Posts Tagged ‘expressive arts’

This is the question every dance/movement therapist gets – often.

For many people, “dance” is associated with ballet and tutus… or jazz hands and pom poms… or grinding on the nightclub floor. How would that way of moving be a psychotherapy, they wonder. While each of those dance expressions (and dozens more) are valid in their own right, they are not to be expected in a dance/movement therapy session.

One of the challenges of actually showing people what DMT looks like is the fact that DMT is done with patients and clients, not students. There are HIPAA privacy laws and rules of confidentiality and ethical considerations. Dance/movement therapy is a psychotherapy and crucial to the success of any therapy session is an atmosphere of psychological safety – a “safe space” within which to explore thoughts, feelings and the unconscious. A video camera with a red, glowing light does little to engender that feeling of safety.

But once in awhile, permission is granted to video and the resulting footage can go a long way to shedding light on our work.

Below is one such video.

Dr. Lori Baudino, a clinical psychologist and board-certified dance/movement therapist, pioneered the development of the first dance/movement therapy program at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. (I have also had the distinct pleasure of serving alongside Dr. Baudino on the Board of Directors for the California Chapter of the ADTA.)

In this video, Dr. Baudino explains how she uses dance/movement therapy, one on one, with children in the hospital. The footage might surprise you – the work is subtle. She comments about this, too, in her narrative. There are wonderful clips of Dr. Baudino establishing and building relationship with the children through attuning to their movements. Interspersed with the clips, she explains what she does.

Key to dance/movement therapy (as opposed to a dance class or a Zumba™ class) is the therapeutic relationshiop that exists between therapist and client. All movement expression that occurs does so within that relationship. Movement communicates. Dance communicates. The dance/movement therapist is uniquely trained to understand that communication, facilitate it and deepen it.

Surprised by anything in the video? Curious? Intrigued? Feel free to comment and I’m happy to continue a dialogue or answer any of your questions.

Also, if you’d like to read more about the use of dance/movement therapy in the medical field, the current President of the ADTA, Dr. Sherry Goodill, has written a comprehensive book on the subject: An Introduction to Medical Dance/Movement Therapy – Healing in Motion. It’s an amazing feat of scholarship. If you’d like to take a look inside her book, click here.


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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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How would YOU describe “dance?”

Anna Halprin has always said it is “the breath made visible.”

What a profound image…

As I sit here, cognitively pondering her words, I have given myself permission – even whilst sitting at my desk with my fingers poised above the keyboard – to explore its meaning on an embodied level. So I pause, even in this 21st century confined computer-oriented posture, and breathe. I watch my chest rise and expand forward with the inhalation and then sink in the exhaled sigh in such a way that my shoulders follow and my spine curves toward the back of my chair. I play with my breath – changing the force, the speed, the depth – and allow my body to dance to its own music.

To say “the breath made visible” is poetic but the rhetoric is superficial until you actually feel kinesthetically what she means.

Just try it.
Breathe. Now.

Give yourself the gift of focusing on nothing else but your body right now in this moment: breathe. And as you breathe, simply observe how your body responds – it is already moving, already dancing in its own subtle, glorious way.

What if you let that ever so subtle movement, that occurs hundreds, even thousands of times daily, grow just a bit. Expand just ever so little. What if you let that breath gently guide your body… to grow, shrink, undulate, collapse.

Watch your breath – made visible – become your dance and give yourself permission to explore – not knowing where you’re going or what the next moment will look like.

I write of Breath Made Visible tonite because I just became aware of a breathtaking and powerful documentary by that very name that will be in theatres very soon. Breath Made Visible is a full length feature film about the life and prolific work of Anna Halprin – a living pioneer in modern dance and in the expressive arts healing movement.

It is very rare that dance is captured well in film – and even more rare that dance/movement therapy is.

Even in such a short trailer, the cinematographer really captures the essence of Anna Halprin’s spirit and the evocative power of even the most subtle movement. Because I work with the elderly, I particularly loved seeing the footage of what appears to be at least a hundred elders dancing in their chairs on the grass, in the open air – expressing themselves through breath and movement as one. The trailer is brilliant – a mere taste of what will most certainly be a delicious visual experience in its entirety.

Watch the trailer. Then look for the film in your city. A colleague of mine who is a long-time student of Anna Halprin was present at its premiere and declares it is not to be missed.

While you wait for the film opening, you can learn more about Anna Halprin here, in her own words, and of her work at the Tamalpa Institute.

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