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What is Dance Therapy?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dance therapy is the use of dance and body movements as an emotional, physical, and behavioral therapy. The goal of a dance therapist is to help people non-verbally express what is going on in their bodies using only movement. People are encouraged to move freely without choreography, and are observed by a therapist who will evaluate their body movements and design a program specifically for them. Dance therapy can be done individually or in a group. Family groups can also benefit in expressive therapy sessions together.

Also known as dance movement therapy, this technique was developed in the 1940s by dancer and instructor Marian Chase. She also focused on the body/mind connection and emphasized the expression of emotion in her dance classes. Local psychiatrists became interested in her philosophy and began sending their patients to her. In 1966, Chase founded the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). The ADTA has grown to over 1200 members internationally.

Dance therapy is especially helpful for people with severe emotional or social dysfunction. It encourages them to express themselves and gain a better quality of life. This type of therapy may be the key to helping individuals with eating disorders, survivors of violence and abuse, those suffering from depression, frail or elderly people, or recovering drug users and alcoholics. Children along the autism spectrum might also be encouraged to express themselves through movement and dance, as it may help to develop their communication skills. Research is currently being done to determine the positive effects of this kind of therapy for people with chronic diseases, pain, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and cancer.

Movements used in dance therapy release endorphins to create a general sense of well-being. It is also a great way to stay fit and maintain cardiovascular health. The goal of dance therapy is to provide therapy for both the mind and body. An increased self-esteem and reduction of stress are accomplished through the release of emotional tension by way of physical expression.

Becoming a dance therapist can be a rewarding career for those with an interest in helping people. To be certified as a therapist, it is first required to have a master’s degree before beginning the required 700 hours of training, after which an individuals is certified as a Dance Therapist Registered (DTR). An advanced level of registration, the Academy of Dance Therapists Registered (ADTR), is only approved after completing 3,640 hours of supervised clinical work.

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