Everybody dance, now
Dance-movement therapy can help you overcome trauma and anxiety, heal injuries and boost your confidence – even if you have two left feet.
We move before we’re even born, before we make a sound. It’s our most elemental function and it’s vital for health. Mark Twain said we should “dance like nobody’s watching”, but many of us still balk at the idea of shaking our booty in public. Dance-movement therapy aims to break down those barriers, using what the Dance-Movement Therapy Association of Australia calls “a combination of the creative process, elements of dance, and the study of human movement into a holistic approach.” Dance therapists work one-on-one or with groups in special schools, rehabilitation centres, hospitals, prisons, community health centres, psychiatric institutions, and in private practice.
How does it work?
“Dance therapy uses movement and dance as the primary means of communication,” says dance therapist Juliette Kirkwood. “People’s body language often gives away what’s on their mind – dance therapy takes this further, saying that the way we move reflects the way we think. If you’re stuck in a particular thought pattern, you’ll also be stuck in a particular movement pattern. A dance therapist can identify that pattern and then work to bring the subconscious belief into conscious thought, and change it.”
A typical session lasts around 90 minutes and includes a warm up followed by guided exercises, sometimes focusing on a theme. “You might target a specific emotion like post-natal depression, or explore boundaries or saying no,” explains Emily McGregor, a dance therapist who decided to study the technique after experiencing its benefits as a participant. “Different parts of your consciousness are locked into different parts of your body. By becoming aware of your body and tuning in, you can move through old memories, pain, limitations, or fears. The focus is internal, rather than external. People can explore areas that are holding them back.”
Is it for me?
Kirkwood and McGregor agree that dance-movement therapy can help a wide range of issues, including low self-esteem and sexual abuse. Most people attend sessions for between six months and two years. “It depends what you want to achieve,” says Kirkwood. “Getting through a difficult period, like a marriage break-up, would probably be short-term, while trying to change a personality trait – like repeatedly getting into bad relationships – might take longer.”
And if you dance like a frog in a sock, don’t worry – no sense of rhythm is required. “I think a lot of people are closet dancers: they love moving, but they feel self-conscious and silly,” says McGregor. Nor do you have to be particularly fit. “I have even had clients in wheelchairs that can’t do much more than move their hands,” adds Kirkwood. “If you can breathe, you can do dance therapy.”
Movement as medicine
A Swedish study has shown that dance-movement therapy helped to improve the attention span of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It was also found to boost the energy levels of teenage girls suffering from depression.
“I’m not dancing as a wife or mother, but as a woman,” says Christine Darcas, 49, author of Dancing Backwards in High Heels (Hachette), who took up dance eight years ago and says it has helped her reconnect with her femininity, which had quietly become buried.
“After I started dancing, I realised it was addressing emotional dead spots that had slowly developed. After years of being a stay-at-home mum, I felt frumpy and invisible. As a teenager, I was the sort of girl who closed her bedroom door and danced madly to her favourite songs – but at 41, I felt stiff and fed up, and I thought, ‘If you’re ever going to do this, now is the time!’ I was amazed to find that, with a bit of work, I became reasonably competent. My confidence soared, I lost weight and – silly as it sounds – I felt prettier.
“I love the joy of it. When I release myself entirely into the dance, it’s one of the happiest places for me in the world.”
Need more info?
Dance-Movement Therapy Association of Australia: www.dtaa.org.au
International Dance Therapy Institute of Australia: www.idtia.org.au