What is dance therapy?
Dance therapy treats emotional problems with dance.
Dancing goes back to primitive times, and magical powers have been attributed to it. When a witch doctor dances, it is to exorcise evil spirits from the sick person. 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 tarantism, and the cure for it was a jumping dance. Today's dance therapy evolved from the age-old idea that dancing has the power to cure.
These days, dance therapists are mental health professionals, who treat problems such as neurosis, psychosis, and even alcoholism with the dance. Dancing is a primal response to rhythm and music, so the dance therapist uses dancer's techniques to put the patient in touch with himself. A psychiatrist, of course, talks a patient through his problems, while a dance therapist uses the non-verbal, movement oriented techniques.
In dance therapy, the patient is made aware of his feelings through sensation and movement. Emotional problems and conflicts become concrete this way, they say. By integrating body and mind, the goal of dance therapy is to build the self-esteem and self-identity of an emotionally ill person.
The American Dance Therapy Association was founded in 1966. Its aim was to establish criteria for professional education and competence in this highly specialized area. The result of this is that there are now standardized procedures based on the present-day knowledge of the human nervous system and psyche, and of dance.
It is known that each one of our five senses sends messages to our brain through the nerves. And we react accordingly. In a nutshell, we jump for joy when we're happy about something, we slump when we are sad. That is body language. When the body doesn't react to the messages of the brain, we may blow an emotional fuse, and withdraw.
In Dance Therapy, patients are taught to act out hidden hurts. It is believed that acting out past hurts and frustrations can help the individual come to terms with his emotional problems and thus, learn to deal with them.
A Dance Therapy session consists of a small group, observed by a therapist. Sometimes, patients sit on the floor at the start, and as appropriate music plays, they keep time by striking beaters, in actuality bamboo reeds, against the floor. This is to help release hostility. Or daily routines are acted out, to the music. Finally the group begins to move around the room by walking, running, hopping, jumping, skipping, sliding, and leaping.
Then, patients learn how to re-establish contact with themselves by touching. First they touch their own hair, eyes, ears, lips, limbs, etc., then partners are selected and they are encouraged to touch each other's parts. Basically, these exercises lead to movements of varying tempo, dynamics and rhythm.
The purpose of all the various dance rituals and movements is to help patients participating gain new insights into themselves. And the session usually ends with a group hug, to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
Dance Therapy has been found very effective for people living out their lives in nursing homes. By providing opportunities for freedom of expression through movement, many of these old people regain more positive attitudes about themselves.
Although Dance Therapy is still a fairly new practice, it is known that it can provide an emotional release for pent-up, repressed feelings, and as a result, the patient may be sent on the road to improved mental health. And for the average person, putting on some music and dancing around in the kitchen, is not only great therapy, it's also fun!