On a recent morning in Wesley Woods Towers, chairs, tables, and walkers have been pushed to the side of the dining room and a dozen couples—student volunteers and seniors—are dancing to a spicy Latin beat.
Atlanta Veterans Affairs researcher Madeleine Hackney, who has professional experience in ballroom dance, jazz, theater dance, and ballet, is investigating whether regularly dancing the tango can improve wellness in seniors with limited or declining eyesight.
Dancing the tango is much like walking, but with more calculated, precise, and intentional steps and with the safety of a partner, says Hackney. “There is evidence that it may help frail, older individuals with sensory motor impairments, in terms of balance, gait, and coordination,” she says.
Seventy-seven-year-old Ed Sporleder, a Korean War veteran, says he is already noticing improvement in his fellow dancers. “Some people who were having a tough time walking are now able to walk with coordination and larger steps to propel themselves forward,” Sporleder says. “The Emory volunteers are marvelous, and everyone is having a wonderful time.”
Ninety-two-year-old Barney Schoenberg and his wife, Jean, say the shared exercise has helped them improve their health and make new friends: “It’s a nice way to spend part of the day, and it is definitely helping us both.”
Upon completion of the ten-week program, the participating seniors’ health and skills will be reevaluated and compared with their pretests.