Dance Therapy

Dance Therapy

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Dance Therapy uses movement therapeutically to help people gain improvement in their physical and mental well-being.  The primary focus is the connection to the mind and the body.  The intended use is the promotion of healing and health.; This therapy is also considered to be an expressive therapy, where it might be easier for patient to communicate or express their feelings without the constraint of speech and language.   When it comes to the evaluation of the overall effects of dance therapy in regard to prevention, recovery from illness, and overall health, very few studies have been completed.; The reduction of stress and the improvement of one’s overall self esteem have been noted in clinical reports that suggest that dance therapy is overall effective.  It is also noted that dance therapy can be considered a form of exercise and has been found to be useful in improving the quality of life in both emotional and physical aspects.

Goals of Dance Therapy

The understanding that the mind and body work together is the belief that dance therapy is based on.  People claim to experience feelings of completeness, renewal, and unity.  It is widely believed that one can express their inner most emotions by surfacing these feelings.  The primary goal of dance therapy is thought to be stress reduction.  This is especially thought to be true by caregivers of people who have chronic illnesses or certain forms of cancer. Dance therapy is focused on improving muscle coordination, reduction of tension in muscles, and to improve overall mobility.  Some people even believe it offers a boost to the immune system.   

When is Dance Therapy Used?

Dance therapy is primarily used to help patients who are suffering from certain types of cancer or even other chronic illnesses and diseases.  The dance therapist will observe how a person moves and then will help them develop therapy programs to fit their specific conditional needs.  The amount of difficulty that is applied and the frequency for therapy performance is determined by the individual needs of the person.  Through this nonverbal language of movement a person can provide the dance therapist information about what is happening with their body.

There are many people who have certain cognitive, emotional, social, or physical concerns based on conditions their bodies are experiencing.  Dance therapy is flexible in that it is used in a wide variety of settings.  It can often be used for recovery for certain situations.

How Dance Therapy Works

The aim of Dance Therapy is primarily to identify new ways to use movement to benefit ailing patients. The first thing that should be accomplished is finding a therapist who is properly licensed and offers the right amount of experience to help the patients they encounter.   A master’s degree is required in order to be considered for licensing.  A beginning level therapist must have a minimum of 700 fully supervised hours of clinical training.

In addition to the different styles of dance that can be introduced to a person, other therapies will also be used in combination such as drama or art and even engaging in talk therapy.  Many therapists will also introduce different types of visualizations in a session.  One example is to instruct participants to imagine that they are on a peaceful beach surrounded by beautiful waves crashing on the beach as they dance.

Dance therapy is surrounded by the underlying premise that significant emotions are released through the movement of dance.  When a patient has a fist that juts out to reflect anger or a head that is bowed to represent shame, it can be very significant to the interpretation of the dance therapist.  Patients are more likely to express emotions that can be painful or frightening through dance.  When the dance has ended they will spend additional time with the therapist discussing how they felt.  This can help in breaking down barriers that many people throw up.  The overall goal is to ensure that each patient is able to live an emotionally and physically improved life through this type of therapy.

Criticisms of Dance Therapy

Because the use of dance therapy is so new, there is little criticism available at this time.  However, to rely on this type of treatment alone in avoidance of conventional medical treatments could be seriously detrimental. While dance therapy can certainly be recommended for particular cases, it wouldn't be wise to focus or concentrate all therapeutic efforts only one this therapy, or even recommend it for more serious cases. Only time will allow studies to demonstrate when and with whom dance therapy can truly be beneficial. 


American Cancer Society (2008). Dance Therapy. NCCATA. (2013). Dance therapy explained.

Newman-Bluestein, Donna. "You Gotta Have Heart: Integrating Dance Therapy into Cardiac Rehabilitation Stress Management." Presented at the ADTA National Conference. (November 1999).

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