Sunday, February 6, 2011

When tango is NOT therapeutic

Walking from the brain's perspective.  It's more than exercise

When is tango not therapeutic?

Tango cannot be everything or used to help you through everything.

Tango may need some help!  If you are suffering from depression, insomnia, obsessions, anxiety, then tango actually can be a problem if you rely on it as your only method of therapy.

You may need medication, counseling and a combination of other activities rather than large doses of the thing that seems to help the most -- tango.   Any ONE therapeutic intervention by itself may be counter-productive.  For example, taking medication alone for insomnia may mask the problem and bring no longterm solution.  All studies show that psychotropic medications work best when in taken in conjunction with counseling.  I would add to counseling, "getting out and living life, including dancing"!  So it is with tango.  What other resources need to be taken with your dose of tango?

As a therapist, working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I have been suggesting "self-care" to soldiers using bi-lateral stimulation to the brain through walking, more specifically -- a "tango walk," a graceful, contra-body walk.  Many of my patients have PTSD.

Walking has a long history of helping people cope.  People who walk over five miles a day are far healthier than those who do less.  Most of the research misses why they are healthier and happier.  Is it just exercise?  Maybe the brain is a lot happier with the stimulation that left/right repetition-through-walking provides.  A happy brain helps the whole body to thrive.  Walking makes us happier, more serene, more focused.  Just ask a meditating, walking Buddhist monk!  Or the many prophets who met or pondered their calling on a walk.  Tango is essentially a walk -- especially millonguero style tango.

 Maybe you decided whom to marry or what career course to take while on a walk.  This walk creates through the feet bi-lateral stimulation.  Now that you know HOW to walk from dancing tango, try the "walking-solution," but now using the graceful, contra-body walk you have learned via tango.  And watch out!  Fireworks!

A graceful walk decreases depression, helps with balance, helps the mind sort out stresses and obsessions.  Who hasn't experienced that?  Great brain research is proving what we already know.  The brain that has gone out for a walk looks different afterwards.  The negative ions of fresh air (which the brain loves) and dopamine release are all part of exercise, but also this comes, and maybe even mainly comes, from the the bi-lateral stimulation of the brain (the left/right repetition of the feet hitting the ground) while the brain is doing it main work -- adaptation to its environment.  Runners are not the only ones with a "high" provided by this bi-lateral simulation to the brain.  If "exercise" were the most important element in getting high through bi-lateral stimulation through movement, runners would be happier than tango dancers.  The "tanguero's high" beats runner's high hands down.  I speak with authority here: I have run 14 marathons.

So my soldier clients report that they can now "walk out" anger, frustration and even anxiety by walking.  They seemed to be more grounded too, meaning that flashbacks are more in control.  Many wounded soldiers need more exercise; so going for walks is a great "side effect."  Aren't you glad that they are doing this rather than going for a ride in their big trucks to work out anger?  Also, most soldiers suffering from PTSD-like symptoms need to get up and out, instead of the common avoidance of everything and everyone outside their apartment.  A graceful walk alone or with someone they love is a great resource.  Now imagine walking and holding that person!  Did I say "fireworks" for just walking?  A walking embrace is exactly what people are talking about when they talk about the "addictive" quality of tango. 

A future post will address what happens when the power of touch and music are added to the walk.

Again, tango is not automatically therapeutic, but often is.  In some cases, I suppose it could be just an escape, or even feel somewhat like an "addiction."  Tango can be counter-productive, but it cannot be an addiction.*   Mostly, tango is a very positive, therapeutic element in my life.  I suppose that if you are reading this, tango probably has been therapeutic in yours as well.

*Tango is never "addictive" (which is a terrible misuse of words).  However tango can be an avoidance behavior.  Here are some thoughts on this subject:  "Tango is not an addiction, Part I / Part II" (links below).

Note: The above photo is from a "how to" website on Yoga walking, which underscores the message here, although misses the point about the role of bi-later stimulation to the brain.  Please visit this link.


  1. This explains why tango is on my mind all the time.

  2. Yes I think that Tango is always therapeutic. Once you start to dance it is like music therapy very amplified, it always produces, in different degrees a therapeutic effect. I propose that tango therapy as a natural method for health and aging and wellness, and the people should not have any synthetic drug because it will impair natural body mechanisms of getting to function in harmony again

  3. Dr Gerner, lately I have heard a lot of talk about how "addictive" tango is. I was thinking of re-posting this, but I do not think it will do much good. The gods of the medical model have believers that may come and take me away. It is sad that the present medical model keeps expanding negative diagnoses to expand the use of medications and therapies that do not work for addictions. This is the present model: Come up with new disorders and add, "one day we will find a cure -- just send money to help us for this importnat research." What if the problem is more in the area of the soul and no pill will ever do?

    If I ever come to Uruguay, I would love to meet you! -- Mark


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