The American Dance Therapy Association(ADTA) defines Dance Therapy as psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration. It is an approach to healing based on the empirical belief that the mind, body and spirit are interconnected. If you talk about all the needs and desires of any human being, the end result that we eventually come to is happiness. Happiness is achieved when a person is well integrated with his society and comfortable with his emotional and physical state. To help a person achieve this state of well-being is where dance movement therapy steps in.
Imagine you are at a party, and you are introduced to a stranger with clenched fists and furrowed brows who looks like he would be happier anywhere but here. Not only would you hesitate in striking a conversation with this person but you would also find yourself worried about their state of mind. It will be apparent that he is either angry or unhappy or both. This clenching of the fists is actually a manifestation of anger in the form of tension in the muscles. The relaxation of these tensed up muscles is very important for the person’s well-being. Physical movement in an organized, synchronized manner to a beat helps relax these muscles and enhance well-being.
A study found that there was an increase in the serotonin and dopamine levels in children after they attended a dance therapy program which suggests increased well-being. Despite these kinds of studies, the effectiveness of communication by movement (dance) has either been overlooked or neglected over the years, even though it can be as effective if not more as verbal communication or talk therapy.
So how does it work? Dance therapy does not have a rigid format but the goal is to release suppressed stress and help the client reflect on their emotions through improvisation and experimentation of movements. For instance, the therapist feels you need to unleash latent anger, they might ask you to play tug of war in a session to help you do so or to help you acknowledge bottled up emotions through the process of ‘mirroring’ by asking you to choose an action to express how you are feeling at that moment and joining you in that action in order to help you introspect that feeling. When properly used it will probably help assuage the client’s feeling of apprehension.
Just as a person who exercises regularly in the gym can be reasonably assured of his physical fitness, similarly a person attending dance therapy can be assured of his well-being which is why dance therapy is not something that can be used as a solution to a problem but in general to enhance well-being and as the definition suggests, physical, cognitive, social, and emotional integration. When regularly practised in a group, by being a part of the same journey, the group becomes cohesive in a way so as to deal with suppressed issues, so that they can then go into the social world and move and act in a healthier way. Shared movement is a powerful tool that can be used to better understand people who are different from us in terms of experiences or even abilities. So this therapy can become a journey of self exploration and of a group coming together to understand and empathize with other people. Communication is one of the most important aspects of our life and movement is a first way of communication used by all living beings. Dance therapy, as a cathartic experience, takes us back to the very essence of basic communication.
About the Author: Vishwangi Vadnere is a graduate in performing arts and psychology from Christ University and an independent researcher.