I’ve recently taken up learning tango dancing as a new hobby. I’ve been doing it for several months now and have to say that it’s quite enjoyable. I mentioned to someone in conversation how when I dance, I feel very elated afterwards, and they remarked that there’s probably quite the testosterone response from tangoing. Not being one to let a good opportunity for over-examination go to waste, I did a quite good search for articles on tango and hormone release. Turns out that one exists. Here’s a link to an abstract.
The study tested levels of both salivary cortisol and salivary testosterone before and after dance. The study was set up as a 2×2 study looking at dancing with and without a partner and with and without music to compare the effects of both variables alone and in combination with eachother.
Results showed that dancing with a partner showed the greatest drop in cortisol levels, however all test situations showed drops in cortisol. The drop from tango dancing with both music and partner showed nearly double the drop in cortisol on average compared to other test situation. The presence of music seemed to have a large effect on this drop, as the least significant changes were seen in cases without music.
Effects on testosterone seemed to be largely dependent on presence of a partner. Change with a partner was M=2.66 pg/ml, SD=4.45; and without a partner was M=–0.260 pg/ml, SD=4.23. So testosterone levels actually decreased slightly (on average) when dancing without a partner. Interestingly though, the study designers chose to repeat the situation of the first week (with partner and music) on the fifth week to see if perhaps the nerves or novelty of the first week could have caused a difference in testosterone levels. As it turns out, it had a huge effect. Session 1 showed an increase of 4.06 pg/ml, SD=5.77; yet when they returned to the same conditions in session 5, they saw -1.17 pg/ml; SD=7.19 pg/ml.
From my experience, I would hypothesize that this change was a result of novelty. Dancing with a new partner can be extremely exhilarating (Coolidge Effect fallout anyone?). Although all participants had over one year of experience dancing and all but 4 enrolled with partners with whom they were partnered the entire time, the study does not mention the frequency or recency with which they couples had danced together previously. I suspect that the regularity of the study caused some of the novelty to wear off by the 5th session. One interesting follow-up for this would be to have one group of couples which would switch who they danced with and a control group which remained with the same partners and measure the effects on testosterone over the sessions.
I’m going to keep dancing because I enjoy it, but it is nice to know that I’m helping to reduce my cortisol and increase (maybe) my testosterone levels. I’d be very curious to see a larger study done with more participants and some additional factors. This one only had 22 participants, and while results were tested for statistical significance, it’d be nice to have more data.