I was fascinated by people who elegantly float about the dance floor. Tango is a beautiful dance to see, and requires a lot of focus to learn. I wanted to learn, too. So I signed up at the tango factory in Antwerp.

How does tango help to reduce stress?

I regularly came out of tango class with a "zen" feeling. Even when I was stressed and stuck in traffic before running into the tango class, all stress was gone half an hour later. It felt as if I had done yoga, or another type of relaxation meditation. The odd thing was that my tango partners would always confirm that they had gotten the same feeling of rest through following a normal tango class. As a professional in guiding stress, I, of course, asked myself the question what mechanism it is that is working here. How does tango reduce stress?

Tango reduces stress via attention and focus

The first thing is the mandatory focus and attention. Tango is difficult. It requires attention, practice, and concentration. There are sometimes professional actors in class, and they also have to pay their full attention. Both men and women have to completely work together with the other, otherwise you end up in a knot on the floor. So that is where the secret lies: you do not relax by relaxing. No, you relax by being active: by focusing your efforts on the other person, your mind has the chance to relax. It empties your head, to focus on something else. Just like playing golf, for example: your focus is with the ball to such an extent that there is no space in your head to worry about the little things in life.

Focused attention reduces stress

So the golden rule which tango teaches us, is that focused attention relaxes. This is logical, I then think. Of course, different meditation techniques and relaxation techniques are focused on helping you to focus on something else than your worrying thoughts. You could try this lesson from home sometime by simply focusing your mind on something else than your worrying.

Focused attention on the other person offers rest and reduces your worrying

It is through paying attention to the other person that you relax. Sometimes we thing that we need silent rest in order to calm down. In many cases, this indeed works. Yet, sometimes you could try to see if you can relax by giving your full attention to one other person. When you focus all your attention to that one person, a full 100%, without thinking about all the worrying thoughts which this person can bring out in you, then you might notice that your stress relaxes. Unrest often is not caused by the other person, but rather by the worrying negative thoughts which we have regarding our interaction with the other person. Pay attention to that sometime!

Tango as therapy

In short, you could say that tango can be good therapy to ban stress from our lives, but also gives us some interesting lessons about how to live a happier, stress-lacking life.

Self-test for stress

Would you like to know to what extent stress, tension, anxiety, or even depressed feelings are at play in your life? Then easily test this by filling out a simple test with 21 short questions.

Paul Koeck, MD