Is it endorphins, mindfulness or simple fun? This month’s Psychology Today reports that studies in both Germany and at the University of New England found that dance lowers levels of stress hormones and significantly lowers levels of depression.

According to Rosa Pinniger, an Honors student in psychology at the University of New England, and organizer of a “Tango trial,” learning tango requires you to focus attention and be fully present in the moment, much like the practice of mindfulness.  Tango is unique in that you must maintain constant awareness and connection with your partner.  Pinneger believes that this mindful focus can switch off the negative thought patterns associated with stress and depression.

Mindfulness and meditation have been widely studied for their stress reduction and mental health benefits.  However, meditation does not appeal to everyone.  The tango may be a useful adjunct to mindfulness practice or may be a way to attain mindfulness for those who are not interested in traditional meditation practices.

In a related study, Murcia found tango dancing reduced cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.  Dancing with a partner to music has more positive effects than dancing alone or moving with a partner without music.  However, dancing alone or moving with a partner without music did have positive effects.  This study indicates short term positive emotional effects from dancing, particularly dancing the tango.

Recommendations for Dancing to Improve Emotions from Psychology Today:

  • Dance with yourself—simply concentrate on music at home.
  • Find a Tango or Ballroom Dance Class
  • Join a Group Dance Class—research shows that moving with others expands your sense of social connectedness, which is beneficial to lowering both stress and depression levels.