Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

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.


~~ 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.


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »