Category Archives: Dance Movement Therapy

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.

Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more effective it becomes.