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Dance and Movement Therapy: Move your body to the rhythm for emotional wellbeing

Dance and Movement Therapy: Move your body to the rhythm for emotional wellbeing

Unravelling the profound therapeutic benefits from dance and movement
Dance Movement Therapy | Photo by Anantha Subramanyam

Dance for Pavithra Vijay started when she was nine years old. “As someone who had trouble opening up to the world around her, dance was a way to establish that attachment,” recalls the mother of two, who has picked up dancing after a long gap.  

For Pavithra the act of being in sync with rhythm is emotionally rewarding. But dance and movement has come a long way. It is well known that dance and expressing emotions through movement can be a joyous and passion-driven exercise. Nevertheless, it can be useful to know the profound benefits that one can get from dance, as identified by researchers and experts, especially for those with anxiety or emotional issues.  

What a dance and movement therapy class looks like 

“How are you feeling today?” is dance and movement therapist Maanasa Bharath’s first question to her class. The tone for the session is set with just this question. The session begins with her students acknowledging their mood either by describing it with a movement or rating it on a scale of 1-10 or using a metaphor. The group is now seen expressing their emotions through isolated body movements responding to different beats or rhythms.  

“The process helps release pent-up emotional tension,” says Bharath. And the focus is now on the transition of the beats which helps her students be ‘in the moment’. The hour-long session has far-reaching benefits.  

“Many different elements are involved in dancing and moving together in DMT. Rhythm, movement dynamics and qualities, use of space in the physical environment, integrating connections in the body, breathing awareness, and how the body shapes itself around objects and people.  All these elements are introduced within a culturally sensitive and respectful landscape,” elaborates Susan Carey Orkand, professor and the clinical education coordinator in the graduate dance and movement therapy department at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. 

People learning dance.
Dance and movement therapist Maanasa Bharath ensures that her sessions help release pent-up emotional tension | Photo by Anantha Subramanyam

A boon for many 

Ramyashree, a pharma professional from Bengaluru, has been a caregiver for her aged parents for a few years. “Caregiving for older adults comes in with many challenges, especially if they are your parents and are battling health ailments. More than the person with the disease, the caregiver goes through a lot,” says the 38-year-old who wanted to address her emotions and channel them positively. 
“I took to dance and movement therapy to help me tame the stress and anxiety,” she says. “I was able to acknowledge my hidden emotions and address them through movement,” she shares. The sessions also helped her be in the present. Creative Movement Therapist Tripura Kashyap has observed it to be highly effective in different areas.  

I have been working with children in regular schools, children with special needs, adults with visual and hearing impairment, and specially abled adults. In bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, although dance and movement therapy does not cure them, but more functional independence in terms of movement, social skills including eye contact has been observed,” says Kashyap.  

Dance-Mind Connect 

Sumalatha Vasudeva, a clinical psychologist from BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital in Bengaluru let us in on DMT’s benefits. “This therapy encourages self-expression and helps establish the connection between the mind and body. And as it allows a deeper connection with one’s body, it enhances one’s cognitive ability and social well-being,” says Vasudeva.  

“On a scientific level, empathy, social connectedness, and individual body-mind factors are all neuro-scientifically intertwined with psychological and emotional elements,” elaborates professor Orkand. 

According to experts, dance and movement therapy which is well integrated into settings across the U.S. and throughout global regions holds a formidable promise. | Photo by Anantha Subramanyam

DMT and Cancer care 

Another study on dance and movement therapy for children and adolescents with cancer found that the inclusion of dance and movement therapy as part of the interdisciplinary team addressing the psychosocial needs of children and adolescents with cancer has helped facilitate greater integration of factors related to coping.  

In fact, senior medical oncologist Dr P.P. Bapsy has been running a 12-week program, Sahai FENS-Cancer Support, at the Government-run Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bengaluru which has already helped more than 300 Cancer patients in four years.  

“The sole aim is to encourage people to do some form of exercise and put them back to their normal routine – the things they were pursuing before being diagnosed with Cancer,” says Dr Bapsy. The program covers all the aspects of one’s wellbeing (functional, emotional, nutritional, and spiritual) and dance and movement turns out to be a key element. “The music and the beats help relax the patients and reduce anxiety,” she adds. Many of the session takers are breast cancer patients with a few who have completed chemotherapy and radiation while some are still undergoing treatment. “We have evidence to say that DMT has had an impact on quality of life of patients but as a part of our Sahai program which includes physical exercise, DMT, nutrition, psychological therapy,” says Dr Bapsy. 

The length of dance and moment therapy 

The frequency of sessions and therapy duration are determined between the therapist and her client. “Some therapeutic agreements are made in larger institutional settings (like hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and community settings), and some arrangements are made between therapist and client only (private practice),” says Orkand. Creative Movement Therapist Tripura Kashyap adds that nearly 3-6 months of therapy are needed to show any positive results. 

The future 

According to experts, dance and movement therapy which is well integrated into settings across the U.S. and throughout global regions holds a formidable promise. “For some ailments, dance and movement therapy should be considered the main modality of therapy (like people with autism, eating disorders, trauma, intellectual or developmental disabilities, memory loss, and others),” wraps Orkand.    

A promising future | Photo by Anantha Subramanyam

Movement vs dance 

Movement is more of self-directed bodily motion and it could be unstructured and need not be choreographed, while dance is more of a choreography — structured and follows certain rules. 

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