Just as speech is one form of communication, movement is another. It is the first way we learn to communicate with others
There is so much we express knowingly and unknowingly through our body movements and body language. Movements can sometimes convey things that even words cannot. They give voice to material we aren’t fully aware of or that is too difficult to talk about. A dance/movement therapist makes use of the mind-body connection and pays attention to what the individual is saying through his or her words, body language and expressions. Movement does not necessarily mean dancing around the room; even subtle communication by means of posture or how much space the individual maintains with others tells us something about the person.
Dance/movement therapy (DMT), which had its beginnings in the 1940s, is based on the premise that mind and body are inseparable; that what is experienced in the mind is experienced in the body. (Levy, 1995) It is a type of psychotherapy that uses movement to achieve social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being. Some of its benefits include increasing peace of mind, self-awareness and self-confidence, stress management, coping skills to deal with overwhelming feelings and communication skills. DMT can be used with a wide range of populations such as mentally ill and terminally ill patients, substance abusers, trauma victims, children with cerebral palsy, marginalised communities and normal functioning individuals. It can be practised both in a group and individual settings. Just as speech is one form of communication, movement is another more direct form. It is the first way we learn to communicate with others when we enter the world. In a country as diverse as India where numerous languages are spoken, a dance/movement therapist can work with people even when they do not speak the same language.
I have run therapeutic movement groups with various age groups of children at an orphanage. This could help illustrate how dance/movement therapy can be beneficial. These were all-boys groups, groups for young girls, groups for older girls and groups for troubled children with a history of trauma. Some of the problems faced by members of the troubled children’s group were non-compliance, suicidal tendencies, lack of interest in school, and frustration. These children live in an environment where they are reprimanded when they misbehave and do not study well. There is no space for some of them to come to terms with their feelings, nor do they know how to express what is going on inside them. So these emotions come out in ways such as cutting themselves or running away.
In the DMT groups with children, everyone had an opportunity to lead movements and be joined by the whole group to instil a feeling of unity and being seen by others. Having created a space where the children feel safe and comfortable in movement, they were shown healthy ways of expressing anger and frustration whenever those themes came up from the children. Themes can come up by means of images they elicit, things they say or by the quality of their movement. For example, when I saw a child kicking and stamping with a lot of energy and asked what he was doing, he said, “getting rid of my bad habits.” This led to a discussion both by means of words and movement on what were the bad habits all the children wanted to get rid of and how we would do that together in movement.
In a DMT group the focus is on the process and not the product. There are no right and wrong movements. The children were encouraged to move into a feeling space and not a thinking space. During the session the children really opened up and enjoyed being in a space where they had the freedom and flexibility to just be.
Low self-esteem, feelings of abandonment and hopelessness were things that came up during the DMT groups.
Through movement a relationship with these children was built, a connection was formed by stepping into their worlds and following their movements, and by using an approach that felt non-threatening and fun to them, and teaching them how to be in touch with their feelings and find outlets of expressing that to others.
Doing this on a regular basis helps individuals relieve themselves of anxiety and stress, and be more at peace with themselves and the world. Seeing individuals make this transformation is truly rewarding.