Peter Gillespie ’25
Figure 1 Merengue, cha-cha cha, bachata, and salsa are four popular forms of dancing that have the potential to increase physical activity, thereby helping to prevent cognitive decline.
Physical activity is crucial in improving the health of older individuals. Within the Latino community, there is a rich cultural history of various genres of dance that may help promote widespread physical activity among older adults. Given the cultural popularity of dance within the Latino community, Dr. David X. Marquez and his colleagues created the BAILAMOS Program, which teaches four popular dance styles–merengue, cha-cha cha, bachata, and salsa–twice weekly for four months. To examine boosts to cognition as a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease, participants were either placed in the dance program or a simple health education control group. The researchers also studied the impact of dancing in older adults that already have cognitive impairment, where a slightly modified dance program was used with a control group of waitlisted participants. Focus groups for both groups were frequently held to garner feedback on dancing and physical activity.
The dance program was effective in increasing physical activity among participants, as those in the program self-reported significant increases in their leisure time physical activity. While both groups experienced significant gains in episodic memory, executive function, and global cognition, participants in the dance program exhibited a significantly greater global cognition than those in the general health education control group. Researchers also observed important gains in global cognition, working memory, and logical memory-delayed recall among participants with cognitive impairment. On the other hand, these domains worsened in the control group. Given the declines in executive function and episodic memory in Alzheimer’s Disease, the increase in these domains among participants in the dance program suggests that culturally relevant dancing may have a protective effect.
This study also shows the importance of culturally relevant physical activity. A common theme participants reported is that older adults may not have access to other forms of physical activity, and those that do may find it boring. Dancing, however, was reported as an energizing and socially engaging activity. This holds promise for increasing physical activity not just in the Latino population but in various other populations where culturally relevant physical activity may be appealing as well.
 D. Marquez, et al.,Dancing among older Latinos: interweiving health and culture. The Art of Latina and Latino Elderhood, 39-56 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-19008-7_5