Posts Tagged ‘healing’

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.



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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.


~~ 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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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

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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My title for this post is a direct quote from Dr. Andrew Weil’s opening keynote speech today at The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California (billed as the world’s largest psychotherapy conference, traditionally held only every five years.)

The entire speech, Integrative Medicine, the Mind-Body Connection, and the Future of Health Care, set the stage for an entire day and evening of workshops that addressed the mindbody relationship and its central role in healing.

Dance/movement therapists have been operating professionally for over 45 years on the principles of the reciprocal nature of the mind and body; our work has always emerged from the body’s innate capacity to heal. These are not “new” discoveries to any dance/movement therapist. But what IS new and incredibly exciting is that neuroscientists and microbiologists are finally understanding the mechanisms within the brain and the molecular nature of emotion so that our work can actually be validated by hard science.

Anyone who has ever experienced dance/movement therapy can speak to its efficacy and DMT IS evidence-based via a variety of research methodologies, but science’s emerging understanding of the unity of mind and body on a molecular level is precisely the quantitative measure that supports our work unequivocally.

Now, we just need to build the research teams: dance/movement therapists and interpersonal microbiologists and neuroscientists working together!

After attending Dr. Weil’s keynote, I experienced the following events:

Gene Expression and Brain Plasticity in the Evolution of Psychotherapy: Ernest Rossi, PhD
The Clinical Wisdom of Modern Neuroscience and Buddhist Psychology: Jack Kornfield, PhD and Daniel Siegel, MD
Reinventing the Mind; Resurrecting the Soul: Deepak Chopra, MD

It was a perfectly themed day, each workshop complementing the one before and after it.

I also had the honor of meeting David Harris, MA, BC-DMT, who has just returned from England where he received the Freedom to Create prize for his dance/movement therapy work with child soldiers in Sierre Leone. I have written about his work in an earlier post, but you can read about his latest international prize and subsequent press here. It was an honor to meet him and hear of his travels and teachings!

Tomorrow promises to be just as exciting at the conference. What an exciting time to be a dance/movement therapist, when science can finally prove what the most ancient and wise healers have always known: dance is healing!

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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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Ever wonder if dance/movement therapy is like yoga or how the two disciplines are different? Both dance/movement therapy and yoga operate on the premise of the mindbody connection. I often am asked by those unfamiliar with DMT if it is essentially like yoga.

Here’s the perfect chance to discover the answers to those questions for yourself.

Co-Sponsored by the Southern California Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association and the UCLArts & Healing Initiative, “The Dance of Yoga” is a 3.0 continuing education workshop for mental health professionals and those interested in healing through dance and/or yoga.

November 7, 2009
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

The workshop presenter is Kathy Cass, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, CYT, a registered dance therapist, nationally certified counselor, and a certified yoga therapist with over 25 years of instructional and clinical experience with a variety of populations. She has expertise as a long-standing director of a non-profit therapeutic dance/yoga organization as well as a movement/yoga consultant for numerous institutions and individuals.

Kathy has been a member and head of the ADTA Credentials Committee for two years and was just recently re-elected. She has been a guest lecturer at Scripps College, The Center for Movement Education & Research at Loyola Marymount University and Tiverton House at UCLA. Kathy is currently a part-time faculty member at Santa Monica College Emeritus Division and an Advisory Board Member for CSUF Extended Education in Expressive Arts Therapies. She also maintains a private practice including group and individual supervision in Santa Monica, CA.

Workshop Description:
What is the relationship between dance/movement therapy and yoga? Learn basic concepts, experience the process and learn specific techniques to integrate yoga into your personal and professional life. Learn about the philosophy and panchamaya model of yoga and how it blends and differs from basic dance therapy theory.

Focusing mostly on asana, prananayama and bhavana (postures, breath and visualization,) we will practice a short yoga sequence as well as a creative movement/dance exploration utilizing some of the asanas as a “theme”.

Attendance at this conference meets the qualifications for 3 hours of continuing education credit for MFTs and/or LCSWs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (Provider #4468). Continuing education credit is also available for BC-DMTs and R-DMTs.

Registration fees:
SCCADTA Members: $60
Non- Members: $70
Students – always – $25
Additional Administrative Fee for CEs for MFTs, LCSWs – $15.

If you are in the area, you can register at the door (just be sure to arrive by 9:15 to do so.)

California State University, Long Beach
Dance Department
Studio #5 (3rd floor)

1250 Bellflower Blvd
Long Beach
Parking $5

Dance Building is located between the Pyramid and the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, near the intersection of Atherton and Palos Verde. (access maps here)

Hope to see you there!

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Just thought I’d share this upcoming workshop. I wrote about David Alan Harris’ work with former child soldiers in Sierra Leone in an earlier post. (You can read that post and link to the radio podcast here.) This is an amazing opportunity to learn about his approach in person. If only I lived on the East Coast!

: A Dance/Movement Therapy Workshop For Dance Therapists and Movement Professionals

DAVID ALAN HARRIS, MA, LCAT, ADTR, a leading dance and movement therapist, will share his work with former child soldiers in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa, and with young male survivors of severe trauma. Combining his careers in human rights advocacy and choreography to work on the ground in Sierra Leone’s Kailahun District, David has collaborated with local counselors to develop an innovative dance and movement program to provide treatment for 12 former child soldiers, all of whom were orphans who survived the brutality of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. David’s inspiring work has demonstrated that “dance and movement therapy (DMT) interventions, if designed to promote cultural relevance and community ownership, may enhance healing among adolescent survivors of war and organized violence.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009
10 AM – 5 PM

At Preinkert Dance Studio
University of Maryland
College Park

$30 for professionals
$20 for students and retired professionals

To register, email Teresa Redmon at TREDMON1964@COMCAST.NET
And send check, made out to MD/DC/VA chapter of ADTA, to
3018 Benefit Court, Abingdon, MD 21009

For more information please call Karen Bradley at 202-669-3927

In this workshop you will:
1. Be introduced to David’s particular approach to working with survivors of trauma and violence.
2. Share best practices with movement professionals in working with clients with stress and somatoform issues.
3. Consider ways in which dance therapy might intersect with and influence international relief work.

Come and learn from his stories.
Read David Alan Harris’s article on his work in Foreign Policy in Focus.

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