‘It helps to take your mind off the Parkinson’s’: Seniors use tango as therapy

HALIFAX – A pilot program is using the power of dance to help people suffering from neurological conditions.

Tea and Tango is believed to be the first of its kind in Halifax and is run by non-profit Happily Ever Active.

Every Saturday, about 30 people gather in the Bethune Building at Victoria General Hospital to partake in a tea social and tango lessons.

Happily Ever Active director Jesse Robson said that the participants are survivors of strokes or brain injury or people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain.

Instructor Lorne Buick says the dance can be therapeutic, both physically and psychologically.

“Learning a lot of basic variations of different movement is really good,” Buick said.

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“It has a good balance of memorizing small sequences of steps but then having to be very aware of what’s going on around us to sequence those steps.”

Buick said that the dance focuses on posture, balance and coordination.

“The regular rhythm helps people walk and establish a rhythmic movement but the element of drama encourages them to put their emotion in the dance and share that with a partner,” he said.

“The tango embrace is also very therapeutic. It’s round and warm. It’s not rigid or controlling. It’s all about communicating between the partners and really sharing the movement and the feeling of the dance.”

The weekly sessions have been meaningful for Carole Hartzman, who has Parkinson’s disease and deals with mobility issues.

“Sometimes I’m walking with ease. Other times, I grind to a halt. I freeze in place,” she said about her disease.

But the tango is helping the senior take control of her body.

“My balance is enhanced because tango will have you on one foot at times. Tapping with that one foot and moving to another step and so that helps my walking a lot. It helps my balance.”

Hartzman is just one of about 15 people in the program who have neurological conditions; the other 15 are their spouses, volunteers or medical students who are their dance partners.

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While learning the tango is new for many people, they say the benefits are quite clear to them.

“It really helps my balance a lot,” said Cecil Murphy, who has multiple sclerosis and deals with balance issues. “The more you do it, the more steps you do and you get into the routine of doing it.”

“It’s not really hard exercise. To do it all the time, it helps. It really does.”

Harold Gay has Parkinson’s disease but said that his ailment gets left at the door when he arrives at the tango class.

“It’s helped me a lot in my balance. To be able to dance with a partner and the exercise, it’s great,” he said.

“It helps to take your mind off the Parkinson’s and control it to a certain degree.”

The 10-week pilot program wraps up at the end of November. Robson said that details are still being worked out to start the program up in the new year.

The sessions are free to participants.

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