficulty walking, who cannot feed themselves with a spoon, who move about in walkers or wheelchairs, of course they cannot dance, right? Because if they could dance, and yet not walk, it would require an explanation, don’t you think?

SO now we are at Chapter 13, and it is time to send thanks and gratitude to three researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri:

Madeleine E. Hackney, Svetlana Kantorovich and Gammon M. Earhart.

From the departments of neurology, neurobiology and biology at Washington University. Not just anecdotal evidence. Documented science.

They published a full scientific study entitled “A study of the effects of Argentine Tango as a form of partnered dance for those with Parkinson’s Disease and the healthy elderly. (American Journal of Dance Therapy Vol. 29, No. 2)

American Dance Therapy Association.

It’s a 20 page research paper, in full scientific mode.

These researchers at Washington University did the craziest thing to demonstrate that PWP may not be able to take up their beds and walk, but some can take up their beds and dance.

And dance the most complicated dance steps there are. Forward and backward. In response to movement of your partner. Improvised within a strict classical discipline. Art at a very high level. The most complicated movements the brain can instruct the muscles to do. By people who cannot control their movements because that part of their brain is 80 to 90% dead. They dance with a different part of the brain.

But science dismisses this as tree-hugging hippie talk. Dance and music, peace and love, yin and yang and all that. Zen meditation and herbal tea.

So if you wanted to demonstrate that something is wrong with the scientific picture; that for some reason PWP can dance, how do you make it evident? What is the craziest thing to do? Teach them the hardest dance on earth.

Teach them to tango.

The researchers at Washington University said:

“We recruited 19 subjects with PD and 19 age- and gender-matched controls. All subjects were at least 55 years old…”

And they taught them the Tango for 13 weeks. Postural stretches, balance exercises, tango-style walking, embellishment footwork games, rhythmical experimentation, both with and without a partner…

They worked on the basic Argentine tango principles, such as partnership, timing, footwork, and movement quality…. Traditional tango music was played and the students moved to the beat…. But the focus was more on the shape of the movement, transition and partnership skills, and less on dancing to a prescribed, instructor-dictated beat.

They learned it as an art form, for beauty. Not as a medical prescription, not as a military drill to be performed. As an art form, as beauty.

They danced both the leading and following roles, regardless of gender. They rotated partners every 10 – 15 minutes, so they learned from each other.

“Tango dancing demands concentration of which the group was quite capable. Since the neurologically challenged were at different stages of the disease, some participants were more severely disabled than others, but everyone adjusted to his or her partner’s capabilities..."

"Although all groups showed gains in various measures, only the Parkinson’s tango group improved on all measures of balance, falls, and gait..."

“ Argentine tango is a dance done in an embrace or frame, unlike swing or salsa.. Argentine tango steps are themselves composed of balance exercises: step in all directions, placing one foot in front of another in tandem, rolling through the foot from heel to toe, or toe to heel, leaning toward or away from a partner, and dynamic balances in single stance.

"Tango develops focus and attention while a dancer executes the movements, be it turning, stepping, balancing, or a combination of all three… a social dance, partnered movement… Argentine tango allows both participants an enormous amount of flexibility and choice in movement.”

“Unlike waltz or foxtrot, no one step must follow another. The leader can choose to turn, to travel in any direction, or to remain stationary. The interpretation of tempo and rhythm are also up to the whim of the leader, and beautifully matched by the follower because it is acceptable to move energetically or to pause for an extra beat. Free to constantly improvise, and create unique rhythms for every moment of the dance, a couple dances in sync to the meter of the music. One can rarely be “wrong” while dancing Argentine tango.

"Argentine tango is a form of artistic expression, soulful, and full of meaning; tango music creates an atmosphere of contemplation, longing and stimulation.

"Since a dancer’s attention must be divided between navigation and balance, Argentine tango helps develop cognitive skills like dual tasking.

"Tango appears to be a conduit for helpful human interaction for people who are dealing with a difficult malady on a daily basis. The touch of others, the rhythm of the music…

"…Many people reported to the instructors and principle investigators their disbelief that people with Parkinson’s could dance, but this experience showed that not only could they dance, they could learn and improve their dancing abilities similar to non-neurologically challenged individuals and some, more so than the healthy elderly.

Parkinson’s Disease is not a sentence to restricted activities.

"The results illustrate improvements in all measures of falls, gait and balance in those with parkinson's in the tango group…

…although all groups improved (Parkinson’s people doing exercise instead of dance; normal healthy people doing exercise, normal healthy people dancing the tango) ONLY THE PARKINSON’S TANGO GROUP IMPROVED IN ALL MEASURES.


Scientific American, NY Times, L.A. Times, Penguin Books, makers of Levadopa… Any questions? About the mentally ill unreliable retards who cannot dance because they are brain-dead? Any questions? Did I just see a sabre-tooth tiger? How many of you can dance the tango? How come these people can dance?

\Postscript. The 13 chapters were written in the sequence in which they appear. (The dates on the pages are wrong for computer reasons) All 13 chapters are the same story told over again)

You may send comments to dawson.schulz@gmail.com

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