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A dance intervention for cancer survivors and their partners (RHYTHM)

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The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility, acceptability, and impact of a ballroom dance intervention on improving quality of life (QOL) and relationship outcomes in cancer survivors and their partners.


We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial with two arms (Restoring Health in You (and Your Partner) through Movement, RHYTHM): (1) immediate dance intervention and (2) delayed intervention (wait-list control). The intervention consisted of 10 private weekly dance lessons and 2 practice parties over 12 weeks. Main outcomes were physical activity (Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire), functional capacity (6 Minute Walk Test), QOL (SF-36), Couples’ trust (Dyadic Trust Scale), and other dyadic outcomes. Exit interviews were completed by all participating couples.


Thirty-one women survivors (68% breast cancer) and their partners participated. Survivors were 57.9 years old on average and 22.6% African American. Partners had similar characteristics. RHYTHM had significant positive effects on physical activity (p = 0.05), on the mental component of QOL (p = 0.04), on vitality (p = 0.03), and on the dyadic trust scale (p = 0.04). Couples expressed satisfaction with the intervention including appreciating the opportunity to spend time and exercise together. Survivors saw this light-intensity physical activity as easing them into becoming more physically active.


Light intensity ballroom dancing has the potential to improve cancer survivors’ QOL. Larger trials are needed to build strong support for this ubiquitous and acceptable activity.

Implications for cancer survivors

Ballroom dance may be an important tool for cancer survivors to return to a physically active life and improve QOL and other aspects of their intimate life.

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Authors are thankful to Richard Silver of Fred Astaire Dance Studios, the staff of the Recruitment and Retention Shared Facility of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, Aquila Brown-Galvan, Amy Dobelstein, and Subrena Felder, as well as RHYTHM participants.

Authors’ contributions

Conceptualization: MP, MYM, WDW, SM, RAO

Methodology: MP, MYM, WDW, RAO, KMK

Data curation and analysis: RAO, CPL, KMK

Investigation: RAO, CPL, KMK, MP, MYM

Writing—original: MP, MYM

Writing—review/edit: All

Supervision, project administration, and funding acquisition: MP, MYM

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maria Pisu.

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Funding sources

This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute R21CA158678 and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences UL1TR001417.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Pisu, M., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Kenzik, K.M. et al. A dance intervention for cancer survivors and their partners (RHYTHM). J Cancer Surviv 11, 350–359 (2017).

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