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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011

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It takes two: Kiyoko Kinoshita, 96, of the Aioi no Sato nursing home in Tokyo, tangos with Enrique Morales, an Argentine instructor, at the home recently. KYODO

Tango therapy helping seniors keep fit, alert


With more people living well into their 80s and beyond, the problem of how to stay fit, alert and happy for as long as possible in their golden years has become important for both seniors and their caregivers.

Across the country, some nursing homes have introduced "tango therapy" to their residents and have achieved great success because the Argentine dance has an amazing effect of reinvigorating both body and mind.

According to some theories, dancing is good for senile people and those afflicted with Parkinson's disease. The quickening of the heartbeat that occurs in close contact with a dancing partner also apparently helps rejuvenate senior women.

One day at the Aioi no Sato nursing home in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, tango instructor Enrique Morales, 28, took Kiyoko Kinoshita's hands and the diminutive 96-year-old resident sprang out of her wheelchair. She is dead serious as she dances across the floor with the tall Argentine leading the way.

Dancing has been her passion since she was a young girl. "I feel much more than just good when I'm dancing," says Kinoshita. "I simply get carried away."

Another female resident, 84, also dances, although she spends most of her time in bed. "Things are quite different when I dance. Even in old age, I get quite excited when I hold the hands of a male partner."

The nursing home added Argentine tango to the list of recreational activities for its residents early last year. Seniors who usually refused to walk got on their feet, and the senile residents started to smile more often, according to caregivers at the facility.

Carolina Alberici, 40, another professional Argentine dancer who works as a volunteer with Morales, says people suffering from Parkinson's and other diseases began to tango about 10 years ago as part of their therapy. Research in the U.S. indicates that tango is more effective than most exercises in improving athletic functions, she says.

Stepping backward and other body movements that are uncommon in the everyday life of seniors enhance stimulus, while the tempo is about the same as that of normal walking, inducing little physical stress, according to Alberici.

Embracing a dancer of the opposite sex also melts seniors' hearts. She says women feel better hugging male partners even when they have problems and are depressed, as they begin to trust the men leading the dance in a protective way.

Through dancing, the partners learn to care about and understand each other. Many Japanese at first are shy about doing the tango but brighten up as they keep dancing, according to Alberici.

Dancing has long been used as therapy for mental diseases. "Even if you don't say a word, dancing can help deepen interpersonal relations and rapport and restore vivid emotions," says Arisa Yagi, a dance therapy expert and professor at the Japan College of Social Work.

"But there is some risk that physical contact can induce negative feelings. So it is necessary to devise a program tailored to individual needs by adjusting the physical distance between the dance partners and setting limits on body parts that the dancers are allowed to touch," Yagi said.

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