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What On Earth is Dance Therapy???

During one of our Regional Representative meetings, Meghan Thom (in Alberta) suggested that we address the question: “What the *** is Dance Therapy?” Delighted, we all enthusiastically contributed our working definitions. Though the profession of Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) has been practiced since the mid-twentieth century, t is little known, understood or accepted by the general public as a viable form of psychotherapy.

There are many misconceptions about this work. Thus, each Dance/Movement Therapist needs to be an articulate, reliable, and persuasive advocate for its’ wide range of healing benefits.

Here are some quotes we've heard people wonder about DMT:

o Question from a staff member of the US Congress, "Can you (dance therapy) help my back pain?" Answer; probably yes, but that's not the point of it. It is a form of psychotherapy foremost, not a physical therapy, though it has physical benefits.

o Question: Isn't dance therapy just doing a happy dance? Answer: some days....

o Q: What's the difference between dance therapy and music therapy? A: Umm.... dancing!

o Q: From a military guy talking about a possible project, "Can you show them how-to

pick-up girls successfully?" A: (after a moment of utter shock) No, but we can

help them be better husbands

o (Often): Can dance therapy help me become more flexible? Get my leg higher? Turn

more times in a pirouette?  Lose weight?

DMTAC describes Dance/Movement Therapy as follows: Dance movement therapy (DMT) is based on the premise that thoughts, feelings, and the experience of self are expressed through the body and movement. It is a relational process that integrates emotional, cognitive, physical, and social aspects of self.

The ADTA (American Dance Therapy Association) states: Dance/movement therapy, or DMT, is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration. We had a lively discussion and realized that we wanted to share the perspectives gained from our lived experiences. We also changed our title to “What on Earth is Dance Therapy?”

Our discussion inspired a workshop introduction to Dance Therapy led by Lea Nasrallah and Meghan Thom. “What on Earth is Dance Therapy?” offered on August 9th:

Here are our perspectives on the question, What on earth is Dance/Movement Therapy?

Lea Nasrallah – Regional Representative from Ontario:

Dance movement therapy is a modality of psychotherapy where creativity is key. We work from a holistic point of view using movement, play, music, and other props to express and explore feelings. There is no right or wrong way of structuring the session as long as it’s professional and safe for the client and the therapist. The use of non-verbal communication plays a big role in the therapeutic process and the verbal reflection that could happen during the session brings another level of insight. In a nutshell, Dance therapy is being with the person, attuning to their movement, and finding a safe and creative way to navigate their life.

Karen Bradley – Regional Representative from Nova Scotia: To me, dance movement therapy draws on all the dance and movement skills one can have, including understanding cultural dance, creative movement, social and theatrical forms,

movement analysis, community-based dance practices, somatics, anatomy and physiology,

and the neuroscience of movement, dance, and social interactions. In my current work, which focuses primarily on working with children (who prefer to be upside-down and in motion) and older adults (some of them with dementia, Parkinson’s,

and other cognitive and somatic challenges) I draw on everything I know. I think of each area as a map of sorts, so I can locate where the client is and build on their strengths and address their goals. I believe in the range and access of all that is useful in supporting these goals. I’ve also been addressing isolation, group coherence, and community-building in a neuroscience and social justice frame, primarily as a result of the pandemic. In my online classes, with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and challenges (including depression, grief, injuries, aging, somatic challenges, and memory issues), I’ve drawn on all the training to build a mutually supportive environment that disrupts hierarchy and status. The result is a finding of common ground that supports each individual and the

group as a whole.

Meghan Thom – Regional Representative from Alberta

Do you start with therapy, and add dance? Or begin with dance and add therapy?

In my one-to-one work I usually start with more typical talking therapy and invite the client into dance and movement. This can take time as the client begins to feel safer and more comfortable. The very journey towards dance is a dance, in and of itself, as the relationship builds and we experiment with our roles. Some clients are quick to take the lead while others may attempt to convince me to take a directive role and tell them what they need to do. It can be a joy to watch clients relax into movement, creativity, and play and to embrace this raw form of expression.

In group work, we often start with movement and weave in therapeutic elements. By beginning with movement, we can jump right into creative expression and emotional exploration without the common defences that we build with words. The group may dive together into a collective world of metaphor and discovery; or they may hold back, dipping just a toe in before attempting to navigate the depths of a collective unconscious.

Kids are often quick to embrace the medium of movement and creative expression! Their enthusiasm and lack of inhibition can make the process seem so effortless while weaving in empathetic responses and building therapeutic rapport. Our lived experience does not stop at our neckline, and nor should therapy. Dance movement therapy is as alive as our clients and invites vitality from them. It is a joy to offer this modality and a privilege to be part of this community.

Tannis Hugill – Regional Representative from British Columbia

When I think of Dance Therapy, or Dance/Movement Therapy, I distinguish it from therapeutic dance. I love the whole conscious dance movement which includes 5 Rhythms and all related practices. They are tremendously healing but are not Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT). Therapeutic dance and DMT are on a continuum, with therapeutic dance being more educational and Dance/Movement Therapy being a clinical practice related to health care. DMT is a form of psychotherapy and accesses profound levels of human experience to reach the depths of the embodied psyche. I consider what makes DMT different from other somatic psychotherapies therapies is the dance. For me, there is no analogy for this. Nothing is more evocative of our true natures than connecting with the creative capacity of our bodies, and no matter how else we might be challenged, our creativity is always alive and well. That is why DMT can be used throughout the entire life- span. Humans have the capacity to create through movement from when we are growing in the womb to when we are reaching the moment of death. Our creative bodies express the essence of our well-being, and the core of how we are challenged, while simultaneously revealing the path to heal. One of the oldest forms of healing, our ancestors used dance to commune with their gods for healing in all aspects of life. For me, and many of my colleagues, DMT is still a spiritual practice that strengthens our gifts by uniting all parts of us: body, mind and spirit. My brochure says: Dance Therapy is based in the knowledge that the body and mind are inseparable. The unity, harmony and empathy we experience through body awareness and simple movements are combined with psychotherapeutic counselling for healing and personal growth.

Gelymar Sanchez – Regional Representative from Quebec (French):

I recently had a conversation about dance therapy versus therapeutic dance or adapted dance with a friend who is an occupational therapist and researcher in dance therapy. She was talking about the clinical versus the non clinical. She thought that dance therapy was a clinical practice while therapeutic dance or adapted dance was not. I asked her, what “the clinical” meant to her. From her occupational therapy perspective, she told me that for her, a clinical practice involves assessment, a common therapeutic agreement (therapeutic goals) between the therapist and the person or people reaching for support or help, and a treatment plan. To her, these three elements were key. As a dance therapist trainee, that explanation has helped me determine when I am offering dance therapy and when I am offering therapeutic dance or adapted dance. But again, I think it is important to keep in mind that even within the practice of “clinical dance therapy,” the session might look different depending on what population you work with and in which context you do so. I am currently also studying verbal psychotherapy; I am a doctoral student in clinical psychology. In the context of my verbal psychotherapy practicum, often my supervisor talks about the difference between psychotherapy and psychoeducation and how as a psychologist I might do one or the other depending on the context (sometimes as different interventions within the same therapeutic process). She highlights how important it is for a psychologist to clearly determine which one they are doing when and why (goal). This makes me think about how as a dance therapist I might be in the capacity of offering, of course, dance therapy but also therapeutic dance, and adapted dance. I might choose to practise these different disciplines or approaches to dance, however, I believe it is important for a dance therapist to determine, as clearly as possible, when they are doing what, and why.

Final thoughts:

After reading these wonderful responses to the question “What on earth is dance therapy?” you may or may not be left with a clear idea in your mind. You may begin and end this article with the image of a Salsa class - students in neat rows attempting to sway their hips just like the teacher; or you may end with as much confusion as when you started. You may have noticed common elements across these responses: creativity; adaptability to the client population; responsiveness to the needs of each context and client; and – above all – passion. Passion for a form of therapy that takes the therapist out of the comfort of a padded chair, a worksheet or a script. Passion for a form of therapy that invites the therapist to be as vulnerable, creative and responsive as the client. Passion for a form of therapy that is appropriate from cradle to grave and embraces people however they come. And if you’re still not quite sure what this whole dance therapy thing is then here is some unsolicited advice, delivered with love: try it!


Other Posts from our DMTAC Circle
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