Dance/Movement Therapy: Successful in Various Settings

Dance/Movement therapy, practiced by Christina Devereaux, Ph.D., BC-DMT, can be quite powerful. In a Psychology Today post Devereaux states: “Dance reduces anxiety, stimulates memories, activates the brain’s pleasure circuits, regulates mood, improves body image, and channels underlying feelings…”

Dance Movement Therapist Dzagbe Cudjoe, writing for Natural Bloom, cites University of London research that compared the effects of taking dance classes to the effects of taking classes in exercise, music, and math. Only dance led to decreased anxiety.

And guess what else—dance helps even the observer! “MRI scans show that watching someone dance activates the same neurons that would fire if you yourself were doing the dancing. So when one dancer’s movements express joy or sadness, others often pick up on it as well, so spreading the feeling and fostering empathy.”

So, dancing is good.

But, back to dance/movement therapy. What exactly do dance therapists do in their various settings—which include nursing homes, day care centers, mental health rehabilitation centers, and schools? In a relevant blog post from last year, Lora Wilson Mau, MA, BC-DMT, described her work in mental health:

Every week I enter a room at some psychiatric hospital, prepared to lead a dance/movement therapy group with inpatients who are in crisis. As I enter, I witness withdrawal, disconnection, paralytic depression, isolative preoccupation. Often those with thought disorders are talking to themselves or imagining some delusional yet terrifyingly real threat to their personhood. Attempts at facilitating a group discussion are….well, mere attempts. Focus, interaction, listening, organized verbal expression: all these things are nearly impossible to facilitate amongst such a diverse group of individuals challenged with such severe psychiatric symptoms.

But the dance…

The music plays and an ever-surprising, inspiring and magical dance emerges that I feel blessed to witness and partake in every time. I never know how one patient will respond or who will be inspired by whose movement to express themselves in what way. But they do: Respond. Interact. Dance. Sometimes alone, almost always, eventually, with each other as one group. Maybe the group cohesion is only for a few moments but those moments are gold. The voices quiet (or at least are ignored for a bit), the isolation melts, joy – that ever elusive joy – is felt, embodied and expressed. Or perhaps there is sadness and despair or anger – but these feelings are permitted, embodied, symbolized, expressed. People are accepted for who they are and embraced. Nonverbally the dance says We are all welcome here and we have something to say and we shall say it with our bodies. Every time. It is both commonplace and miraculous.

What if we want to get the benefits of dance without using a therapist? Elizabeth Svoboda, Psychology Today, advises the following:

  • Don’t go in with Broadway-baby expectations.
  • Pick a style of dance that suits you.
  • Make your mantra self-expression, not comparison.

Below are videos of some exceptional contestants from past seasons of So You Think You Can Dance. Whether you just watch these or try out your own steps, it’s bound to lift your mood or offset your stress or do something else emotionally in your favor.

Brandon doing his solo:

Mark and Chelsie (with Mark embodying a workaholic):

Below Kayla and Kapono express the theme of struggling with addiction:

One thought on “Dance/Movement Therapy: Successful in Various Settings

  1. Thank you for including a quote from my blog post in yours. I appreciate that you have separated “dancing” from “dance/movement therapy.” It is important to distinguish between the therapeutic properties of dance (which are many) and the clinical profession of dance/movement therapy. Dancing is inherently healing and has numerous benefits, to be certain. But movement can also be triggering for individuals who have experienced trauma… and a board certified dance/movement therapist has the clinical training to prevent that and/or work through it if it happens. Additionally, the process that happens in a dance/movement therapy session is very different from what happens in a dance class. The therapeutic relationship is key to the process.

    Thank you for your post! 🙂

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