art, culture & heritage





Dance Therapy: Motion that Heals

                                            Nadeem Zaigham




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 task-oriented.

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 communication tool.

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 dance.

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 various diseases.

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 change.

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 person.

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 bodies.

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.

Mental Patient
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 depression.

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

First Year
- Self reflexive movement improvisation
- Theatrical approaches to Dance – movement therapy
- Field work skills and supervision
- Development, movement and growth

Second Year
- Movement intervention skills
- Clinical practice and supervision
- Psychopathology
- Alternative world views
- Dance Movement
- Group Process theory and video observation
- Research methodologies
- Experiential anatomy and body work of dance Therapy clinical practice

Third Year
Field Work

Suggested Reading :
Dance and other Expressive Art Therapies. Levy, Fran J. Fried, J.P & Leventa: London
Dance Therapy Notebook. Lewin J.L. American Dance Therapy Association: Washington, D.C
The Life and Work of Marian Chace. S. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, A. Lohn, Editors. American Dance Therapy Association, Columbia, MD, 1993

Courtesy: Nadeem Zaigham