Archive for July, 2009

It’s hard to believe Ade and Melissa did not make it into the finale after their amazing performance last week of Tyce Diorio’s piece, “This Woman’s Work.”

But as Nigel stated, there are no losers on this show – ALL the dancers are amazing talents and winners.

I have no doubt that all the dancers in the top 20 will have fantastic career opportunities as both performers and choreographers, long after this season ends.

But I wonder if the contestants and even the judges know that down the road there is another option. I wonder if the audience, filled with students of dance, know that there is a way to dance for the rest of their lives… as part of their job!

Sadly, most of the world misperceives that a dancer only has the career options of being a performer for a short time (because dance performance takes such a toll on the body), possibly choreographing and teaching at a studio or school.

Dancers – if they are so moved to help others heal through dance – have another career option, one that is rewarding and inspiring and uplifting and challenging.

Dancer after dancer after dancer attests to the fact that dancing is their own “therapy” and that it impacts their lives in powerful ways.

There is an actual CAREER that channels that healing power of dance; it is a regulated and reputable profession that is supported by both modern research and thousands of years of history.

Dance/movement therapists are dancers first. Dance/movement therapists are dancers who choose – eventually – to go to graduate school and get a Master’s Degree in Dance/Movement Therapy or in another mental health field with supplemental DMT training (18 credit hours.)

Dance/movement therapists work in the community, fostering change and health and growth through dance. They work in hospitals and in clinics and in private practice – just like other master’s level mental health professionals – and work with infants, children, adults and seniors.

You CAN dance for the rest of your life… and get paid for it… and make a difference in the world, one dance at a time.

The world needs more dance/movement therapists – won’t you join our dance?

Want more info? Check out the schools and FAQs on the ADTA website.

Or if you’re in the Portland, OR area October 8-11, you are welcome to attend the 44th ADTA Annual Conference, The Dance of Discovery: Research and Innovation in Dance/Movement Therapy. If you’d like more info on the conference, let me know. I’ll be uploading the conference brochure soon.


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Always the question…. “How would you do dance/movement therapy with {fill in the blank}? What would that look like? What would you do?”

Perhaps I can give you a glimpse.

As a reminder before you read of this particular experience, every session looks different. It is influenced by the goals and capabilities of the client, and emerges from what the client brings into the room – where the client is at the present moment. The dance/movement therapist’s first job is to be present with the client from the moment he or she enters the room, 100% attuned to what the client says, verbally and nonverbally, and to then build from that foundation, always taking cues from the client and essentially choreographing a therapeutic movement experience as it unfolds in the present moment.

I have graciously been given permission to share an experience with a dance/movement therapy intervention, under the cloak of anonymity. While all aspects of the session cannot be captured in words (how does one communicate verbally what is essentially nonverbal?) I hope to paint you a picture of what dance/movement therapy in fact DID look like on one occasion with a young woman who was in therapy simply for deeper self-awareness. I welcome your comments and questions if you are so moved…


The dance/movement therapist sensed tension the moment the client (let’s call her Abby) walked into the room – it was present in her body language and the tonality of her voice, underneath the superficial pleasant verbal greeting.

After Abby had found a comfortable seated position on the floor, the therapist simply asked Abby – without thinking about it – to make a short gesture or movement. Anything. “Don’t think about it, just do it.”

Abby, without a second thought, quickly extended both her arms into the space in front of her, just about head level. She also, without thinking about it, yelled a short “aaaagh!” as she pushed her arms out with great force.

The room was quiet as the therapist allowed the expression to be fully acknowledged. She then asked Abby to repeat the movement but to now do it slowly…

As Abby began slowly and silently pushing her hands out in front of her, with just as much intensity and strength as before but without the speed, she immediately understood what she was doing and why. She did not verbally state any of this at the time, just made a mental note of the insight and continued exploring as the therapist directed her.

You see, there had been a death in Abby’s family just 10 days prior and she had been acting as the “strong” one, the support person for everyone else. She had not really given herself an outlet to express her own grief because she was trying to hold everything for everybody else. (Again, Abby did not verbalize any of this while it was happening but was able to recount it and other insights after the movement experience was over.)

When Abby slowly pushed her arms out in front of her, using great strength, her immediate thought was “Noooo More!”

Witnessing Abby’s movement, the therapist gently suggested that she repeat the movement over and over, slowly, fully experiencing the nuances of it.

As Abby did this, pushing her arms out, slowly bringing them back in and then pushing them out again and again and again, always strong…. another cognitive insight occurred. She realized that this was exactly what she had been doing for the past week and a half: pushing her emotions away, back, out. Holding them at bay. And using great energy and exertion to do so. Her arms were getting tired and she realized how exhausted she was and had been all week.

After a few minutes of exploring this particular movement with her arms, the therapist invited Abby to let another part of her body take on that movement – to do the same “movement” with another body part, whatever that looked like, and that there was no right or wrong way to do so. (This is a perfect example of how the movement is ultimately determined by the client and dictated by his or her unconscious.)

Abby – because she had a strong kinesthetic awareness from years of dance training and experience with dance/movement therapy – realized that her initial movement had only involved her arms and wasn’t connecting at all to her torso. It wasn’t initiating from her core. She recognized this in itself was an emotional defense. When the therapist invited her to take this movement into another body part, she closed her eyes and chose to “play” with it through her torso, slowly moving her chest forward ever so slowly and subtly. When she made that choice, in the moment, she had no idea where it would go, how it would evolve or what it would make her feel. She just made a choice to explore pushing forward with her torso. (Someone else might have chosen a shoulder or a leg or a head gesture.)

To repeat the movement as the therapist suggested, she had to allow her chest to sink back. And thus, as she repeated this motion – the motion that had unconsciously emerged in her arm movement – she just slowly moved her torso back and forth… and it slowly evolved into a continual gentle rocking motion.

The image that immediately popped into Abby’s head – that emerged from feeling this motion in her body – was that of images she had seen on television, of Middle Eastern women, grieving, wearing all black and rocking back and forth, wailing.

The therapist invited Abby to let a dialogue ensue between the original movement and the second motion.

As Abby alternated between slowly pushing her arms out and then rocking her torso, she realized that she needed to make space in her own life to grieve the loss of the family member. The pushing away with her arms now became a gesture of creating space TO FEEL, instead of to not feel.

As she realized this, Abby just let herself rock slowly back and forth, the tears silently pouring down her cheeks.

The therapist eventually asked Abby to find an ending posture that felt right and Abby gradually rocked forward, nearing her head closer and closer to the floor until she settled into a position that resembled Child’s Pose in yoga. This position also triggered an image of a Middle Eastern woman, grieving – embodying her grief.

And Abby, for the first time in ten days since her family member’s passing, allowed herself to finally weep in the presence of another.

These insights perhaps could have been arrived at through “talk” therapy, but most likely Abby would have remained “in her head,” talking about the fact that she was holding feelings back. The act of moving her body accessed her emotions and unconscious directly. No verbal defenses. Her present truth simply emerged and she was grateful for it.

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I just joined the 1.6 million people who have watched this video on Youtube that captures a wedding party, bride and groom included, who danced the entire way down the aisle. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch HERE AND NOW.


I smiled immediately and couldn’t stop. I laughed out loud in the middle of the coffee shop. My eyes welled with tears of joy.

What a joyous expression of their love, commitment and life together! And what a wonderful way to unite in their joy with their wedding party and guests (which now include millions of people around the world!)

As a registered dance/movement therapist I see, daily, the power of dance. What a gift to be witness to this newlywed couple’s dance via our modern technology. What an inspiration to see them embrace their union in such pure, unadulterated and embodied joy.

I want to play music from the traffic lights and dance down the sidewalks!

Dance has always been a part of rituals and ceremonies from the earliest of days. Sadly, its central role in society has waned in modern times, mostly in our Western culture… I hope the JK Wedding starts a revolution! 1.6 million witnesses is a good start!!!!

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Back in January, when the newly-inaugurated President Obama issued a national call to service, I began a national dialogue with my dance/movement therapy colleagues about how to answer the President’s call and also meet the recently articulated goals of the American Dance Therapy Association to further develop diversity in our profession. My initial post was inspired by a series of events that occurred with an undergraduate student of mine – through their unfolding I was made acutely aware on a personal level of the frustration and disappointment experienced when access to dance and personal expression is denied and how, beyond personal loss, this creates a deficit in our own profession. (Story below.)

The Dizzy Feet Foundation has been recently established by Nigel Lythgoe & Adam Shankman of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame, Carrie Ann Inaba of “Dancing with the Stars” and Katie Holmes to “(1) provide scholarships and grants to talented dancers, choreographers and/or teachers working at or through accredited dance studios; (2) establish national standards for dance education and an accreditation program for dance; and (3) develop, provide and support dance education programs for underserved children by working through and with community organizations.” {SYTYCD Blog}

FANTASTIC! What a potentially powerful organization that could really increase opportunity and access for the youth across this country. The success of dance reality tv shows is evolving into something deeper. My hope is that the Dizzy Feet Foundation will also connect with professionals from the American Dance Therapy Association so that all aspects of dance and all dance career options can be shared with the youth. One can dance and teach… choreograph, perform… and one can help others find their own healing through dance, as a dance/movement therapist! If children across this country can be granted access to dance education and experience firsthand the inherent healing capacity of dance AND if professionals from the dance/movement therapy community can adequately educate about the existence of our field as a career option, a Dizzy Feet Generation could emerge and make a real impact on this country’s future.

January 22, 2009 to the ADTA listserve:
President Obama’s emphasis on “serving” where needed has had me thinking about how to do so through DMT. I’ve also been thinking about a recent revelation from one of my college students that has implications on our organization’s development of diversity in the profession. I’m wondering if the two calls can be answered in one action…

My thoughts return to a student I had in my Nonverbal Communication class last year. As part of the class I lead an extra-curricular workshop for students, on which they could potentially write a paper, that allowed them to experience aspects of DMT – largely based on principles of Dr. Danielle Fraenkel’s LivingDance~LivingMusic. (It was more of a “Dance for Self-Awareness” workshop than DMT but it gave them a taste of the power of movement and the connection of bodymind.) Long story short, prior to this workshop (and after an earlier classroom experience on moving Laban’s Efforts) this student came to me, exuberant from the movement experience and asking – almost pleading – how she really wished she could be a dancer but she was now a junior in college and had never studied dance. As I had had 70 students in the studio moving Efforts, I couldn’t recall her specific movement abilities, but I encouraged her to start taking dance classes on campus now and told her there were careers in dance that didn’t necessarily involve the typical “professional dancer” pathway – including DMT.

Flash forward to the Self-Awareness through Dance workshop.

She moved beautifully. There was such joy and passion and self-expression in her movement. She hadn’t had dance technique training, but there was no doubt she was a dancer. Her spirit soared through her movement.

I told her this after the class and encouraged her again to take as many dance classes as she could on campus – nonmajor classes to start – CSULB had plenty.

I checked in with her a few weeks later and asked her if she had found some dance classes to take and if she had committed to pursuing a dance minor.

Her response was tainted with frustration and bitterness. I’m not sure what obstacles she had met in the weeks since our previous discussion, but she was defeated and resigned and a little bit angry. Essentially, she made a statement that I had never considered before. She is of Latino descent and she said… “You know… where I grew up… girls don’t take dance classes. There is no money to take dance classes. For any of the families in my neighborhood… we just don’t have those opportunities as kids. We’re barely finding the money to eat and to keep a roof over our head. I would have loved to dance when I was younger but there was no possibility. I didn’t even know other kids were doing it.”

Her words have left such an impression on me and I realize how my own socio-economic and cultural background had blinded me to the realities of those who have not grown up with the same opportunities as I did. (I grew up low-middle class, rural America, and didn’t start dancing til I was 16, but there at least – eventually – was a window that I found and “danced” through. CSULB has an incredibly diverse student population, many of which are 1st generation college students from economically-challenged families.)

I realized… here was a young woman who most likely could have and would have pursued dancing and perhaps a dance-related career had opportunities presented themselves in her youth instead of financial and cultural obstacles.

Then I thought of the ADTA’s recent focus on developing diversity in our profession and I wondered… is the lack of diversity stemming, not from college-level recruiting, but from a deficit that begins at a much earlier age?

How do we broaden the diversity in our profession if there is little diversity in childhood and adolescent dance education? How do we get dancers of other cultures and economic backgrounds to consider DMT if they can’t even consider Dance?

So, here is my question for those who wish to brainstorm with me.

What ideas do people have about how to answer the President’s call for service and volunteering by creating more opportunities for the economically-challenged youth to experience dance?!?! Are some DMTs already doing this? And how? Can we build on it?

Can we discuss it?

The Dizzy Feet Foundation is an important step in the right direction. How do we, how can we join in their dance?

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Though I promised in my last post to write more about the DMT intervention of “mirroring,” I am compelled to write differently this evening. I must instead respond to the choreography that Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi danced tonight on So You Think You Can Dance.

Choreographed by Tyce Diorio to This Woman’s Work, this was a piece about a woman with breast cancer and her friend who is trying to support her during her battle.

Words do not do justice to this piece.

Words cannot ever do justice for that which is expressed nonverbally, through movement. We try. We fail. The most talented of poets can still not capture in words what is conveyed in movement. Verbal language simply cannot communicate what is conveyed in touch, in movement, in a shared look, in an embodied connection.

Nigel even said as much … when he wasn’t sitting there, appropriately speechless. As he struggled to maintain his composure, he referred to the power of dance – that it can convey so many emotions without saying a single word. YES! It can. This is the power of dance – that wordless, it can reach you in your heart and soul and gut and elicit your most hidden away emotions. This is the power evoked while watching dance and it is the power felt WHEN dancing. WHEN moving. As I watched, my breath caught in my chest and I found myself moving with them in subtle ways. I cried. As did Nigel and Mary and Mia and no doubt millions across this country, witnessing the story that their bodies told through space. But as Melissa said in the rehearsal, “This dance is not about our steps and how we’re dancing…”

No, their dance was about conveying the emotion and the story.

In dance/movement therapy, the dance is also not about the “steps” or “how”… it is about the communication of emotion. Pure and simple. It is about the communication of one’s own story, told through the most unfiltered and uncensored medium we have – our bodies.

Dance IS communication. That is what it is. Expressing oneself through one’s body… words do not get in the way. There is simply pure, raw emotion. There is no place to hide. The body doesn’t lie. It can’t. The body … movement… is our most primal means by which we communicate. It is as it has always been – before religion told us we should be ashamed of our bodies, before Descartes mistakenly told us our mind and body were separate, before we isolated behind computers and cell phones and reached out to one another via 0s and 1s across unseen electronic transmissions through virtual space. We are our bodies. When we allow our bodies to move and to express our emotions, spontaneously, we communicate in our most profound capacity.

Tyce Diorio’s choreography and Melissa and Ade’s performance was riveting, heart-breaking and a perfect example of the profound communicative power of dance. My deepest respect and gratitude to each of them for their gift to all of us who had the privilege to watch.

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I get that question all the time.

“What sort of dance steps do you teach?”

“Can you show me what dance therapy looks like?”

Actually, I can’t. Not really. I can show you examples of interventions that might be used but even those would shift and morph during the therapeutic process.

Dance/movement therapy is not about a product, it is about a process. Every DMT session looks different, begins differently, ends differently. The pioneer of modern day dance/movement therapy, Marian Chace, had a commandment, if you will: Start where the patient is at. In that regard, DMT could be considered person-centered (if you are at all familiar with the Carl Rogers’ perspective on psychotherapy.)

The dance/movement therapist begins the session by “attuning” to where the patient or client is, physically and emotionally, and choreographing the overall development of the session based on what the client brings to the process moment by moment.

One session might start with breathwork and an outsider observer might not even realize a session is in progress because the experience is happening so internally for the client. Another session might involve moving different body parts to the pulse of music. The possibilities are endless – as endless as movement and creativity itself. It all depends on the goals of the session and where the client “is” on that particular day.

I chose the photo above because it does visually capture a component of our work, an intervention or technique called “mirroring.” I’ll write more about that technique in the next post, but in the meantime, just look at the photo for a bit and imagine moving your hands with a partner who reflects back to you exactly your quality of movement. Try it if you want. Grab a friend or your significant other and play – maybe put on some relaxing music and have one person move for a few minutes while the other person tries to capture your movement. Discover for yourself a taste of what it is like to move in total connection with another. Feel free to respond if you like here – what it was like for you, what you noted, felt, discovered. In my next entry I’ll share how we use this technique professionally and how other experts are claiming as a “new therapeutic intervention” what we have been doing for decades.

Have you danced today?

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