Dance therapy

Dance therapy
Dance therapy
MeSH D003614

Dance therapy, or dance movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance for emotional, cognitive, social, behavioral and physical conditions.[1] As a form of expressive therapy, DMT is founded on the basis that movement and emotion are directly related.[2] The ultimate purpose of DMT is to find a healthy balance and sense of wholeness.[3]

Since its birth in the 1940s, DMT has gained much popularity and has been taken to more serious and beneficial levels. Over the years, the practices of DMT have progressed, however, the main principles that founded this form of therapy have remained the same. Influenced by the “main principles” of this therapy, most DMT sessions are configured around four main stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and evaluation.[4] Organizations such as the American Dance Therapy Association and the Association for Dance Movement Therapy, United Kingdom maintain the high standards of profession and education throughout the field. DMT is practiced in places such as mental health rehabilitation centers, medical and educational settings, nursing homes, day care facilities, and other health promotion programs.[5] This form of therapy which is taught in a wide array of locations goes farther than just centering the body. Specialized treatments of DMT can help cure and aid many types of diseases and disabilities. Other common names for DMT include: movement psychotherapy and dance therapy.[6]



Although dance has been a method of expression for centuries, it wasn’t until just recently that it was characterized as a form of therapy. The development of DMT can be split into two waves throughout history. Long before the first wave of DMT in America (1940’s), the UK developed the idea of dance therapy. The first records of dance being used as a form of therapy date as far back as the nineteenth century in the UK. Although there were significant American influences, the main theories of dance therapy originated in the UK.[4]

First Wave

Marian Chace, “The Grand Dame” of dance therapy, is the woman responsible for introducing the idea of DMT to the United States and therefore inspiring the first wave of DMT. She is considered the principal founder of what is now dance therapy in the United States.[7] In 1942, through her work, dance was first introduced to western medicine. Chace was originally a dancer, choreographer, and performer. After opening her own dance school in Washington, D.C., Chace began to realize the effects dance and movement had on her students.[3] She was soon asked to work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. once psychiatrists too realized the benefits their patients were receiving from attending Chace’s dance classes.[8] In 1966 Chace became the first president of the American Dance Therapy Association, an organization which she and several other DMT pioneers founded.[3]

Second Wave

It wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that the second wave of DMT came around and sparked much interest from American therapists. During this time, therapists began to experiment with the psychotherapeutic applications of dance and movement. As a result of the therapists experiments, DMT was then categorized as a form of psychotherapy. It was from this second wave that today’s DMT evolved.[3]


The theory of DMT is based upon the idea that “the body and mind are inseparable”.[3]

“Dance movement therapy rests on certain theoretical principles. These are:

  • Body and mind interact, so that a change in movement will affect total functioning
  • Movement reflects personality
  • The therapeutic relationship is mediated at least to some extent non-verbally, for
example through the therapist mirroring the client’s movement
  • Movement contains a symbolic function and as such can be evidence of unconscious process
  • Movement improvisation allows the client to experiment with new ways of being
  • DMT allows for the recapitulation of early object relationships by virtue of the largely non-verbal mediation of the latter”[4]

Through the unity of the body, mind, and spirit, DMT provides a sense of wholeness to all individuals.[3]

The Creative Process

The creative process has four stages, which occur during DMT. Each stage contains a smaller set of goals which correlate to the larger purpose of DMT. The stages and goals of DMT vary with each individual. Although the stages are progressive, the stages are usually revisited several times throughout the entire DMT process. The four stages are:

Preparation: the warm-up stage, safety is established
Incubation: relaxed, let go of conscious control, movements become symbolic
Illumination: meanings become apparent, can have positive and negative effects
Evaluation: discuss significance of the process, prepare to end therapy[4]

Specialized Treatments

DMT can be used to heal serious disorders and diseases[citation needed]. Although DMT is promoted to reduce stress and center the body, this therapy is very effective in helping to heal other disabilities and diseases. Examples of these include:

  • Autism: therapists connect on a sensory-motor level, provides a sense of acceptance and expands skills and
cognitive abilities, increases maturity
  • Learning Disabilities: develops better organizational skills, learns/experiences control and choice, higher self
confidence, new inspirations to learn
  • Mental Retardation: improves body image, social skills, coordination, and motor skills, promotes communication
  • Physically Handicapped: improves motor skills and body image, provides a way to communicate and express emotions
  • Elderly: provides social interaction, expression, and exercise, alleviates fears of loneliness and isolation
  • Eating Disorders: alters distorted body images which helps end destructive behaviors, discovers symbolic meanings
behind disorder/food[9]
  • PTSD: weaves together past and present through symbolism in a “safe place” to confront painful memories
  • Parkinson's Disease: uses rhythm to help reduce body dysfunctions which improves motor abilities, balance, and use of limbs
  • Holistic Birth Preparation: implores relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety, learn breathing techniques and release
energy, builds confidence to help cope with labor, birth and early parenting[10]


DMT is practiced in a large variety of locations. Such locations include:


Organizations such as the American Dance Therapy Association were created in order to uphold high standards in the field of DMT. Such organizations help connect individuals to therapists and DMT.[12]

American Dance Therapy Association

American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) was founded in 1966 in order to uphold high standards throughout dance therapy. The ADTA was created by Marian Chace, the first president of the ADTA, and other pioneers in dance movement. Along with setting standards for which therapists must attain to become licensed therapists, ADTA keeps an updated registry of all movement/dance therapists who have met ADTA’s standards. In addition, ADTA also publishes the American Journal of Dance Therapy and sponsors annual professional conferences.[13]

Association for Dance Movement Therapy, United Kingdom

The Association for Dance Movement Therapy, United Kingdom (ADMTUK) was one of the first organizations established to regulate the field of dance therapy. ADMTUK accredits therapists and oversees that all regulations are followed.[2]

Therapist Qualifications

ADTA is the main regulator of the required education and training in order to become a dance/movement therapist.[14] Typically, a master's degree is required to become a dance/movement therapist. “Dance Therapist Registered” (DTR) is the title given to beginner-level dance therapists who have had a minimum 700 hours of clinical training. For those who have completed over 3,640 hours of clinical work, they hold the title “Academy of Dance Therapists” (ADTR).[15]


There are only 6 ADTA approved master's programs from which to earn Registered Dance/Movement Therapist (R-DMT) credentials: Antioch University New England in New Hampshire, Columbia College Chicago in Illinois, Drexel University in Pennsylvania, Lesley University in Massachusetts, Naropa University in Colorado, and Pratt Institute in New York [1].

Those with a master's or doctoral degree in a human services-related field may have the option to become an R-DMT via Alternate Route [2].

List of Dance Therapists

See also


  1. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  2. ^ a b Payne, Helen, Dance Movement Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, (Hove, East ok Sussex: Routledge, 2006).
  3. ^ a b c d e f Levy, Fran J., Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art, (Reston, VA: The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 1988).
  4. ^ a b c d Meekums, Bonnie, Dance Movement Therapy, (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.).
  5. ^ “Who was Marian Chace?,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  6. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  7. ^ “Who was Marian Chace?,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  8. ^ “Dance Therapy,” American Cancer Society. <>.
  9. ^ Levy, Fran J., Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art, (Reston, VA: The American Alliance for
    Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 1988).
  10. ^ Payne, Helen, Dance Movement Therapy Theory, Research, and Practice, (Hove, East Sussex: Routledge, 2006).
  11. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  12. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  13. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  14. ^ “Who We Are,” American Dance Therapy Association, <>.
  15. ^ “Dance Therapy,” American Cancer Society. <>.
  • American Dance Therapy Association 2008

Further reading

  • Meekums, B. (2002). Dance Movement Therapy: a Creative Psychotherapeutic Approach. London: Sage
  • Chodorow, J. (1991). Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology. London
  • Lewis, P. (1984; 1986). Theoretical Approaches in Dance Movement Therapy. Vols I & II, USA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Payne, H. (ed). (2006). Dance Movement Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice (2nd edn). Tavistock / Routledge.
  • Siegel, E. (1984). Dance Movement Therapy: Mirror of Ourselves: The Psychoanalytic Approach. New York: Human Science Press.
  • Stanton-Jones, K. (1992). An Introduction to Dance Movement Therapy in Psychiatry. London: Tavistock/Routledge.
  • North, M. (1990). Personality Assessment Through Movement. Northcote House.
  • Payne, H.L. (2000). Creative Movement and Dance in Groupwork. Oxon: Speechmark
  • McCormack, D. (2003) An event of geographical ethics in spaces of affect. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28, (4), 488-507

Pat Fehr 2006 B.A. Psychotherapeutic Activities

External links

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