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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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March 20-26, 2011 is National Creative Arts Therapy Week!

In celebration of dance/movement therapy and other creative arts therapies, I pledge to post often this week, shining light on my esteemed colleagues all over the world who are facilitating healing through the creative arts.

Creative arts therapy modalities include dance/movement, drama, music, poetry, and art.

I have had the privilege of working with music therapists (both bachelor’s level and master’s level therapists) at various psychiatric hospitals. Some of my most memorable groups have been those that were co-facilitated with a music therapist, where not only the movement but also the live music itself were sculpted by both of us in constant collaboration, in response to what the patients were expressing in the moment.

In celebration of my friends and colleagues who are music therapists, I would like to bring your attention to an independent film that is making its way across the country right now. The Music Never Stopped, an official 2011 Sundance selection, stars Julia Ormond (as a music therapist!) and is based on a true story.  The music therapist character is loosely based on a pioneer music therapist, Dr. Concetta Tomaino, who is now the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.  In this press release, Dr. Tomaino speaks about the evidence based applications of music therapy:

“For example, with someone who has memory problems, particularly with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, we will use music of personal importance. Those emotions are then connected to deep memories that we can attempt to retrieve as they are exposed to that specific music. We also use rhythm to help people with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, or a stroke, to help people regain their ability to move, as well as a singing protocol that we use for people with strokes to help them regain the ability for speech. We’re using music in ways to reach people on a deep, clinical level.

…Something as simple as a beat or rhythm can stimulate and coordinate movement. The more complex the sound stimuli are, the more neurological functions are activated. If you think of networks in the brain being excited one network at a time, the more complex the sound that is stimulating those networks, the more heightened the response.”

As music and rhythm are also integral to dance/movement therapy (though not always used) the observations Dr. Tomaino speaks of are also seen in dance/movement therapy groups with these same populations.

The healing power of music and movement and rhythm and embodied awareness/expression is profound. I am so proud to be a part of the dance/movement therapy profession and the greater creative arts therapy community. We are all pioneers!

Here’s to a week of celebrating the work of creative arts therapists everywhere!

More to come….!

(And in the meantime, why not catch a flick? Watch the movie trailer for The Music Never Stopped here. Perhaps it’s at a theatre near YOU.

Read about a music therapist’s perspective on the movie here.

 

 

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Let me put my cards on the table.

I started this blog two years ago out of a deeply felt frustration that I know is shared by many of my fellow dance/movement therapists. I know they share this frustration in some form or another because the topic and the discussion of ways to address it has been repeated – for years – in professional discussions, online forums and local and national dialogues. It is an ongoing issue for our professional community.

The frustration is this:

In the 21st century, how can it be that the profession of dance/movement therapy is not better known? Better understood? At the very least, heard of? Granted, if one is not working in the mental health or rehabilitation or wellness professions, then it is perhaps logical that the profession be an unfamiliar concept. Certainly, I have never heard of countless occupations. But, how can it be in the 21st century, over ten years since the “Decade of the Brain” concluded, that dance/movement therapy is not better understood by our colleagues whose professions involve psychology or neuroscience?

How is it that when one googles “dance therapy” on the internet, one gets more references to Brittany Spears and pole dancing or random dance classes than one gets legitimate information on the nearly 50 year old profession of dance/movement therapy?

This latest spike in frustration was inspired by the recent feature on Anderson Cooper 360 that took a close look at a day in the life of Gabrielle Gifford’s rehabilitation at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas.

How is it that when Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited the hospital to get a hands on experience of a day in the life of Congresswoman Giffords’ recovery, dance/movement therapy was not included in the diverse list of therapies? Yes, music therapy was on the day’s agenda and, to Dr. Gupta’s credit, he really appreciated the power of music therapy to work “on developing … attention, memory and overall executive function.” This acknowledgement on a show as respected and widely viewed as CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 is a real boost for our colleagues in the music therapy profession.

But dance/movement therapy was NOT on the schedule and it was not addressed by Dr. Gupta – by name. However, a quick glimpse at the video of the music therapist, Maegan Morrow, reveals that she was incorporating movement with the music to help her patients improve cognitively and learn to walk again. “Lean 2, 3, 4, Push up, 2, 3, 4…” The diverse therapies at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital work together to rehabilitate patients from traumatic injury… and yet the experts on using movement psychotherapeutically, who are specifically trained in connecting through movement and facilitating movement and rhythm – for whatever end goal – are not on that team?

“The brain learns best when it processes cognitive, affective and psychomotor information simultaneously.” (emphasis mine.)
Dr. Michael Merzenich
Neuroscientist

This is fundamental knowledge to neuroscientists and to anyone familiar with “brain-based learning.”

Movement is not only integral to healing psychologically, it is integral to effective rehabilitation of the brain, to learning and to brain plasticity.

Though my peers and I ask these questions – how, how, how can the world not know? – we do so, of course, acknowledging the onus is on us, the dance/movement therapists. This is precisely why I blog on DMT, why I encourage my colleagues to do the same and why I am writing a book on the topics of this blog.

Did you know:

Neuroscientists have declared the importance of psychomotor processing to learning.

The New England Journal of Medicine published that dancing, moreso than any other leisure activity, decreases cognitive decline in senior citizens over 75.

Physical therapists have published repeatedly on the therapeutic value of dancing the tango for people with Parkinson’s disease.

These are but drops in the bucket of research that RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT reveal the importance of dance and movement in our lives and yet… the official profession of dance/movement therapy remains in the shadows.

Compared to the combined fields that make up verbal psychotherapies (social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists) – and even to our allied creative art therapists – dance/movement therapists are still very small in number. We practice in countries all over the world but only have seven graduate programs in the United States where the dance/movement therapy master’s degree can be earned. There are additional ADTA approved “alternate route” programs for individuals who have a master’s degree in a related mental health field to get the requisite DMT training; even so, a handful of programs can only produce so many dance/movement therapists a year.

The simple fact of the matter is that at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California in 2009, the leading psychologists and psychiatrists in the world presented, among other things, on the importance of acknowledging the body in psychotherapy: attending to bodily sensation, breathwork, moving, mindfulness, meditating. The handful of respected dance/movement therapists that attended with me sat, nodding, in agreement. Yes. Yes, we know. This is what we do. This is what we have done for over forty years.

The simple fact of the matter is that 10 million people worldwide are participating in Zumba® classes each week, many referring to it as their “therapy.” Television news stations are doing stories on the effect of Zumba® on its students and teachers alike, noting its therapeutic value in places as unusual as prisons. Again, though Zumba® is a fitness class and not dance/movement therapy, the fact that dancing is experienced as being “therapeutic,” even within the structure of an exercise class, comes as no surprise to those in our profession.

The world is discovering in its own ways that movement and dance and the bodymind connection are important. This is wonderful! This growing awareness should be shining an ever-expanding spotlight on the profession that has been implementing these truths in its clinical practice for decades. Dance/movement therapists have not just discovered the power of movement to evoke emotion… or heal trauma… or break through isolation… or express that which cannot be spoken… or garner insight… or connect with self, with others. Dance/movment therapists have an extensive body of research and theory that delves deeply into these subjects. Our expertise can be your expertise… if the dialogue begins.

We must be on the edge of a fusion, of an integration, of a collaboration between verbal psychotherapies, neuroscience, medicine and dance/movement therapy that will change the course of healing and wellness and recovery in this new century. We must be on that edge. I can feel it.

But the awareness has to spread so that the curiosity can pique and the collaborations can begin large scale.

Dance/movement therapy must go viral.

That is my challenge to you. Help spread awareness. The research and the experts are there to back it all up. What is needed is awareness.

How I wish the media would shed light – BIG LIGHT – on these stories – or simply look in their own communities for the stories that are happening there, right now:

Dance/movement therapists making breakthroughs with children with autism.

Dance/movement therapists teaching staff and caregivers essential nonverbal communication skills to more meaningfully connect with those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dance/movement therapists empowering women in India who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

A Dance/movement therapist helping child soldiers in Sierra Leone feel empathy again – and teaching others how to continue the work in their communities through dance.

A dance/movement therapist who has designed a movement based curriculum to help foster empathy and prevent violence in schools.

There is not enough light cast on this work nor on its potential to effect real change in the lives of millions of people across the globe.

Help shine the light.

If your life or the life of someone you love has been touched by Alzheimer’s, autism, bullying, cancer, trauma, Parkinson’s, mental illness, an eating disorder, body image issues, brain injury… if you have ever felt the power of dance in your own life, on some level, please pass this on.

Shine the light.

This is a “virus” the world desperately needs.

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Wouldn’t that be something?

This question will be explored in depth at my upcoming presentation, Gene Expression and Neuroplasticity: Implications for Dance/Movement Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease, at the American Dance Therapy Association’s 2010 Conference: Creating the Mind-Body Mosaic: Theory, Research and Practice in Dance/Movement Therapy.

For a sneak peak at what we’ll be discussing and learning through movement exploration, here’s the abstract from my conference paper – the entirety of which can be obtained through attending the conference or by direct purchase from the ADTA:

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to continue to grow and change in response to new experiences throughout the life span. Evidence supports that plasticity declines as we age and that this deterioration precedes the more commonly recognized pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease, including plaques and tangles. Research also supports that certain types of physical, sensory and social experiences can maintain brain plasticity and increase neurogenesis. Building on the anecdotal and clinical literature that supports the use of dance/movement therapy with individuals with dementia, this workshop introduces Ernest Rossi’s concept of “psychosocial genomics” and integrates the language of neuroscience to more concretely explain what can happen on a molecular level during a DMT session and why that may be particularly significant in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (Wilson-Mau, 2010).

The impact of widespread implementation of interventions that prevent and delay progression of Alzheimer’s disease is profound, according to the calculations of the Alzheimer’s Association (2010). If, by the year 2015, we could universally implement an intervention that delays onset of Alzheimer’s disease a mere five years, we would reduce the number of Americans with the disease in 2050 by almost 50%. Calculations also project that an intervention universally implemented by 2015 that simply slowed the progression of the disease would reduce the number of Americans in 2050 living in the severe stage of the disease (and requiring most care) BY NEARLY 80%!.

While Alzheimer’s disease is a very complex neurodegenerative disorder that needs continued study, there is much research that already points to the power of dance (and, in turn, dance/movement therapy) to confront its threat. Collaborations between dance/movement therapists and neuroscientists are absolutely necessary – NOW – to bring the attention of the world to the profound healing power of something so simple and accessible to us all: DANCE.

For a look at the complete list of workshops being offered Sept 23-26 at the conference in Brooklyn, click here.

Resources:

Wilson-Mau, L. (2010, September). Gene Expression and Neuroplasticity: Implications for Dance/Movement Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease. Paper to be presented at the American Dance Therapy Association Conference, Brooklyn, NY.

Alzheimer’s Assocation. (2010). Changing the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease: A national imperative. Washington, DC.

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