For many, tango dancing is simply a fun and exotic exercise. But a small new study out of Montreal shows it could also be therapeutic for those suffering from the potentially debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers at Montreal Neurological Hospital and MUHC  looked at the effects of tango dancing on Parkinson’s patients, and found that Argentine tango may help those who suffer from the disease keep moving even after the music stops.

Half of the 40 Parkinson’s patients enrolled in the study took regular Argentine tango classes over a 12-week course.

Lead researcher Dr. Silvia Rios Romenets theorized there may be benefits for patients with a neurological disease that causes motor dysfunctions.

“The technique of tango is a combination of movements, back and forward and also memorizing steps …. At the same time, you have to use the rhythm of tango, which is a fluctuating rhythms.”

Study participant Wilfred Buchanan said he jumped at the chance to dance the tango for research. “It sounded like a wonderful treatment that didn’t have any side effects that you didn’t want,” he told CTV News.

It didn’t disappoint, with Buchanan saying he enjoyed the dancing, and it was a physical activity he could do with his wife.

Rios Romenets said there are limitations to what medications can do for some symptoms in Parkinson’s patients.

Drug treatment can’t prevent falls or improve balance, she said. And common symptoms such as fatigue, mood problems or loss of motivation also cannot be alleviated through medication. 

“So it’s important to look for other non-pharmaceutical treatments,” said Rios Romenets, who is a clinical research fellow at the Movement Disorders Clinic at the Neuro and Montreal General Hospital.

The study found the tango can significantly improve balance and functional mobility. There were modest improvements in cognitive function and reducing fatigue, as tango requires memory, attention control and multitasking. The core motor features of the disease, such as tremors, slowness and rigidity, were unchanged.Participant Eleanor Jones said she noticed the benefits.


“It made you think -- the choreography of it,” Jones said. “It helped with the balance, the dancing backwards.”

Jones said she was also motivated by the music, which included “great old hits” from the 40s and 50s.

The study was published in the April 2015 issue of Complementary Therapies in Medicine.