Updated: Feb 16
When I started my undergraduate, all I knew was that I had a skill in dancing. I dreamed of going to Juilliard since I was a youngster, so the dream of Juillard was ideal for me. However, life happened and unexpected circumstances came up so I never went to Juilliard. I did not let that stop me. I decided to find something that would still utilize dance and my love for it.
During that journey I changed my major eight times, each time thinking this was my calling. When I attended CUNY Queens College, I majored in sociology and minored in dance, it was close to graduation and I still did not know what I wanted to do. I thought at first about having my dance studio but I was not really passionate about teaching and going through the monotonous routine of having the same old recitals. I thought about being a backup dancer for professional singers, but I already had my first child. Touring the world with a baby, personally I just did not think it was an ideal fit for our daughter. Then I realized that dance was not just a performance for me, it was actually a healing process.
During the most troubled moments of my life dance movement was my help. It sent me on a journey of self- discovery and finding my faith in God. My dance professor came to me and told me how much I was excelling with my dance abilities through the lens of self healing. She told me I should look into a field called Dance/Movement Therapy. What I discovered was phenomenal.
Dance/movement therapy defined by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual for the purpose of improving health and well-being. Dance/movement therapy relies on fundamental principles such as movement as a language. It uses verbal and nonverbal communications to understand and intervene, connecting mind, body and soul. Movement is found in utero and contiunes thoughtout one’s lifespan. It can be functional, communicative, developmental or expressive. Movement is also an assessment tool for interventions”
I personally define Dance/Movement Therapy as much more than just a tool but a gateway for clients/patients/participants/members etc. on the road to self-discovery. DMT (Dance/ Movement Therapy) gives the mind, body and soul a chance to connect, to bring the suppressed to the surface for examination.
Breathe is the beginning of life and in that breathe there is movement. Every day we learn more and more about ourselves in many different ways, through arts, music, literature, our interactions with people, our faiths, beliefs, values and maybe our culture as well. Yet for me, movement showed up first.
For example the way we tilt our head, deal with hard things or how we respond to joy and pleasure on a body level. Movement therapy is not just about the way we move or how we move about in the world, movement therapy is about our mental abilities searching, revealing, self awareness. It's the things the mind can not reveal yet that the body will. It is because of this realization that I decided to take my first steps on my journey and start my master program in Dance/Movement Therapy.
My Graduate School Journey in
Dance/ Movement Therapy
The most common analogy (almost) everyone uses, I best to describe the process of studying Dance/Movement therapy is riding a roller coaster. Not those baby roller coasters, but the king coasters. The roller coaster that gets you all excited and amazed, yet anxious and scared. In between those emotions is the seed of risk taking. You could learn something amazing or horrifying about yourself.
The best thing about being in the program is the connections and spaces that are held for everyone allowing for vulnerability. (Which I never got to experience before in my life and my culture) In order for me to be an effective empathic therapist and help others in their healing process, I need to learn about myself.
That is exactly the journey I am on now. I catch myself every day using DMT (Dance/Movement Therapy) techniques in my daily life. Honestly, my relationships and interactions with people have grown tremendously and most importantly it has deepened my Chirstan faith.
Dance/Movement therapy caters to all populations whether it is a mom to be or a tiny infant. The ages range from all the way to 99.
A lot of people really don't know that the field has been around for almost sixty years. The founder of Dance/Movement therapy Miriam Chace was a dancer and performer who eventually devoted the rest of her career to dance as a therapeutic approach. Since then more pioneers contributed to the field and the field has expanded into other forms of therapy such as art therapy, music therapy and drama therapy. It continues to spread across the country into hospitals, schools, rehabilitation and wellness centers.
I have learned so much about the mind and body. Dance/Movement therapy has this supernatural connection for people to become more self aware. As Miriam Chace devoted her career to helping individuals to find self discovery through dance and movement, I am willing to do the same and share with anyone that I know.
"Okay Okay....But What exactly does Dance/Movement Therapy Do"?
Okay so you might be asking, but “I still don't understand what Dance/ Movement therapy is or how is it structured" ?
Let me explain a little more. Think about what it looks like going to any regular therapist. You might sit and speak to someone one to one, share your feelings and your thoughts or you might be in a small group circle with other people who can share their feelings and thoughts.
Dance/ Movement therapy in some ways is set up like this as well, however there are much more inclusive of creativity. There is movement, singing, drama, art involved. A session can include moving around or being guided in a meditation exercise. Dance / Movement therapy as a structure opens up with the Dance/ Movement Therapist guiding individuals to warm up their bodies.
This can be done through breathing exercises or simple stretches or even walking around the room. Then the facilitator can then guide specific themes of some sort such as imagination, using props, sensations of the body while allowing the individual to move freely about in their own way.
Lastly the facilitator brings the movement experience to a close where all the members of the group have the opportunity to share or express what they felt or experienced. The main purpose to a movement session is for therapist to initiate the members in a group then rest. Sometimes this doesn't always happen, so what's beautiful about the movement session is the room for flexibility to change, or stay with a certain theme.
Leading my first Dance/ Movement Therapy Session
Let me tell you about my first time leading my first session. My classmates and I were assigned to observe infants through preschool age children on their overall development. I was assigned to a group of eighteen months to two years olds. During that week I was bugging out. I did not know what to do with them. I even wrote a short lesson plan to make it clear to them. I felt so unsure about what to do. After discussing with my professor, She simply said to follow their lead. I had no clue what that meant.
When I thought about it, I learned something so fascinating about those toddlers. They love showing off, they love being independent and love using their creative imagination. So I went with it ! nerves and all. While back when I was teaching preschool dance classes I brought these wonderful colorful circle spots from Amazon Champion Sports Poly Spot Markers. I laid them out and I did exactly what my professor told me. “Let them lead.”
Some of the children struggle with verbal communication problems, however I continued to talk to them asking them different things, praising them when they did something creative. Eventually the whole group was involved; our colorful spots turned into wheels of imaginary. It was beautiful. What I saw from a therapeutic standpoint was the unexpected emotion that was shown through the facial expressions from the children who had not shown any independent social connections to peers. This was all done by me allowing the group to go in the direction that was comfortable for them.
Over time since my group was so young we did have a little routine “hello song” followed by a peek-a-boo game in the beginning of our session. I started to feel really comfortable and so did the children. We build great rapport with each other that it was really hard to end our sessions, however I learned a lot. I would not be able to do this if I did not have my professor as my supervisor and my classmates as my co leaders. Movement therapy has so many benefits that really can change and help individuals grow, just as I experience with my toddler group.
The Physical and emotional benefits of Dance/Movement Therapy
Beneficial for both physical and mental health, dance therapy can be used for disease prevention, and mood management. Physical Issues such as Chronic pain, Childhood obesity, Cancer, Arthritis, Hypertension and Cardiovascular disease. Emotional it improves mood, lowers stress and anxiety. Within the scientific community, a growing number of researchers have proven that, while dancing, an abundance of mood-improving chemicals are released within the body of People.
Mt last thoughts- If you like more information about Dance/ Movement therapy the American Dance Therapy Association is the best source of information about the field. They have scholarly articles, journals, and career paths, and access to Dance Therapists around the States.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in Dance/ Movement Therapy or If you are trying to find a therapist to help you, there is a great list of Dance/ Movement Therapists across the country at (adta.org). There are tons of resources for you to search at that website. I will also have additional information posted on my website Healinspace
Khadijah S. Abdus-Samad Facilitator of Movement