Dance therapy involves the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of a person.
Dance rituals have been used therapeutically in several ancient cultures. For example, the ZarOpens in new window is still practiced (primarily by women) in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. A similar healing dance ritual known as Macomba is practiced in Brazil.
Traditional therapeutic dance rituals are based on different premises, including resolving possession by a spirit or Jinn, healing psychosocial or physical sickness, or reestablishing harmony or balance within an individual or community.
Modern dance therapy, sometimes referred to as dance/movement therapy (D/MT or DMT), was first developed in the 1940s by dancer Marian ChaceOpens in new window, who later founded the American Dance Therapy AssociationOpens in new window (ADTA; founded 1966).
The ADTAOpens in new window defines DMT as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual.”
DMT is based on the theory that movement and emotion are interdependent; the goal of DMT is the “holistic integration of emotional, spiritual, and cognitive selves with the environment” (Ritter & Low, 1996).
Dance therapists work in a variety of settings, including schools, nursing homes, medical and mental health settings, day cares, health promotion programs, and private practice.
Dance therapy is used with people of all ages and backgrounds, including children and the elderly, and can be done in individual, group, and family therapy contexts.
It has been used to treat anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and developmental disabilities and to facilitate emotional expression and improve communication in people who have difficulties with verbal communication (e.g., elderly people with dementia).
Personality function or dysfunction (e.g., in people with schizophrenia or personality disorders) can be assessed by looking at characteristics of body movement. DMT has been used to help children with emotional disturbances to express their experiences (Nyström & Lauritzen, 2005).
Dance therapy is considered an effective treatment for people with various developmental, medical, social, physical, and psychological problems. Some studies on the effectiveness of dance therapy show promising results; however, much of the research used case studies or small sample sizes, lacked control groups, and/or did not collect quantifiable data.
Further well-designed research is needed to explore the effectiveness of dance therapy with different populations, in different settings, and for various diagnoses. Although some dance therapists have stated that DMT helps children with autism, evidence does not support that claim (Ritter & Low, 1996).
- Nyström, K., & Lauritzen, S.O. (2005). Expressive bodies: Demented persons’ communication in a dance therapy context. Health, 9, 297 – 317.
- Ritter, M., & Low, K.G. (1996). Effects of dance/movement therapy: A meta-analysis. Arts in Psychotherapy, 23, 249 – 260.
- Koch, S.C., & Bräuninger, I. (2006). International dance/movement therapy research: Recent findings and perspectives. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 28, 127 – 136.