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Archive for July, 2012

“The power of creativity to transcend fear and live a courageous life.”

Those are words I believe in, words I would have liked to have written at some point if I hadn’t read them elsewhere first.

These are words that were written by the makers of the film How to Become an Extreme Action Hero, a documentary about the work of self-described “action expert” Elizabeth Streb. Sometimes referred to as the “Evel Knievel of dance,” the NY Times has said “Streb’s rough and tumble dances are about velocity, physical stamina and her unwillingness to bow to gravity without a fight.”

In the own words of the project…

How to Become an Extreme Action Hero, directed by Catherine Gund, will defy the traditions and expectations surrounding documentary film. Opening with seven extraordinary events that took place during the 2012 Cultural Olympiad in London, the film will track twenty years of Elizabeth Streb’s dance work. There will be scenes of dizzying commotion and breathtaking suspense, but also moments of tenderness and laughter. The film’s overall purpose is to push limits and uncover sources of bravery. It’s about using the power of creativity to transcend fear and live a courageous life.”

Please take a moment to check out this documentary’s Kickstarter campaign and get involved if you feel moved to take action. The more dance there is on film, the greater the awareness in the world of the life-affirming and life-changing power of moving the body. This is a wonderful opportunity for supporters of film and supporters of dance to join together under a shared purpose and shine a light on that brave inner spark that fuels us both to create.

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This week (July 23-28) DanceAdvantage.net invites the world to participate in a social media based campaign united on the importance of dance: “Why Dance Matters.”

My dance/movement therapy colleague, Donna Newman Bluestein, has done this exquisitely well in her blog, Musings of a Dance/Movement Therapist. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read her post. You can bet I will be quoting her words for a long time.

I, however, am finding it harder to describe the power of dance as she has, so summarily and eloquently. My response seems to be emerging in vivid memories – moments that have stood the test of time over the decades and remain in my consciousness, reminding me of the power of dance to enliven, to connect, to pierce isolation. To express – joy, grief and everything in between. To not only encode memory but also evoke it.

If only I could provide a YouTube link to these unforgettable moments etched in my bodymind. Alas, I will attempt to rely on clumsy and inefficient words to describe what dance does so effortlessly. (Ah yes, how could I forget that one: dance communicates. Dance communicates what even the most skilled wordsmiths can only silhouette.)

And so, I offer these mere silhouettes and hope they do some justice in verbally conveying what was first experienced, so perfectly, nonverbally.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

As I reflect on these words, one of the first images that floods my mind is that of me dancing the Two Step with my grandfather and the Schottische with my grandmother at rural community dances when I was a young child. My grandfather passed decades ago and my grandmother is now an amazing and vibrant 90. Those moments of physical touch, of loving gazes from twinkling eyes, of our laughing and moving together will always remain in my heart and bring joy and comfort to me all my life. To have danced with my grandparents…

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

Every week I enter a room at some psychiatric hospital, prepared to lead a dance/movement therapy group with inpatients who are in crisis. As I enter, I witness withdrawal, disconnection, paralytic depression, isolative preoccupation. Often those with thought disorders are talking to themselves or imagining some delusional yet terrifyingly real threat to their personhood. Attempts at facilitating a group discussion are. . . well, mere attempts. Focus, interaction, listening, organized verbal expression: all these things are nearly impossible to facilitate amongst such a diverse group of individuals challenged with such severe psychiatric symptoms.

But the dance…

The music plays and an ever-surprising, inspiring and magical dance emerges that I feel blessed to witness and partake in every time. I never know how one patient will respond or who will be inspired by whose movement to express themselves in what way. But they do: Respond. Interact. Dance. Sometimes alone, almost always, eventually, with each other as one group. Maybe the group cohesion is only for a few moments but those moments are gold. The voices quiet (or at least are ignored for a bit), the isolation melts, joy – that ever elusive joy – is felt, embodied and expressed. Or perhaps there is sadness and despair or anger – but these feelings are permitted, embodied, symbolized, expressed. People are accepted for who they are and embraced. Nonverbally the dance says We are all welcome here and we have something to say and we shall say it with our bodies.
Every time. It is both commonplace and miraculous.

Every.
Time.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

Elsie. *

Eighty-something, she lived alone in an apartment in an enriched housing apartment complex. I did a portion of my dance/movement therapy internship there after grad school. Elsie would never leave her apartment for activities. In fact, she wouldn’t even leave for meals, often insisting the meals be brought to her apartment where she dined alone. But all I had to do was knock on the door and say “Elsie, there is a dance downstairs. Would you like to dance?” Her eyes would come alive with a fire and a joyous anticipation.

Well, let me just change my shoes…

She was the belle of the ball every time, even if our “ball” was only a circle of folding chairs in the tv room in the middle of the afternoon. She was there to dance.

And did she dance.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

There are so many other stories. . . patients frozen physically with severe Parkinson’s disease coming alive with dance like the Wizard of Oz’ Tin Man with his precious oil. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease – withdrawn, unable or uninspired to speak or connect– sharing stories with the group as their spontaneous dance movements evoke memories long since forgotten.

Every day I dance with someone there is a new story.

I cannot imagine my life without dance. I only began dance studio training when I was 16 but I’ve been a dancer in my heart since I was old enough to walk. I am not the most technically trained dancer but I am no less a dancer.

We are ALL dancers.

Donna, so brilliantly, writes in the above-mentioned post that

“While it is true that not every one feels comfortable dancing, it is only because of limiting cultural beliefs. If we taught otherwise, it would be otherwise.”

We ARE all dancers.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I have never known as much joy and aliveness as I have when I am dancing – on the musical stage, in the club, in my living room, in a Zumba class, with a lindy hop partner. I have never been so in the present moment as when I am in my dance. And now, as a dance/movement therapist I get to witness and experience the meaningful and, yes, at times life-changing impact of dance on my clients.

Dance is inherently healing – it always has been.

Why does dance matter?

Because it DOES.

We move in the womb. Our hearts beat a pulse. We respond to rhythm as babies with joyous movement even before we can walk. We only stop completely moving in this world when our lungs no longer inflate and our hearts stop beating.

To be alive is to move.

To dance is to be alive.

That is why dance matters.


(You can share your own reflections on Why Dance Matters on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #whydancematters. Also check out the Why Dance Matters Facebook page or the Why Dance Matters website for more ideas on how to get involved in this important campaign.)

* Name has been changed.

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Once a year, dance/movement therapists from around the world congregate at the American Dance Therapy Association’s Annual Conference, hosted each year in a different city in the United States. This year will mark the 47th Annual event, Exploring Vistas and Soaring to New Heights: Dance/Movement Therapy 2012 and Beyond. It promises to bring hundreds of clinicians and dozens of grad students to Albuquerque, New Mexico in October.

Perhaps comparing attendance at a professional conference to entering a candy store seems a mismatched metaphor to some, but for this dance/movement therapist it is right on target. The only downside to the conference each year is that I cannot clone myself to attend multiple seminars at once. I really wish I could clone myself. No, really, I do.

When I attended the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in 2009 (a MASSIVE conference with over 7000 attendees) I listened to current leaders in psychology and medicine – Ernest Rossi, Daniel Siegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Eugene Gendlin, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, among others – all address the mindbody connection in their work. It was gratifying to hear each of them acknowledge the role of the body in healing and it was uplifting to know that so many other scholars with significantly larger audiences are researching and applying concepts that have always been central to dance/movement therapy practice and theory. Oh, the fruit that could be produced from widespread research collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists and dance/movement therapists! That day is coming, I feel it. But it can’t come soon enough.

In the meantime, I am extraordinarily proud to have earned the title of board-certified dance/movement therapist and to stand among my colleagues who advance our field and thereby also deepen an understanding of the mindbody connection that informs all approaches to healing. It brings me joy to call attention to the work of my peers and to further emphasize the advanced scholarship and clinical skills that are necessary to call oneself “dance/movement therapist.” (If this is the first post you are reading from my blog, I invite you to read “An Invitation to Those Making the World a Better Place Through Dance” to understand precisely what is required to earn that title.)

In the service of calling attention to the work of my peers, allow me to provide a glimpse into the candy store awaiting conference attendees in October in New Mexico. The conference is open to all. If you are a mental health clinician of any variety and seeking continuing education or even an aspiring student (in dance, in psychology, in social work, etc) our doors are open. Most workshops will be a combination of lecture, discussion and experiential work. There is even a special pre-conference interactive intensive for non-dance/movement therapists (allied professionals and students) to personally and kinesthetically be introduced to basic concepts of dance/movement therapy so that the conference workshops will be more meaningful.

A sampling:

Dance/Movement Therapists and Schools in Collaboration A Multi-Cultural, Embodied Approach to Violence Prevention with Rena Kornblum

Photo courtesy
disarmingtheplayground.wordpress.com

Beat the Odds: Social/Emotional Skill Building Delivered in a Framework of Drumming and Movement with Ping Ho and Kathy Cass

A Closer Examination of Repetitive Movement and Healing Trauma: Why DMT has Psychology’s Attention with Patricia Lucas

The Dance of Attunement: Utilizing Dance/Movement Therapy to Develop Skills for Affect Regulation with Children with Rebecca Finnoff

The Use of Dance/ Movement Therapy in Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) with Luke Addington

Mutuality in Motion: Integrating Movement Within the Child-Parent Psychotherapy Model to Restore Healthy Attachment with Nancy Toncy

Dance Cuba! Dance/Movement Therapists’ Cross Cultural Collaboration in Cuba with Christina Devereaux

Dance/movement therapy group. Courtesy of ADTA.

Dancing with People with Dementia: Expanding the Roles of Dance/Movement Therapists with Donna Newman-Bluestein

These are but just a few of the 49 workshops and intensives being offered at the 47th Annual ADTA Conference. You can read about the workshops above and others here. And if you are Facebook-inclined (who isn’t?) you can get updates, photos and more at the ADTA Conference Facebook page. (Oh, and I’ve been invited to present a half day intensive on Zumba Fitness® Through the Lens of Dance/Movement Therapy. More on that later …) You can also read the bios of all the presenters here, which I highly recommend if you want to get a glimpse into who dance/movement therapists are and what we do. Our work is quite diverse and I am fascinated by the unique career paths dance/movement therapists find themselves on. I think you will be too.

(Last updated/edited September 9, 2012.)

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