Dance Movement Therapy Review


Dance Movement therapy belongs to the category of Creative Arts therapy among alternative therapies. The term ‘dance movement therapy’ refers to the use of movement in improving the mental and physical health of a person. Dance therapy centres around the notion that the body and mind are interconnected, and that body movement reflects the state of a person’s inner-self (ACS, 2007). By relaxing the mind and expressing the thoughts and feelings therein through movement, the physical body is benefitted. Dancing can be a very energizing and liberating experience and hence it is used to reach out to people with emotional, psychological, social and physical problems. Dance therapy promotes the health of ordinarily healthy people and complements efforts to reduce stress in the case of people suffering from cancer or any other chronic illness and their caregivers (ACS, 2007).

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History of Dance Therapy

Dance has played a vital role in traditional ceremonies and religious events throughout history. Medicine men of many Native American tribes have used dance as part of their healing rituals. Dance therapy as a profession emerged after the rise of creative-arts therapies in rehabilitation in the USA after the Second World War (Staehli, 2007). The expressive element of dance was use used to enhance communication with psychiatric patients. There were other dance therapists who worked with improvised movement and awareness of inner sensations and images in the realm of psychoanalysis (ACS, 2007). Marian Chace, a talented dancer of the twentieth century was one of the primary founders of dance therapy. In 1930, she observed that her students were more involved in the emotional component of dancing rather than on the physical movement (Casapalmera, 2007). She observed that the students experienced healing effects through dancing. Chace was then called to help patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital through dance therapy in 1942. She founded the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) in 1966 and served at its President (Casapalmera, 2007). This association helps in establishing and maintaining high standards in the field of dance therapy. Dance therapy is now a popular form of alternative therapy in countries such as Japan, Germany and France. There are now more than 1,200 dance therapists in the United States and abroad (ACS, 2007).

How Dance Therapy Works

Dance therapy can be defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional and physical integration of the individual. Dance therapy may be part of a treatment plan, or may be the primary treatment modality (ADTA, 2007). Dance therapy is nonverbal in nature and helps people offer information regarding their physical and mental selves in a nonverbal manner. The therapist observes a person’s movements to make an assessment and then designs a program to help the specific condition (ADTA, 2007). The frequency and level of difficulty of the therapy is usually tailored to meet the needs of the participants. It is often used as a part of the recovery process for people with chronic illness. Dance therapists work with both individuals and groups, including entire families (ADTA, 2007). Dance therapists try to heal psychological problems by using dance like movement in a controlled, relaxing atmosphere. Dancing is expected to resolve any kind of inner conflicts that exist between the conscious and the unconscious. It has been found that mental problem can cause physical problems such as tension and restricted movement and physical problems can cause mental problems such as anger or frustration. Dance movement, relieves both mental and physical problems through creating harmony between the mind and body. Research shows that dance relaxes the mind helps the individual to moderate, eliminate, or avoid tension, chronic fatigue, and other disabling conditions that result from the effects of stress. It has been suggested by Hanna JL (1995) that the healing effect of dance may be explained by the following factors: the spirituality effect in dance; the skill in movement; the change in emotion or state of consciousness; and direct confrontation and overcoming of stressors (Hanna JL, 1995).

Dance therapists work to increase the sensitivity of the patient helping him to feel senses in the body. They believe that by observing the dance movements of a person in touch with his feelings, the dance therapist and the dancer can understand subconscious thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, attitudes and memories (Staehli, 2003). When there are ‘maladaptive patterns’, they may be changed through movement into conscious and dynamic new patterns to enhance body image, personal identity and adaptability (Staehli, 2003). Engagement in ‘movement dialogue’ with others provides opportunities for exploring relationships and interaction (Staehli, 2003).

Conditions that dance therapists generally work to correct include “depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, schizophrenia, learning difficulties, emotional problems in children, intellectual disability in adults and children, autism, multiple physical problems, problems of parent-child interaction, consequences of sexual abuse, eating disorders, head injuries, adjustment to chronic illness or genetic syndromes, geriatric problems, substance abuse and impulsiveness” (Staehli, 2003). Dance therapy can release muscular tenstion whether of physical or emotional origin – and thereby increase the flow of energy in the body. Dance therapists believe that increasing the range of movement can enhance decision-making and self-esteem and increase ability to cope with change and stress (Staehli, 2003).

Psychological, Physical and Emotional Health and Dance Therapy

Body centered therapies such as dancing have been found to be very helpful in treating psychological problems. Dancing can help in treating eating disorders, autism, drug abuse and trauma recovery. Clinical reports suggest that dance therapy is also useful in developing body image; improving self-concept and self-esteem; reducing stress, anxiety, and depression; decreasing isolation and increasing communication skills and feelings of well being. Even people with relationship problems or emotional disorders can benefit from DMT. In the physical aspect, dance is a form of exercise and hence brings about all the benefits of exercising. Physical activity releases special neurotransmitter substances in the brain called endorphins which create a state of euphoria. Total body movement has a positive effect on all body systems such as circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular systems. Dance therapy as a physical exercise can help people stay physically fit, improve mobility and muscle coordination, and reduce muscle tension. Some promoters claim that dance therapy may strengthen the immune system through muscular action and physiological processes and even help prevent disease. In the emotional context, dance therapy has been found to improve confidence, positive feelings, self-awareness and interpersonal interactions. It is also seen as a method of expressing feelings. Through dance, people have strived to identify and express their innermost emotions. This experience, according to many people, is highly liberating and creates a sense of renewal and unity.

Healthcare and Dance Therapy

In their study titled “Dance as a therapy for cancer prevention”, Aktas G. and Ogce, F. (2005) have observed that dance therapy is highly beneficial in treating physical problems such as amputations, traumatic brain injury, and stroke, chronic illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, AIDS, and arthritis. Wilhelmina Korevaar, MD, MMM, an award-winning dancer and instructor from the Czech Republic, running a facility called Mdance, believes that dance therapy can reduce chronic pain and restore patients to a more active lifestyle (Bunch, 2004). Korevaar has found that specific dance movements and posture improvements can help different types of medical problems. She says that shoulder pain, for example, “is probably a neck problem, and you need to support your torso and your neck more from below.” “Dance Therapy in Laryngectomy Patients:Our Experience” is a study by Peto (2000) describing the first contact of laringectomized people with dance in the Group of Support to Ostomized-Laringectomized Patients. This study involved the use of music and body movements and the results showed a good involvement of the patients in the dynamics through verbal and non-verbal language as well as a decrease in stress. Cohen and Walco have found that dance therapy was able to meet the psychosocial needs of children and adolescents with cancer and facilitated greater integration of factors related to coping. They conclude that dance therapy offers constructs that promote holistic approaches to cancer care. Molinaro et al (1986) report that since August 1982, physical therapy has been offered as part of a multidisciplinary breast cancer program at an acute-care hospital. This treatment is offered on an outpatient basis and includes group dance sessions that are supervised by a licensed physical therapist and a licensed dance teacher. Through dance, patients may experience the freedom of total body movement that enhances their adjustment to a new body image. An organized group setting provides a support mechanism that enables patients to share their experiences, fosters a positive attitude toward exercise, and facilitates psychological adjustment to the diagnosis of breast cancer. In their study titled “Evaluation of a specific balance and coordination programme for individuals with a traumatic brain injury”, researchers Dault MC, and Dugas C.(2002) have found that aerobic dancing training was helpful in reducing evaluate postural imbalance and coordination deficits in individuals who had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Wall Street Journal reports that some women who are “disillusioned with routine use of drugs and medical interventions during labor” are practicing belly dancing (Zimmerman, 2007). Anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger observes that belly dancing originated as a childbirth ritual. Today, pregnant women are exposed more to a large variety of belly-dancing classes. Pregnant women, during early labor, feel comfortable by slow belly dancing using hip circles, crescents and figure eights during early labor. As labor becomes intense, more intense dance movements such as “rocking of the pelvis from side to side” help position the fetus correctly and “relax the pelvic floor” (Zimmerman, 2007). During the final stage of childbirth, it has been found that full body undulations can facilitate the moving of the fetus into the birth canal (Zimmerman, 2007). Isabel Eicheverry Fersh (1980) has observed that dance therapy is a holistic method for treating the elderly. She notes that dance can act as a motivating force for maximizing lifelong growth potential. Harris DA (2007) notes that dance therapy may be used to enhance healing among survivors of war and organized violence especially, if it is culturally adapted. Dance has been found to influence the level of socialization of deaf persons (Pelc, 2002). This was verified at the Dance Theater “Pinokio” of the J. Korczak Special Training and Educational Center in Przemysl, Poland. A Korean traditional dance movement program has been found to improve balance, treat depression, and decrease fall in elderly women (Jeon et al, 2005). Ziarko and Twardowska M. (2002) suggest introducing dance therapy to treat psychiatric disturbances such as psychoses, dementias, neurotic disorders and somatic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and terminal stages. Hanna JL (1995) explains that dance involves the culturally mediated body, emotion and mind. So do illness and pain. Thus, she suggest that dance promotes wellness by strengthening the immune system through muscular action and physiological processes. According to ……Julie, a qualified MLD practitioner the Lebed Method of dance therapy is useful in controlling and reducing the risk of lymphoedemma.

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Dance therapy as an alternative therapy is proving to be highly valuable in this digital age where music and dance are acquiring a special place in the lives of common people.


ADTA (American Dance Therapy Association) (2007). Dance Movement Therapist.

American Cancer Society (ACS) (2007). Dance Therapy. Web.

Bunch W.(2004). Dancing through the pain. Physician executive launches new business to treat patients with chronic pain. Physician Exec. 2004. Volume 30. Issue 1. 30-33.

Casapalmera (2007). Informative Articles: Dance Movement Therapy.

Cohen, S. O. and Walco G. A. (1999). Dance/Movement therapy for children and adolescents with cancer.Cancer Pract. 1999. 7(1):34-42

Dault, M.C. and Dugas, C. (2002). Evaluation of a specific balance and coordination programme for individuals with a traumatic brain injury.Brain Injury. 2000. 16(3): 231-44

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Fersh, Eicheverry Isabel (1980). Dance/movement therapy: A holistic approach to working with the elderly. American Journal of Dance Therapy. Vol. 3, Number 2. 1980. 33-43

Hanna, JL. (1995). The Power of Dance: Health and Healing. J Altern Complement Med.  1995. 1 (4): 323-31

Harris, D. A. (2007). Dance/movement therapy approaches to fostering resilience and recovery among African adolescent torture survivors. Torture. 2007. 17(2): 134-55

Jeon, M.Y.; Bark, ES; Lee EG; Im, JS; Jeong, BS; and Choe, ES (2005). Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005. 35(7): 1268-76

Molinaro, J.; Kleinfeld, M. and Lebed, S. (1986). Phys Ther. June 1986, 66(6): 967-9

Pelc, Z. (2002). Wiad Lek. 55 Suppl 1(Pt 2): 845-9

Peto, AC (2000). Dance therapy in laryngectomy patients: our experience. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem. 2000. 8(6): 35-9

Staehli, Sylvia (2003). Dance Therapy. International Dance Therapy Institute of Australia.

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Ziarko, B. and Twardowska, M. (2002). Wiad Lek. 2002. 55(7-8): 472-7

Zimmerman, Rachel (2007). New Labor Moves: Belly Dancing Hits Delivery Room. The Wall Street Journal. 2007.

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