Ms Pinniger, an Honours student in psychology at the University of New England, is organising a “Tango trial” to help her find out.
She’s inviting people with depression to take part in an experiment in which a third of the participants will get six free, weekly Tango lessons. At the same time, another third will attend free meditation classes (a widely-recognised alternative therapy for depression), and the rest (the “controls”) will do neither. The “controls” will get free lessons â€“ their choice of either Tango or meditation â€“ after the end of the trial.
Rosa Pinniger comes from Barcelona in Spain and lives in Sydney, where the “Tango trial” will begin next week. Not a Tango dancer herself, she was taken by surprise when she was invited to a Tango session in Sydney and realised that it was “just the thing” for her study of alternative therapies for depression.
“In learning Tango movements you have to focus your attention and be completely in the present moment,” she explained. “You need to be constantly aware of â€“ and connect with â€“ your partner, and so you can’t have extraneous thoughts. In other dances you can still have thoughts â€“ but not in Tango.”
Such “mindfulness”, she believes, can “switch off the automatic negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and depression”. “I believe that if people can experience freedom from their negative thoughts for just the three minutes of a Tango dance, they’ll realise that such freedom is possible,” she said.
“While we already know that meditation can be helpful in the treatment of depression, not everyone can meditate. But everyone who can walk can Tango. It doesn’t matter whether you’re graceful or not; it’s all mindfulness and connecting with another person.”
Although she’s from Spain, she did not consider Flamenco as a candidate for depression therapy. “In Flamenco you’re very self-conscious,” she said â€“ “aware of your own posture and the impression you’re making on others. In Tango you’re not concerned with that. Also, the music of Tango is not intimidating.”
The Tango lessons â€“ each one-and-a-half hours long â€“ will begin on Tuesday 22 April, and the meditation lessons on Monday 21 April. Both will be at an address in Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, not far from Central Station. Ms Pinniger needs at least 90 participants for the trial and, although more than 70 have already signed up, she’s keen to hear from anyone in Sydney who might be interested. “You have to be aged 18 or older, and to have felt sad or depressed recently,” she said. “There is no cost associated with participation, all information is kept strictly confidential, and you can withdraw from the trial at any time.” She can be contacted by phone on (02) 9554 3557 or 0450 166 572, or by e-mail: email@example.com.
Both the Tango teacher and the meditation teacher are so interested in the project that they are volunteering their time to help.
For the future, Ms Pinniger would like to extend her interest in Tango therapy to help hospital patients suffering from chronic illness.