Category Archives: Dance Movement Therapy

Transformation of the Ordinary

I am a Creative Arts Therapist with a focus in Dance/movement therapy (DMT). The Creative Arts therapies can be an avenue for creating a symbolic transformation of individual, or community experience. DMT can use the same characteristics of weight, balance, and dynamics as do everyday actions such as walking, working, playing, or communication. Out of our everyday and ordinary motor activities, DMT can select, heighten or subdue, gestures/postures and body movement to achieve something which transcends the ordinary.

For instance as a teen I learned a West African Maize Dance from the Arthur Hall African American Dance company. This dance uses the movements of planting, tending, and harvesting of maize as the core elements of the dance. Taking these agrarian movements and enacting them outside of their usual context begins the process of symbolic transformation. As the movements are performed an element of artistic quality begins to emerge and becomes evident in the transitional movements that occur between planting, tending, and harvesting. This Maize Dance combines the ordinary with the extra ordinary; taking the everyday actions and ritualizing them in a way that expresses and celebrates an important aspect of West African culture.Dance Movement Therapy and Children

Symbolic transformation can take place on an individual level as well. Once, working with a client an opportunity arose to explore the bodily expression of sadness; i.e. what are you doing/feeling physically when you are sad. The client took the ordinary movements/gestures/postures of their sadness and made them bigger and smaller, connecting, un-connecting and reconnecting them as they slowly evolved into a pattern. As this client continued with their exploration a transformation occurred and new movements, suggestive of another feeling emerged. Asking the client to add words to their exploration of the new movements provided a clearer understanding of sadness.

Enacting movements/postures/gestures outside of their usual context allows the possibility of experiencing in way that can be more; objective and subjective. Making bigger and smaller, connecting and reconnecting, movement and feelings emerge uncensored, allowing a different understanding of the original feeling and all that surrounds it. The therapeutic process of dance movement therapy can guide the mover as they explore, uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Wade on the water

Illness that is of a chronic nature has a huge impact on individuals separately, as well as within the context of family systems. Health care systems, being “systems”, have an inability to care for patients on an individual basis. While systems managed health care, impersonal by nature is promoted as cost effective, it increases costs in the long run by not holistically treating the client. Impersonal health care adds to the disassociation patients often experience; for the ill body/mind and subsequent new family/life dynamic, the medical profession, and the possibilities of wellness.1378006_10151699852947169_1244682694_n.png

In 1990 I worked with Bear, a 38 year old womyn who had a late stage mastectomy. She was dealing with issues of an altered body, of thoughts of death, her children being motherless, things left undone. During a 10 day group movement based expressive arts residential retreat, she took the opportunity to explore some of these issues. One of her expressions was in the form of a healing ritual. Most of the group stood on one side of a pond, singing the gospel hymn, “Wade on the water”. On the other side, Bear was carried down to the waters edge, wrapped in a blanket, and left there, standing, still wrapped. She slowly undid the blanket and waded into the water, slowly swimming to the other side, where, like a chorus of angels we waited, still singing.

Bear engaged in a method of emotional healing that falls, far, from the “systems” method of health care. Her methodology embraced her needs, hopes and fears in a manner that can only be facilitated in an open, accepting, creative and supportive atmosphere. The waves that she stirred that day in the pond are still going, still rippling outwards, deeply and profoundly on all those who witnessed her wade in the water.

What is Dance Movement Therapy?

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA): Based on the understanding that the body and mind are interrelated, dance/movement therapy (D/MT) is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the individual. Dance/movement therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, and health promotion programs. The dance/movement therapist focuses on movement behavior as it emerges in thetherapeutic relationship. Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for both group and individual treatment. Body movement as the core component of dance simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy.

I often define D/MT to clients as psychotherapy that is not limited to talking but encompasses the full range of human expression, including movement such as gestures and or postures, drawing, writing, drama, music and other expressions that can have a therapeutic benefit for the client(s).

Dance Movement Therapy is a creative arts therapy rooted in the expressive nature of dance. Since dance/movement comes from the body it is considered the most fundamental of the arts and is a direct expression (and experience) of the self. Dance/movement is a basic form of authentic communication, and as such it is an especially effective medium for therapy.

Dance/movement therapists (R-DMT or BC-DMT) work with individuals of all ages, groups and families in a wide variety of settings. They focus on helping their clients improve self-esteem and body image, develop effective communication skills and relationships, expand their movement vocabulary, gain insight into patterns of behavior, as well as create new options for coping with problems. Movement is the primary medium DMT’s use for observation, assessment, research, therapeutic interaction, and interventions.

DMT’s work in settings that include psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, schools, nursing homes, drug treatment centers, counseling centers, medical facilities, crisis centers, and wellness and alternative health care centers.