Many people hear about Dance/Movement Therapy and ask if it is either therapy for dancers or ask what style of dance do I do with my clients. Even though both of those are possible for Dance/Movement therapists, the definition of Dance/Movement therapy according to the American Dance/Movement therapy Association is the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote social, emotional, physical, and cognitive integration of the individual.” Therefore, we may use performance to support the client(s) we are working with or use a specific dance style that they are interested in or comfortable with, but the goal is to support the person where they are at and help them express themselves through the use of movement. Here is a client that I used to work with using dance/movement therapy to promote her self-expression, regulation, communication, and her overall well-being. We sometimes used performance as a way for her to be seen by her family and gain more self-confidence.
Belly feeling excited
Neck feels calm
And my feet is feeling excited
And my arms want to play with someone
And my heart and is feeling loved
My brain is feeling confident
But my whole body feeling kinda new
And my eye lashes feeling they want to move themselves
My eyes want to see want to see everything
And my toes feeling wiggly
And my fingers feeling touchily
My back wants to lay down
This poem was created by a three year old child who I used to work weekly with using dance and movement to support her in behavioral challenges and mostly, to use play and dance to help her express herself and experience joy! It was always such a pleasure going to her house and having one whole hour where we got to dance together. We usually ended up using our imaginations as well and made up stories or pretended to be someone or creatures or something while dancing. Sometimes our sessions would include us making a fort using her chairs and blankets and go back and forth to our house while there was music on in the background. While other times, we were pretending to be bears and crawled on all fours going back and forth to our hut to sleep and eat. Yet, the one game that she loved to play was pretending to be a wolf and a human. We took turns pretending to be the human and the wolf (while she was mostly the wolf) as we danced to Shakira’s SheWolf song. No matter what it was, I followed her lead and supported her to express herself through dance and play.
As a registered dance/movement therapist, I always started our session with a little check in and movement warm-up and we would end with a meditation. We used my rainbow blanket in the middle of the living room as the center to begin together with some of my special materials that include musical instruments, scarves, my magic wand, and a breathing ball. Then we sat together and I invited my client to choose which thing she’d like to hold as she checks in with her body and her feelings. We took deep breaths together and then moved different parts of our bodies to warm-up and get the blood flowing! Then I put on music ( a playlist that I have added to since I have been working with kids for years and continue to add to for each child/person that I work with) and we began moving our bodies. I guided her into stretches and movements that physically and emotionally warmed us up and prepare us for dancing. Then we would dance freely and we would take turns “mirroring” each other’s movements. I’ll give her the option of either following me or me following her or if she preferred to dance freely and we dance in the space together. This provides the child with feeling empowered, confident, safe, and strong. Lastly, after the warm-up and our experience of the games we would play that came from her interest, we would often end in a meditation. I would guide her into a body scan while she relaxed on scarves or a blanket. Sometimes her mom would join us at the end of our session to either watch her dance or join her in dancing or join her in laying down under my rainbow blanket as I guided them in a meditation and/or gentle touches over the blanket to provide them with sensory input. Each session of course looked different, and sometimes, we wouldn’t be able to dance at all since she was having a difficult moment or day and the session would consist of her being alone in her room and us waiting it out until she was ready to come out. But the goal of my session was always to meet her where she was, empower her, and support her in expressing herself. Needless to say, by the end of our time together, she was pretty proficient in these areas and was excited to create a dance with me to show to her brother and her mom as our last performance and exploration of herself in the many forms of who she is: a dancer, a child, a sister, a daughter, a bear, a minecraft character, an alien, a wolf, and lastly, a human.