Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


From treadmill to dance floor ... discovering tango

Much has been written about the benefits of exercise, which include an improved sense of well-being and better sleep, keeping us healthy. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that regular physical activity can alleviate certain degenerative illnesses and fight depression.

MonTango owners Andrea Shepherd and Wolfgang Mercado Alatrista

Why then do some of us avoid “working out” like the plague? Could it be the robotic repetition? Is it the pulsating but monotonous rhythm of “aerobic work-out music”? Or is it simply the smell of a gym? Non-exercisers may want to trade in their running shoes for dancing shoes, as researchers are discovering that social dance delivers many of the same benefits as regular exercise, with a few pluses.

Last year, Madeleine E. Hackney of Washington University School of Medicine found that both exercise and dance, specifically tango, improved functional mobility in Parkinson’s patients. But the sense of balance of the dance group improved significantly more than that of the exercise group.

According to research presented at the 56th annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, dance can inspire sedentary adults to become more active, increasing their fitness level. “Using the tango to inspire people to get active and simultaneously improve their health may be a lot easier for some than being persuaded to walk into a gym,” says lead author Dr. Stephen P. Cobley of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. “Dance is something almost ever yone can do and enjoy, and use to their advantage.”

Researcher Patricia McKinley of McGill University’s school of physical therapy also found that dancing the tango was excellent for improving balance. Of the people she worked with, ranging in age from 62 to 91, those she assigned to tango class rather than to walking sessions experienced superior improvement in their balance, posture, motor co-ordination and cognition. “Walking over the long run will probably improve balance, but not as quickly as tango,” says McKinley, who took up tango for the first time when she was in her fifties.

The tango is enormously popular in Montreal, as evidenced by the presence of many tango schools around the city. In fact, our city is known as the tango capital of North America. The dance dates back to the many influences brought to Argentina by immigrants in the 19th century and was first danced around brothels in Buenos Aires. Like the European “sarabande,” it was originally associated with the seamy side of society and frowned upon. Following the First World War, it became all the rage in America and was adopted by the mainstream. While “ballroom” tango has formal steps as do other ballroom dances, the Argentine tango’s essence is improvisation and communication between the partners, keeping the dancers firmly in the moment.

Andrea Shepherd teaches Argentine tango in NDG at MonTango, the tango school she owns with her “life/dance partner” Wolfgang Mercado Alatrista. “People who dance Argentine tango are passionate about it,” Shepherd said. “It changes people’s lives.” She is a case in point: Last year, she left a 19-year career in jour- nalism to teach dance full time.

The seductive rhythms of tango music have captured the imagination of great composers like Claude Debussy, who incorporated its signature pulse into his musical vocabulary. Composer Astor Piazzolla, whose name has become synonymous with tango, brought these mysterious and exciting sounds from the wrong side of town onto the concert stage.

While the tango demands concentration, it is learnable at any age, says Shepherd, who believes that if you can walk, you can dance. In fact, in Shepherd and Mercado’s classes, simple walking with a partner is the first movement a novice dancer learns. “One of the things that drew me to tango more than to other dances is the fact you can dance it forever – you don’t feel old in a tango club as soon as you hit 30! Our students range in age from 18-80,” Shepherd says.

MonTango, located at 5588A Sherbrooke W., offers free trial classes for beginners from September 8 to 11 at 7 p. m. Info: 514- 486-5588 or . For other tango schools in Montreal visit www.



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