Monday, May 4, 2009

What is Dance Therapy?

The American Dance Therapy Association defined dance therapy as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional and physical integration of the individual. Dance/movement therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, and health promotion programs. The dance/movement therapist focuses on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship. Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for both group and individual treatment. Body movement as the core component of dance simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy” (Dance Therapy).

Since this original definition, many dance therapists have gone on to expand the definition. Many say it is “an expression of the inner self through the medium movement” (Bergmann, “The Process/Product” 103).

History of Dance Therapy

“Marian Chace was a modern dancer in Washington, D.C. who began teaching dance after ending her career with the Denishawn Dance Company in 1930. She noticed that some of her students were much more interested in the emotions they expressed in dancing than in the mechanics and technique of dance, and so she began to encourage this form of self-expression. Word spread of the dance students’ reported feelings of well-being after they mentally unburdened themselves through dance, and doctors became intrigued. They began to send their patients to Chace – many of whom were people with psychiatric illnesses” (Dance/Movement).

“Later, Chace became part of the staff of St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington D.C. and studied at the Washington School of Psychiatry” (Dance/Movement). St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. was one of the first hospitals that started using dance therapy with their patients. It first emerged at the hospital following World War II when soldiers were having severe emotional problems after returning home. It was a way for the soldiers to express what they were feeling, and a form of exercise for those who had lost a limb (Burger 139). While at St. Elizabeth’s, Chace’s methods began to attract others, and, by the 1950’s, dance therapy became the subject of serious study at the facility.” Soon after the discovery of this new therapy, the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) was founded in 1966 to set professional standards for the training of dance therapists with Marian Chace as its first president (Dance/Movement).

“For over fifty years, Dance/Movement Therapists have been pioneers in the in-depth understanding of how the body and mind interact in health and in illness, be it an illness of the mind which is embodied or an illness of the body that impacts on mental functioning and spirit. Whether the issue is the will to live, a search for meaning or motility, or the ability to feel love for life, for dance/movement therapists healing has always meant mobilizing resources from that place within where body and mind are one” (Dance Therapy).

Informational Video from American Dance Therapy Association:

Benefits for Children with Autism

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words,” Ruth St. Denis, a modern dance pioneer, simply stated (The Quote Garden). People throughout the world view dance as an art of expression. It is a way to communicate even the deepest of feelings. Martha Graham said that “dance is the hidden language of the soul” (Visions of Dance). People can express through dance more so than through words. When people dance, all they do is feel. When people speak, they have to think how to put what they feel into words, instead of just feeling and connecting themselves to that feeling. For children, translating feelings into words is extremely difficult because of their lack of experience with these feelings. Dance therapy gives them a chance to express how they feel; they can communicate how they are feeling. But recent understanding has dance therapists wondering how dance therapy can be integrated into school curricula. Children that have experienced dance therapy have shown a joy of learning, better interaction with other students, a better self-concept, and better problem solving skills. With these observations, the research for integrating creative dance into school curricula has sprouted. In early childhood education it is believed that all aspects of a child need to be developed and a chance for that development should be given in schools. Aspects such as physical, emotional, cognitive, and social are considered parts of the “whole” child. Colla J. Mac Donald stated that "creative dance can help children reach their full potential, for it encourages the development of the whole child by involving the child physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and thus enhancing creative exploration and facilitating emotional expression” (Mac Donald 436). Teachers are now being asked to facilitate time to develop these skills especially for students with autism. Dance is mainly a way to communicate. Many students with autism have difficultly communicating and expressing what they need or want. Dance therapy gives them a way to communicate with a teacher and with other caring adults or students, but also gives them physical activity that can be adapted to fit their physical ability. Creative Movement/Dance Therapy should be integrated in public school’s special education program, especially for autistic students, for its ability to provide and improve communication but also due to its cognitive, psychological, social, and physical benefits.

Self Expression and Communication

The idea behind dance therapy is to create a dance that will unlock unconscious feelings, and also to use the person’s newfound body awareness as a way to influence his or her emotional state (Burger 139). In Helping People: A Guide to Careers in Mental Health, the author stated that the relationship between the mind and body and its influence on a person’s emotional state is “that bodily movements reflect personality. The mind and body are part of the same system and they are in constant state of interaction. The inner emotional state is expressed through visible body movement. Whatever the body is experiencing influences the inner emotional state” (Burger 140). The connection between the body and mind is very strong. The theory is that if the mind (the center of the emotional state) can affect the way the body functions and feels, then the body can influence how a person feels and thinks. But a person first has to unlock the unconscious emotions and be able to communicate them. It helps autistic children to unlock communication skills. They are able to use their feelings to dance a message to their therapist, teacher, or parent.

In addition to self-expression, creative dance is a form of communication and a way for children to learn communication skills. Autistic children can learn many levels of communication. If the child dances with the teacher or therapist, then he or she learns to form a relationship and communicate with that one person. If the child is part of a group, he or she learns how to be a member of a group and how to interact with several people at one time. In Helping People: A Guide to Careers in Mental Health, the focus of communication as an outlet for emotions is explained:

In dance therapy, movement becomes the primary means for communication just as words are the primary basis for communication in psychotherapy. The central concept basic to dance therapy is that the human body reflects and mirrors the personality of the person. The body becomes the physical representation of the person’s inner feelings (Burger 138).

The dance that a child performs shows the inner personality and feelings and, essentially, communicates those feelings to the teacher or therapist. The dance the child creates is based on what he or she feels. The way he/she moves shows their personality and inner thoughts about how to deal with situations. For a therapist to help their patient, they need to understand the feelings and personality of that patient. Dance therapy provides a way for therapists to establish the necessary communication to learn the feelings and personality of their patients.

Children also benefit greatly by the emotional outlet creative dance offers. The main concept of dance therapy is self-expression. Self-expression is defined “as giving vent to feelings that may be random or uncontrolled and reflects the way a person feels at the moment” (Bergmann, “Creative Dance” 162). Creative dance gives a child a way to cope with situations. A child has to adapt to the space around him or her when dancing and to cope and adapt to new environments. “It is this interaction between self and spatial environments, observable in these personal characteristic movement patterns, which display how the child is relating, adapting and responding to their environment. In this way the child becomes the catalyst of the therapeutic intervention” (Dance Therapy). The child is the method of how he or she learns to cope and adapt to new situations and environments. They learn the skills to do this by adapting to the music being played, and, therefore, adapt their ideas and movement to connect to the music.

Cognitive Benefits

A child’ cognitive development is not only limited to forming an artistic viewpoint. Dance therapy also helps children learn problem solving skills, as well as promoting a joy of learning. Even more, it gives them a chance to be creative. A child has the opportunity to explore solutions to a problem through their own bodies (Bergmann, “Creative Dance” 162). It shows children that there are many ways to solve a problem and allows them to understand that a problem may have many different meanings. Children also learn how to accept or reject information received from others when solving a problem. The self-exploration of a problem inspires a joy of learning by using the concept of “discovery learning”. Discovery learning is learning in which a “teacher presents students with opportunities for learning” where “skills are not taught directly” (Doorlag 94). Children are allowed to learn through creative dance, which they enjoy more than learning from a book because they get up and move. In Colla J. MacDonald’s article “Creative Dance in Elementary Schools: A Theoretical and Practical Justification”, one of the teachers she interviewed stated that the “children tremendously enjoyed the challenge of simultaneously solving problems, collaborating and socializing with their peers, and expressing themselves physically” (MacDonald 439). Furthermore, it gives the children a chance to use their artistic expression and their creativity. They do this by giving a dance form to their feelings evoked by a song, an object, or a thought. A child creates a dance that explains his or her feelings or that tells a story through the child's spontaneous choreography.

Physical Benefits

Lastly, the physical benefits are the most obvious in dance therapy. Dancing raises the heart rate and is a form of exercise. It is a good way to get children to be physically active in a positive and beneficial way. Even for children that have a physical disability, creative dance is a wonderful exercise because it is something that can be adapted in order to fit the amount of movement ability the child has. Amy Benevides, of Barrington High School Physical Education and Special Education Departments, says that most students are expected to meet the same requirements as the general education students, but some need moderations depending on their specific needs. The physical aspects of dance are among the biggest reasons that the integration of dance therapy into special education programs should happen because all students can participate and derive benefit from the curriculum.

Rudolf Van Laban and Artistic Expression

While this is a significant contribution to a child’s well being, dance therapy offers more than one way to help the development of the “whole” child. This therapy can also be used to teach autistic children, how to cope with new people and situations, how to participate in physical exercise and activities, how to help them establish relationships, and how to communicate with others. Dance therapy also exposes them to a form of art. Rudolf Laban believed teaching through dance facilitates and fosters artistic expression while learning a multitude of skills. He expanded this idea of learning multiple skills with one activity by saying:

It accomplishes this by fostering awareness of the body with regard to space and of rhythm, maintaining flexibility of the spine and promoting muscular development, developing the ability to communicate more effectively with peers, abetting personality development, promoting aesthetic taste and discrimination, as well as a encouraging a creative attitude. (Seitz 39-40)

Laban contributed to the theory that dance therapy is beneficial to children’s cognitive, psychological, social, and physical development. According to Laban, a child’s cognitive development is encouraged by assisting the child to form opinions on parts of an art form and gives the child a creative outlook. A child learns to communicate with others through dance, therefore developing his or her social skills. The child has a chance to develop his or her personality by exploring feelings, the art form, and his or her own interaction with others, which is a psychological benefit. Lastly, the improvement of flexibility and development of muscles helps the child physically. The “whole” child is affected by dance therapy. An autistic child benefits from every aspect of their development through the combination of skills dance therapy offers.

Is it Expensive to Integrate Dance Therapy into School Systems?

Many people believe that it would be expensive to integrate dance therapy into special education programs. However, creative dance movement techniques can be taught to teachers. Colla J. Mac Donald’s article “Creative Dance in Elementary Schools: A Theoretical and Practical Justification” discussed the effect of six creative dance workshops on the attitudes of elementary school teachers and their practice of creative dance. The study showed that when all eight teachers integrated creative dance into their classrooms after the workshops, both students and teachers enjoyed class time much more (Mac Donald). While many believe that school time should focus more on the content that needs to be learned instead of creative dance, dance is a method that teachers can use to impart content and is one that children enjoy. It is a way for teachers to get children to interact with each other and to be enthusiastic about what they are learning. In essence, the children are learning the material being taught better with dance movement than they would sitting at a desk.

Works Cited

Benevides, Amy. Personal Interview. 8 Feb. 2008

Bergmann, Sheryle. “Creative Dance in the Education Curriculum: Justifying the Unambiguous.” Canadian Journal of Education. 1995: 156-165.

Bergmann, Sheryle. “The Process/Product Dichotomy and Its Implications for Creative Dance.” Journal of Aesthetic Education. 1992: 103-108.

Burger, William, Merrill Youkeles, and Paul Schmolling. Helping People: A Guide to Careers in Mental Health. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1981.

Dance Therapy. Dancing Dialogue: Healing & Expressive Arts. 10 Dec 2007 .

Dance/Movement Therapy. April 2005. Health Professions Network. 4 May 2009 .

Doorlag, Donald H. and Rena B. Lewis. Teaching Special Students in General Education Classrooms. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Mac Donald, Colla J. “Creative Dance in Elementary Schools: A Theoretical and Practical Justification.” Canadian Journal of Education. 1991: 434-441.

Quotations About Dancing. 13 Feb. 2008. The Quote Garden. 24 Mar. 2008. .

Seitz, Jay A. “Mind, Dance, and Pedagogy.” Journal of Aestheic Education. 2002: 37-42

Visions of Dance. 2008. Dancin’ Unlimited. 24 Mar. 2008. .