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MoonDragon's Alternative Health Information
Touch & Movement Therapies

For "Informational Use Only".
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  • Dance Movement Therapy Description
  • History
  • Key Principles
  • Evidence & Research
  • Conventional Medical Opinion
  • Consulting A Practitioner


    A method of expressing thoughts and feelings through movement, dance movement therapy as practiced today was developed in the United States in the 1940s. Participants attend weekly sessions given by trained therapists, in which they are encouraged to move freely, sometimes to music. Dance movement therapy can be used by people of all ages to promote self-esteem and gain insight into emotional problems, but it is also practiced to help those with serious mental and physical disabilities. As such, it is widely used in the US, and is becoming established around the world.


  • Work with the blind, deaf, elderly and those who have been abused or traumatized.
  • Physical and mental disability, autism, learning difficulties.
  • Depression, anxiety, psychotic conditions.
  • Behavioral and eating disorders.

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    Throughout history, society has exploited the link between body movement and emotion, using movement to let off steam, whip up battle frenzy, arouse passion, and exorcise evil spirits. The use of expressive movement as a tool in psychotherapy was explored at the turn of the 20th century by Carl Jung and by Wilhelm Reich, and later by Rudolf Laban. A choreographer and movement analyst borne in Bratislava, Laban emigrated to Britain at the outbreak of World War I. He believed that by observing nuances of movement or facial gesture, the analyst could learn much about the patient's emotional state.

    In the 1940s, partly in response to the large number of people physically and emotionally damaged after World War II, a small group of professional dancers in the US began to develop a form of therapeutic dance movement. Prominent among them was Marian Chace, who used the therapy in her work with schizophrenics.

    Marian Chace.
    Marian Chase, a dance teacher, helped pioneer dance movement therapy in Washington DC. She found that rigid or repetitive behaviors could be released by encouraging patients to move freely.

    Well established in the US and widely accepted by the American medical profession, dance movement therapy is gaining recognition in Australia and the UK. It is most likely to be encountered in health care centers, schools, and prisons.


    Babies and young children express themselves through their bodies before they learn to talk. Their feelings are conveyed through movements, such as kicking, clenching their fists with anger, or jumping and wriggling for joy. Children are quite natural and spontaneous in their actions, but later in life the thoughts, emotions, and physical experiences that shape their personalities are influenced by their social surroundings, and the link between feeling and actions becomes less spontaneous and more conditioned. Adults still reveal themselves through body language; however, many of these feelings are expressed unconsciously.

    In dance movement therapy, movement, and particularly the sensual, rhythmic response aroused by dance and music, is used as a way of bypassing the conscious mind and making contact with the inner emotional world. To do this, patients explore a range of movements and learn to overcome physical limitations and cope with disabilities. The aim is to evoke images that raise important emotional issues, which the practitioner will help the patient to explore further through dance in the later stages of therapy. In this way, hidden emotions can be expressed in a non-verbal way, and subsequently accepted by the conscious self.

    Mirroring: Based on the work of Rudolf Laban, is a method of understanding another person's physical and psychological condition. The aim is to reflect the person's movements and gestures.

    Dance movement therapy works equally well for highly articulate people and for those less able to express themselves in words, including people with learning disabilities, mental problems, or psychotic illnesses. Even severely physically disabled people can experience the liberating effects of dance.


    There is a large body of research supporting the work of dance movement therapists. This is based on case histories, videotapes, and observational studies, and has been published since the 1970s in psychological and dance journals. Much of the research has focused on the relationship between personality and movement, and on movements that are characteristic of certain conditions.


    Most conventional medical practitioners would regard dance movement therapy as a useful form of expression and exercise for people with a wide variety of conditions. Its benefits for those with physical disabilities, emotional problems, and mental illnesses are generally recognized.


    Dance movement therapy is practiced one-to-one and as group therapy. The number of sessions depends on the patient's needs, usually determined during a six-week assessment course: treatment for long-term conditions may last up to five years.

    A session begins with a warm-up to ease joints, increase body awareness, and focus your attention on why you are there. Music is not always necessary - rhythm can be made with the hands, feet, or legs. What occurs next may evolve naturally from the warm-up or be helped along by suggestions from the practitioner. Participants often lie on the floor waiting for an impulse to move; they may, for example, decide to act out a dream. Gestures, mainly spontaneous and unchoreographed, can also include formal dance steps. Some practitioners move with you, mirroring and supporting your movements, others act as empathetic observers. Occasionally the practitioner might dance alone to reflect back her perceptions or to help the patient or group feel comfortable.

    A way to end the sequence is found, and feelings raised by the therapy are discussed.


    Individual sessions allow the practitioner to establish a deeply trusting relationship with the patient, which is vital if the patient is to feel safe expressing himself.

    Working with the disabled.
    Working With Disabled People: By developing his relationship with his environment, this blind patient gains confidence and increased mobility. The practitioner encourages the patient to stretch out and occupy as much space as possible. The patient is generally reluctant to "open up" his body - the patient tries to reach up to expand his space around him.


    Working with a group enables the practitioner to assess how the participants relate to other people and work together, and how they react to different situations.

    Forming a circle.
    Group participants form a circle. Often used to begin or end a session, this technique supports the participants' movements, and encourages them to look at one another as they move.

    Props are sometimes used.
    Props are sometimes used to explore a theme that emerges during a session. Balls, bean bags, stretch cloths, and other props can be catalysts for inspiration, or may simply help patients to express themselves with greater freedom and confidence.


  • Check with your health care provider before embarking on vigorous exercise if you have back pain or high blood pressure.


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