Tango therapy brings joy to seniors and unites generations

By Laksmi Wijayanti

NPO Tango Therapy Association started out with a clear mission: encouraging intergenerational exchanges and sharing the benefits of Tango Therapy with the elderly in Japan. While many may have heard of the Argentine tango dance, not as many are aware of its use for rehabilitation purposes. What is tango therapy and how does it work? Is it truly beneficial only to senior citizens or does it benefit all?

I first heard about tango therapy when I was looking for ways to contribute around Tokyo through volunteering. Having learned Argentine tango dance for a few years now, hearing about its use in therapy piqued my curiosity. The next thing I did was signing up for this volunteering activity and showed up at the elderly care facility where it was held. The very warm and enthusiastic welcome from the instructor and fellow volunteers reassured me that I was in good hands. During the briefing, we were encouraged to hug one another as part of the therapy itself. As hugging and close connections are important elements in tango dancing, it is understandable that the therapy would incorporate that too.

Yet, imagine my surprise when, as we greeted the 10 to 15 elderly participants on that day, the instructor asked us to hug each one of them as part of our introductions. While I was still battling my overgeneralized stereotype about Japanese people’s privacy preference and shyness towards strangers, the instructor added, “Don’t worry, they’re used to this therapy, and even expecting the hugs!” Well, so much for my stereotype.

These benefits drove three professional tango dancers—Carolina Alberici, Enrique Morales, and his wife Akiko Kinoshita—to start the therapy in Japan. The three dancers are already familiar with its usefulness to rehabilitate people with mental illnesses back in Argentina and wanted to share its benefits to the local community as they moved and settled in Tokyo. While visiting their relatives in a care facility in the capital, they saw the majority of seniors there either bedridden or in a wheelchair. Therefore, they started delivering tango therapy activities there as volunteers in 2009, using their expertise, in the hope of giving the seniors more chance to exercise using tango elements and music. As their activity grew, they established the NPO Tango Therapy Association Japan on Apr. 1, 2016. Fast forward 4 years later, the NPO now has 150 registered therapists with 20 facilities to cater to. All these amount to 5,000 people served, 1,000 of which are either one-time or returning volunteers from around the world.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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The photo may be pre-pandemic, but showing an old geezer in a wheelchair cavorting with a young woman, both sans masks, sends the wrong message: it takes two to tango, but also two to catch Covid.

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You know when you've been Tango'd.

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This is great.  It makes the elderly feel less lonely, especially if they have no one else to visit them.   It also helps them physically by moving more often.  I visited elderly friends of my mother in nursing homes, and their eyes light up when they see someone they know. Yet, it is so sad to see them in nursing homes in the first place. So visiting them is a two edged sword.   It makes one happy to visit them, and sad at the same time knowing that they are there.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Pope Francis as a young Argentine man before he entered priesthood worked as a chemist, bouncer, etc. And he loved to play soccer and tango dance!

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