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In February I presented on dance/movement therapy as part of a panel on creative arts therapies at the UCLA Integrative Medicine Conference. I was asked to provide a concise overview of dance/movement therapy along with a brief experiential. (Ten minutes was a challenge indeed!)

In this brief video I highlight how dance/movement therapy is different than the healing that is inherent in the act of dancing. The experiential is a brief example of how a dance/movement therapist develops movement: beginning in the present moment, where the client is “at” and then facilitating a movement improvisation based on what the DMT observes in the clients’ evolving movements. (So, yes, my movement and my “suggestions” were because I observed person(s) in the group already moving in that way. The dance/movement therapist “picks up” movement from the client.)

Facilitating a group movement improvisation with a room full of scientists and doctors was a fantastic experience and I was proud to be a part of this panel.

As always, if you have any questions, please ask. I’m happy to respond.

Enjoy.

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“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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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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A recent report has demonstrated that health care costs may actually DECREASE when arts are incorporated into health care settings. Some of the benefits for the patients include shorter hospital stays and a need for less medication. Benefits for the employees include increased satisfaction on the job and greater job retention, especially with nursing staff.

These findings and more are reported in the 2009 State of the Field Report for ArtsInHealthcare. A 33 page document, this report highlights the researched benefits of all forms of art, be they incorporated into the institutional setting itself or conducted bedside with the patients. You can read about the benefits of visual images, poetry, art, journaling, music, drama, dance and more.

Some of the featured studies pertaining specifically to dance/movement therapy in health care included the benefits to patients with breast cancer, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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