Dance Therapy

Dance Therapy Techniques & Guide

Dance / Movement Therapy (DMT)
Dancing rejuvenates body and mind creating harmony between them. You swing and swirl on the beat of music feeling ecstatic and positive; forgetting all your worries. Dance is an art form that reveals your inner emotions like joy, surprise, sorrow, love, disappointment, remorse, contempt, aggressiveness, submission, fear, trust and more with training and practice. Dancing is passionately pursued as an art, hobby and profession. Dance keeps dancers physically fit and happy; hence the emergence of choreography as a profession has attained popularity and establishment of dance academies are on the rise. The medical world has taken dancing farther, incorporating it into treatment plans for patients with simple to complex ailments. Evidently, Dance therapy is working wonders for ailing children to adults and helping them recover physically and mentally.

Emergence of Dance Therapy:
In the 1940s, ‘Dance Therapy’ was pioneered by Marian Chace, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. Marian was teaching dance in Denishawn Dance Company in 1930s. She observed students’ keen interest in expressing emotions while dancing like fear, loneliness, shyness and others, more than the actual moves. She encouraged students’ by laying emphasis on moving freely rather than on techniques. Community doctors referred their patients with physical and mental disorders to Marian. Marian taught antisocial children, people with movement difficulties and those with psychiatric illnesses. Gradually, after ending her career with the dance company, she joined the Red Cross of Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in United States. The federal government offered her a formal position as dance therapist. Marian was the first one to assume this position and worked with emotionally disturbed patients trying to get them to reach to others through dance. Marian’s work with mentally challenged, psychologically disturbed individuals and her interest in psychiatry motivated her to join Washington School of Psychiatry. As a practicing psychiatrist, Marian included dance in her treatment plan for patients and the first dance therapy interns began learning and teaching dance therapy in St. Elizabeth’s in 1950s.

Following suite, many other dancers begun using dance therapy in 1940s. Mary Whitehouse, a Jungian analyst and an influential member of the dance therapy community developed ‘movement in-depth’ a process, explaining dance, movement and depth psychology. She founded the contemporary ‘authentic movement’ on Jungian principles analysis where patients dance out their feelings about an internal image to help them understand their past and current life struggles.

In 1966, 20 professionals came together to form American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) as dance therapy became formally organized and recognized. Currently, 1,200 dance therapists are available in 46 states in the United States and in 29 Foreign Countries.

Dance/Movement Therapy (Dance Therapy) as put forth by American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA):
It is the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, cognitive and physical integration of the individual. Dance Therapy effects changes in feelings, cognition, physical function, and behavior.

Principle and process of Dance Therapy:
The basic premise of Dance Therapy is that ‘body and mind are inseparable.’ Other principles underlying Dance Therapy are:

Dance Therapy comprises of four stages:
1. Preparation (Warming up and safety parameters)

2. Incubation (relaxation and letting of conscious control, movements become symbolic)

3. Illumination (meanings become visible, positive and negative effects can be seen)

4. Evaluation (discussion on significance of the process, preparing end of therapy)

Each stage is alternated according to the need of the patient.

40 benefits of Dance Therapy:

1. Dance Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps psychiatric patients to cancer patients to lonely elderly people.

2. Dance therapy is an easy way to vent personal emotions.

3. Dance Therapy helps in treating rape victims and survivors of sexual abuse and incest.

4. Dance Therapy serves people with physical deficits to improve their self esteem and learn balance and coordination.

5. Dance Therapy works for people with chronic illnesses and life-threatening diseases such as schizophrenia and cancer to deal with pain, fear of death, and changes in their body image.

6. The sick find Dance Therapy relaxing, and helping them get away from pain and emotional difficulties for a while.

7. Dance Therapy is suitable both for people who are not accomplished dancers as well as for clumsy dancers.

8. Dance therapy stresses free movement, not restrictive steps and expressing one’s true emotions.

9. Children that cannot sit still often benefit from free-flowing dance therapy.

10. It motivates older people who cannot move well or are confined to wheelchairs to participate. They move to the rhythm of music.

11. In one-on-one situation (private sessions), where the therapist works with only one patient it has proven a safe place to express emotions.

12. Group classes offer emotional support, improves communication skills and appropriates physical boundaries (this skill is important for sexual abuse victims).

13. The authentic movement technique a derived from Jungian method analysis, works as well as aids people to work with recurring images in their thoughts or dreams to derive meaning in their life. The patient moves on his/her feelings named ‘the inner impulse’ that are supposed to emerge from a deep level within the patient. The dance therapist is a noncritical witness to movement exhibited by the patient.

14. In Freudian technique, the dance therapists work with patients to uncover feelings deep in the subconscious by expressing those feelings through dance.

15. In object relations technique, the therapist helps the patient examine problems in his or her life by considering the primary initial relationship with parents. Emotions are expressed in a concrete, physical way. For example, a patient’s fear of abandonment may be comprehended as he repeatedly comes close and dances at a distance from the therapist.

16. Varied therapies can be tried along with dance therapy for effective treatment of the individual. For example, a therapist can discuss what happens during a dancing session in a ‘talk therapy’ session.

17. Dance therapists use visualizations during sessions, that is, they instruct patients to imagine they are on a beautiful, peaceful island surrounded by lush greenery as they dance. The therapist mirrors the movements of the patient as he or she expresses important emotions. This is powerful in private one-on-one therapy. This mechanism provides a sense of safety and validates the patient’s emotions.

18. When people dance they express highly significant emotions therefore Dance Therapy works wonders in finding solutions of recovery. A fist thrust into the air or a head bent in shape has deep significance to a dance therapist. Through Dance Therapy, patients are able to more easily express painful, frightening emotions, and can progress from there.

19. After experiencing Dance Therapy, patients can talk about their feelings more freely and tear down the barriers they have erected between themselves and other people. Eventually they are able to live more psychologically healthy lives.

20. A dance therapist completes a graduate program in dance therapy from an accreditated institution and undergoes extensive training in psychology to be qualified to treat patients. The vantage point is dance therapists are highly trained to practice Dance Therapy.

21. Dance Therapy has no side effects.

22. Dance Therapy offers ‘feel good’ treatment and is respected and promoted worldwide.

23. Dance Therapy is an effective tool to help people overcome psychological problems.

24. It is proven by researchers that older people with cognitive deficits could significantly increase their functional abilities through dance therapy. Patients improved their balance, rhythmic discrimination, mood and social interaction. Dance Therapy is a boon to Alzheimer patients.

25. Group dance therapy sessions reduce text anxiety. Dance therapy is recommended as a viable method of treatment for students who suffer from overwhelming text anxiety according to research conducted in 1999.

26. Dance Therapy techniques can be used successfully with cardiac patients.

27. In a stress reduction class, health professionals use Dance Therapy methods to teach body awareness, relaxation, self-expression, creativity and empathy.

28. Dance Therapy techniques help patients deal with stressful emotions such as anger, increased self awareness, relaxed them and helped them adjust emotionally to having heart disease.

29. Dance Therapy can be used to treat severe emotional disorders, and people of all ages and with varying physical and psychological condition. Examples of illness; individuals with eating disorders, adult survivors of violence, post traumatic disorders, sexually and physically abused children, dysfunctional families, schizophrenics, the homeless, autistic children, the frail elderly, and substance abusers.

30. Dance Therapy can be utilized for disease prevention and health promotion programs and with those who have chronic medical conditions.

31. Many innovative programs provide Dance Therapy for people with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, chronic pain, or breast cancer.

32. Dance Therapy’s guided use of movement brings about changes in feeling, cognition, physical functioning and behavior.

33. Dance Therapy works through the body to make the unconscious available.

34. The group dance movement therapy sessions are usually conducted in a circle guided by a therapist. The natural movements of the participants, incorporates musical rhythm into a free flowing choreography arising from the mood of the moment.

35. Dance Therapy supports the depressed people to find a way of mobilizing their lethargic bodies and shed feelings of helplessness.

36. Dance Therapy offers the elderly room for social interaction, expression and exercise and alleviates their fear of loneliness and isolation.

37. Motor skills and body image of the physically handicapped improves with Dance Therapy enabling them to communicate and express emotions.

38. Dance Therapy improves the body image, social skills, and coordination and motor skills of the mentally retarded. Recently, many mentally retarded children are seen performing on stage with the help of choreographers.

39. Dance Therapy reduces the stress and feeling of isolation of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and inspires them for relationship building.

40. Dance Therapy helps pregnant women build their confidence, relax, reduce anxiety, learn relaxing and breathing techniques supporting easy labor.

Dance Therapy has worked wonders for more almost 70 years from its inception. Dance Therapy is presumably, a holistic approach to psychotherapy and a hope for thousands ill and depressed.

Whether classical, contemporary, jazz, folk dance or moving with the rhythm, dancing is loved by all people and practiced by all cultures. If dancing can give you a mental peace and a fit body, why not dance?

Author’s brief: Juliet Coutinho is a professional in student conduct administration in higher education since a decade. Juliet comes with 23 years of full time national and international work experience. She is passionate about her work, enjoys reading, writing, teaching, researching, mentoring and counseling on conduct and mental health issues. ‘Simple living and high thinking’ is Juliet’s philosophy of life.

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