Re-connecting with the world through Tango

Published 05 January 2011

tango_feetTango dancing could add a new dimension of enjoyment to the lives of older people with a visual impairment.

“Tango dancing is an ideal activity for people with age-related macular degeneration,” said Rosa Pinniger, a researcher from the University of New England who is planning a program of tango classes in Sydney to test this hypothesis.

“Tango is conducted at a walking pace and is performed within a supportive embrace, the partner providing helpful sensory information for navigating through space,” Ms Pinniger explained. “In Tango, the most important thing is to be in the present moment, connecting totally with the partner – two people moving as one. In order to achieve this, the follower must pay full attention and focus on the leader’s movements – and in fact it is easier to do this with closed eyes so as not to get distracted.”

Ms Pinniger’s “tango trial” in Sydney, to begin in February 2011, is part of an international study on “the feasibility of using an Argentine Tango program for improving mood in individuals with age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)”. It follows a pilot study last year by Associate Professor Patricia McKinley of McGill University in Canada in which all of the ARMD-affected participants responded positively – and with pleasure – to the dance. Dr McKinley, who is co-supervisor (with UNE’s Dr Rhonda Brown and Dr Einar Thorsteinsson)  of Ms Pinniger’s doctoral research, will travel to Australia for the Sydney program.

Ms Pinniger has already conducted tango programs that have demonstrated beneficial effects for participants with depression or anxiety. “The aim of this new study is to assess the potential of tango dancing for promoting and enhancing mobility, social interaction, and a sense of wellbeing in seniors with ARMD – or any serious visual impairment,” she said. She is seeking participants in the Sydney trial, and anyone interested – either for themselves or on behalf of a friend or relative – can contact her on 0416 210 758 (or e-mail:

The program will comprise two tango classes a week for four weeks (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10.30 am to midday) at the Pyrmont Community Centre, starting on Tuesday 8 February. Each class will run for an hour and a half, with a break in the middle. The classes will be free of charge, with expert instructors as dance partners for the participants.

“ARMD is the leading cause of irreversible visual impairment in adults over 50 years of age around the world,” Ms Pinniger explained. “It results in the loss of central vision (although some peripheral vision may remain), so it is difficult or impossible for those affected to recognise faces, to read, to engage in other activities – such as playing cards or knitting – that they have always enjoyed, and to move around without fear of falling. The emotional consequences can be devastating – including reduced levels of wellbeing and greater levels of depression.

“We’re investigating the beneficial effects of tango dancing as an activity for which visual impairment is not a disadvantage. On the contrary, visual impairment enhances the connection with a partner during the dance, and thus the enjoyment of it.”