Dance? Therapy?

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Oftentimes, students mistakenly refer to my classes as dance therapy. This is especially true during staff workshops when I work with social workers, program managers, psychologists and affiliated professionals who service communities that are vulnerable or marginalized.  After completion of a class series, participants would have explored a variety of themes that could include body awareness, self-expression, creative problem solving, group dynamics, leadership and more.  These movement explorations can generate deeply felt emotional experiences. So, are my classes therapy?

According to the American Dance Therapy Association, dance/movement therapy is the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.”  The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “therapy” as “treatment of mental or bodily disorder designed or serving to bring about rehabilitation or social adjustment.”   These then are the key concepts of dance/movement therapy….the use of movement to rehabilitate and help individuals normalize behavior within society.  As a result, dance/movement therapies are distinct disciplines that require specific certifications.  It is not what I do.

I teach dance as an art activity.   Movement, therefore, is not a tool to change who we are.  Movement is us…and we are the movement.  We don’t need a reason to move.  We move because we are human beings with uniquely individual ways of using our bodies as instruments of expression.  Working together, we find ways to give form to our thoughts and feelings.  Even though I do not give technique classes in the traditional sense, students work on creative dance disciplines and techniques to integrate awareness of the physical body and the accompanying emotional sensibilities so that the whole person is engaged in the dance….body and mind united.

The basic structure of my classes does not differ substantially from one community to another.  Utilizing the Mettler-based creative dance principles, I am able to make adjustments to fine tune movement explorations that would resonate with students.  The core values are the same….every person is respected; we dance together, different but together; we celebrate the individual and we feel the group body as a cohesive unit.  We don’t seek to change ourselves to fit someone else’s definition; but through dancing together, we are inevitably changed.  We become new…renewed….a new whole.

Perhaps it is this internal change that makes some people feel the classes are therapy.  In truth, all art is inherently therapeutic.   However, whatever therapy a person feels through participation is a very personal experience and is not the focus of class.  A dance can spark memories or emotions which, in turn, gives us the opportunity to create physical forms of our internal voice.  It is the voice of movement, a chance to be who we are, unapologetic and unafraid.  We dance together and savor the joys of creating dance purely for the sake of dance.  We don’t need dance to do anything more than that.  We are the dance.


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