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The Art Of Healing: Dance Movement Therapy

July 29, 2017


In this blog we'll be discussing DMT (Dance Movement Therapy) as it pertains to art and healing. July is art month and for this month we'll be combining art and healing. My first introduction to Dance Movement Therapy was in my senior year of college as an undergraduate in the psychology program. I really enjoyed the experience. It was one of the most relaxing and let loose courses I've ever had.


Dance Moment Therapy is the use of movement and dance to support intellectual, emotional, and motor functions of the body. There are four main stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and evaluation. DMT has high standards just like any other field of therapy. 

Organizations such as the American Dance Therapy Association and the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy UK have educational requirements to be a professional within the field. Many clinical settings use DMT for psychotherapy purposes and physical therapy.


Dance has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. People used dancing for healing rituals to encourage fertility, ease birthing, healing sickness, and celebrating death since human history was recorded. Dance Movement Therapy began forming from 1840 to 1930 in Europe and the United States. The philosophy behind DMT is defined as a movement that could have an effect on the mover vis-a-vis. That dance could be used to heal and not only as an expressive art. It took about 50 years for dance to be categorized as therapeutic though throughout history peoples have been using dance as therapy.  There are two waves that created established DMT's legitimacy.


First Wave:

Marian Chace, was the leader of putting Dance Movement Therapy in the forefront in the medical community as a form of therapy. She is considered the principal founder of DMT in what the United States for the work she had done to validate the importance of DMT by introducing it to western medical community in 1942. 

Marian Chace was a professional dancer, choreographer, and performer. She was an expert in her field thus is why she opened a dance school in Washington, D.C. Chace began to realize the power of dance through her students during her teaching. Her students reported feelings of health and peace from her students that gained the attention of the medical community. And because of her successes with her students local doctors began sending patients to her classes. This garnered her more attention that St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C asked her to work for them that peeked the interests of psychiatrists that realized the benefits their patients were obtaining from attending Chace’s dance classes.


In 1966 Marian Chace became the first president of the American Dance Therapy Association, an organization she and several other DMT pioneers founded. According to the ADTA, dance is "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual."


Second Wave:

The second wave of Dance Movement Therapy came around the 1970s through the 1980s and it inspired interest from American therapists. During this era, therapists began to expand with the psychotherapeutic applications of dance and movement. Once therapist began utilizing dance to assist their patience for their benefit is when DMT was given the formal category in psychotherapy. The second wave of Dance Movement Therapy is what established DMT today.


The philosophy of DMT is founded in the belief that the body and mind interact. Both conscious and unconscious mind work together with the body to create movement that affects total body function that ultimately reflects the individual’s personality. This creates another aspect of therapist-client relationship that is partially based on non-verbal cues that's from reading body language. Movement is believed to have a symbolic function that is supposed to assist with people understanding themselves. Movement improvisation allows the people to experiment with new methods of being and DMT provides a channel that people can consciously process the earliest relationships with negative stimuli through non-verbal mediation the therapist leads.


Through the merge of the body, mind, and spirit, DMT provides a sense of completion to all individuals. The body exchanges the "discharging of energy through muscular-skeletal responses to stimuli received by the brain." The brain refers to "mental activities...such as memory, imagery, perception, attention, evaluation, reasoning and decision making." The spirit processes subjectively experienced state of feeling in engaging in or empathically observing dancing."

Dance therapy aims to improve the social skills, as well as the connectedness of the different aspects in a person to improve their quality of life. Through dance therapy people will gain a deeper sense of self-awareness through meditation methods such as movement, motion, and realization of one's body. Dance therapy is different in comparison to other forms of rehabilitative movement treatments because it allows creative free expression and is holistic with the intent to treat the full person: mind, body, and spirit.


The Therapy Process:

Dance Movement Therapy process has four stages. These stages allow creative expression to be shared between therapist and patient(s). Each stage contains digestible sets of goals that link with the larger purpose of DMT. The stages and goals of DMT changes slightly to benefit each unique individual. Each stage is progressive yet the stages are consistently revisited throughout the entire DMT process. 


The Four Stages:

Preparation: the warm-up stage, a safe space is established without obstacles nor distractions, a supportive relationship with a witness is formed, comfort for participants to be familiar with moving with their eyes closed.


Incubation: leader verbally prompts participant to go into subconscious, open-ended imagery used to create an internal environment that is catered to the participant, relaxed atmosphere, symbolic movements.


Illumination: process which is integrated through conscious awareness via dialogue with witness, self-reflection in which the participant uncovers and resolves subconscious motivations, increased self awareness, can have positive and negative effects.

Evaluation: discuss insights and significance of the process, prepare to end therapy.

Dance styles used

Any style of dance therapy can be used from Modern Dance, Authentic Movement, Turkish dance, ballroom dance, tango, waltz, foxtrot, aerobic dance, line dancing, hip hop style, free body movement to body psychotherapy.


Now that you know DMT and its benefits would you try DMT? And if you do,


definitely share your experience.



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