In the aftermath of a tragedy such as what occurred just one month ago on April 15, 2013 during the 117th annual Boston Marathon, for most of us, our body was left vibrating, questioning, confused, dysregulated, and perhaps disoriented.  It is important to acknowledge that even those of us who were not direct victims or physically present at the event, collectively, were still affected.  Our bodies take in these experiences and respond to such events.  Trauma exists in many forms.

According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “a traumatic event is something life-threatening or very scary that you see or that happens to you…. Trauma also includes witnessing someone being killed or injured.“  Media broadcasts showing film footage over and over of traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing are not only mental images but they become body memories that for some, can be extremely difficult to process and make sense of. 

Traumatic events can threaten our sense of environmental and bodily safety. These experiences need to be processed through the body. Research advances have emphasized the importance of including the body in treatment of any type of trauma. According to dance/movement therapist Claire Moore, ‘‘the sensations and actions that have become stuck in and after a traumatic event need to be integrated in the treatment process, so that the person can regain a sense of familiarity and efficacy in the body.”

This knowledge broadens the options for how people can receive support in order to move forward from common patterns of immobilization that often is experienced by victims of or witnesses to traumatic events.   This means, rather than turning inward or self-soothing via means that disengage ourselves from our bodies (drinking, drugs, excessive binging, zoning out in front of the TV), our body can be an expressive vehicle utilized as an active resource to processing feelings. 

Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets. Researchers Leste and Rust (1990/1984) assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four settings: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class.  Only the dance class significantly reduced anxiety.

So why dance in particular?  Why should you dance?  Why would dance be a vehicle to cope with daily stressors or even horrific tragedies such as the Boston Marathon explosions, or the Newtown School shootings? Perhaps this is based on the specific distinction that dance in itself is innately an expressive art form, not just a physical release of body tension alone.

Today, media shows, such as Dancing with the Stars and So you think you can Dance, hint to this mind-body emotional connection that is inherent in the expressive power of movement. 

Dance/movement therapists have long known the expressive nature of dance dating back to the effects of posttraumatic stress victims from World War II.  Dance/movement therapy pioneer, Marian Chace, discovered back in the 1940s that her patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were able to use dance therapy as a form of communication that assisted in the decrease of tension held in the body and minimized isolation.  Dance/movement therapy, according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is based on the core belief that there is a fundamental interconnection between mind and body and what happens to the body can effectively influence the mind and vice versa. Dance/movement therapists are trained clinicians specializing in the interconnection between mind and body.  The core premise lies within the therapeutic relationship where movement is the primary mode of connection, assessment and intervention. 

In a Korean study at Wonkwang University with adolescents engaging in dance/movement therapy for 12 weeks, results suggested that participation in dance/movement therapy may stabilize the sympathetic nervous system and improve psychological distress in adolescents with depression.

So according to you, why do you dance?  How does dance move you? 

To learn more about dance/movement therapy and how it is used as a supportive resource for distressing feelings or for overall wellbeing and emotional health visit the American Dance Therapy Association.

 

References

Jeong, Y., Hong, S., Lee, M. S., Park, M. (2005). Dance/movement therapy improves emotional responses and modulates neurohormones in adolescents with mid depression. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115, 1711-1720.

Leste, A., & Rust, J. (1990).  Effects of dance on anxiety.  American Journal of Dance Therapy, 12(1), 19-25.

Leste, A. & Rust, J. (1984). Effects of dance on anxiety. Perceptual Motor Skills, 58(3), 767-772.

Moore, C. (2006). Dance/movement therapy in the light of trauma: Research findings of a multidisciplinary project. In S. C. Koch & I. Bra¨uninger (Eds.), Advances in Dance/movement therapy: Theoretical perspectives and empirical findings (pp. 104–115). Berlin: Logos Verlag.

About the Author

Christina Devereaux Ph.D, BC-DMT

Christina Devereaux, Ph.D., BC-DMT, is an Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical training in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling at Antioch University in New England.

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