Dance has existed in every human culture and is used in rituals, rites of
passage and as a cathartic healing tool. In every civilization, dancing,
religion, music and medicine were linked. Throughout the ages, people of
many cultures have used dance to express powerful emotions, tell stories,
treat illness, celebrate important events and maintain communal bonds. Dance
can express all human emotions and lead to transcendental status. It has
been known to have powerful effects on the mind, body and emotions.
Dance can empower individuals and communities. It is a force that can unite,
uplift, teach, build communities, inspire and heal. As babies, we use
movements to explore the environment and ourselves. It is only as we grow
that we become conscious of our bodies and our movements become
Dance is a way of dealing with feelings and releasing them instead of
locking them and going to the doctor with depression and anxiety. In Indo/Pak,
we have uncounted number of folk dances and seven classical dances. All
dances symbolize more than just entertainment. Actually they also serve as a
What is dance / movement therapy?
Today’s dance therapy evolved from the age - old idea that dancing has power
to cure. The recognition came with the development of more expressive and
improvisional forms of dance popular at that time, as well as the acceptance
of the integral relationship between mind and body.
Once I read that during the middle ages people even danced to avoid the
plague. The Tarantella of Italy is believed to have originated after a
poisonous spider’s bite caused trantism and the cure for it was a jumping
Another interesting incident is about the Belly Dance. It is considered to
be one of the oldest dances in the world. It is practiced by ancient
cultures from the orient to the Middle East. The modern world has embraced
it for numerous reasons.
Dance Therapy, a creative arts therapy, is rooted in the expressive nature
of dance itself. Dance is the most fundamental of the art involving direct
expressions and experience of oneself through the body. According to Vedic
philosophy, our Inner self has an immense reservoir of natural healing -
energy lying dormant at the core of our heart. This healing energy can be
activated by compassionate vibrations coming from the cosmic heart. Inner
alignment of our body and mind makes our heart receptive to these cosmic
vibrations and initiate the release of healing Bio-phontons from our vital
energy centers. This consolidates our health and prepares us to fight
Dance Therapy is recognized as a distinct therapeutic disciple since the
1940s - attempts to unlock our bodies’ capacity to communicate through the
use of creative movements. By getting people to move freely and allowing
them to develop their own body languages, it aims at reveling hidden
emotions and beginning the process of self expression.
Dance movement therapy emerged as a profession in the United States in the
1960s. By the 1970s, it had reached Australia and is now an established
occasion, combining the creative process and the study of human movement
into a holistic approach that draws upon the elements inherent in dance.
Programs are designed to meet specific goals and bring about therapeutic
Dance Therapy is drawn from backgrounds in dance, education of the health
sciences including, for example, teaching, physiotherapy and psychology.
Practitioners are required to undergo extensive dance movement therapy
training with supervised clinical practice. They may be employed especially
as dance movement therapist or integrate dance therapy within the broader
context for their work.
Diseases - which are cured by Dance Therapy
Clinical reports suggest that dance therapy helps in developing body image,
improving self-concept and self-esteem, reducing stress, anxiety and
depression, decreasing isolation, chronic pain and body tension,
hypertension, angima, diabetes, insomnial allergies, asthma, arthritis, AIDS
and additions. It can be helpful in increasing communication skills and
feelings of well-being. People with chronic conditions such as arthritis and
heart diseases should consult with their physician before undergoing any
type of therapy. Dance can be a form of exercising the battle against
childhood obesity. Dance helps in weight loss, builds muscle strength,
agility and cardio-vascular fitness.
How does dance therapy work?
In dance therapy, the patient is made aware of his feelings through
sensation and movement. By integrating body and mind, the goal of dance
therapy is to build the self-esteem and self-identity of an emotionally ill
It is known that each one of our five senses sends messages to our brain
through nerves and we react accordingly. In a nutshell, we jump for joy when
we are happy about something, we slump when we are sad. That is body
language. When the body does not react to the messages of the brain, we may
blow an emotional fuse and withdraw.
In dance therapy, patients are taught to act our hidden hurts. It is
believed that acting out past hurts and frustrations can help the individual
come to terms with this emotional problem and thus learn to deal with them.
As a form of exercise, dance therapy can be useful. Emotionally, dance
therapy is reported to improve self-awareness, self-confidence and
interpersonal interactions and is an outlet for communication of feelings.
Actually dance therapy can enhance the functioning of the body circulatory
and respiratory systems.
Movement activities or dancing steps like warm ups, mirroring, dancing with
props, moving through space, trust exercises, improvisation, body rhythms
and hand gestures are therapeutic as well as fun. They increase range of
motion, body coordination, attention spa and imitation skills while helping
children to develop spatial awareness, memory and sequencing skills with
group coordination. Dancing together also helps children gain self-esteem
and self-confidence while sharing thoughts, ideas and stories through their
Some examples of Parkinson, Mental Patient and Schizoph
Dr George Turnbull, professor of Physiotherapy at Dalhousie, has been
helping patients with Parkinson’s disease for over two decades. “Meditation
works well at first, but patients eventually become more and more inactive
and they lose their strength, posture, endurance and joint flexibility”, he
says. “People don’t really die of Parkinson. They die of inactivity; we are
trying to help people active for as long as possible.”
This therapy worked like fire. When fire burns, carbon dioxide comes out
similarly. When we take dancing sessions, our body produces ENZYMES like
“Serotonin”. This Serotonin which develops in the brain - the main function
of this enzyme is to make people happy. The source of Serotonin is Banana
and some drugs.
For patients of depression, mental diseases, doctors always prescribe this
Serotonin in this therapy. Already we produce lots of Serotonin enzyme to
make people healthy and keep fit.
Dancing may be a way to tone the body, but it is also a dynamic way to
exercise the mind, say health experts recent study by academic. SARAH COOK,
who has personal experience of mental health problems, shows dance is a
powerful therapeutic tool. Dance is a way dealing with feelings and
releasing them, instead of launching them in and going to the doctor with
Schizophrenia is one of the most severe and debilitating mental illness
which affects approximately one in every hundred people in the UK time.
Dance therapy helps the patient to improve a lot. Through this therapy, they
can regain their self-confidence and gradually recovery also.
Institutions- Working in this field
- American Dance Therapy Association – Founded in 1966 established to
maintain high standards of professional education and competence in the
field of dance therapy.
- Dance Movement Therapy Association of Australia & International Dance
Therapy Institute of Australia – both established in 1989 out of a need for
extended study and training in dance therapy.
- AMICI Dance Therapy Company – London
- Infinity Dance Theatre – New York
- Stopgap Dance Company – Surrey England
- AXIS Dance Company – established in 1987 in California
- Dancing Wheels, Cleveland – 1980
- Common Ground Sign Dance Theatre – Liverpool, London 1986
- Galludet University Dance Company for physical handicapped
- Anjali : National Dance Institute for blind or low vision
- Touchdown Dance Company for senior citizen
- Liz Lerman Dance Exchange – 1976
Some Institutes of Dance Therapy in India
- Ramana Sunritya Aalaya – The temple of good dance in Chennai – 1989
- Apoorva Dance Theatre - Bangalore (Ms Tripura Kashyap)
Courses in Dance Therapy
- Wesly Institute – Canada
- Dalhousie University – Haufax Nova Scotia
- Roehampton University – Canadian Institute for health research
M.A in Dance Movement Therapy
Association for Dance Movement Therapy UK
Key Areas of Study
- Self reflexive movement improvisation
- Theatrical approaches to Dance – movement therapy
- Field work skills and supervision
- Development, movement and growth
- Movement intervention skills
- Clinical practice and supervision
- Alternative world views
- Dance Movement
- Group Process theory and video observation
- Research methodologies
- Experiential anatomy and body work of dance Therapy clinical practice
Suggested Reading :
Dance and other Expressive Art Therapies. Levy, Fran J. Fried, J.P & Leventa:
Dance Therapy Notebook. Lewin J.L. American Dance Therapy Association:
The Life and Work of Marian Chace. S. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, A. Lohn, Editors.
American Dance Therapy Association, Columbia, MD, 1993
Courtesy: Nadeem Zaigham