Moving from Popular Dance to Dance and Movement Therapy

This semester, I had the opportunity to blend my passion of dance and movement with my psychology training in a class called body-oriented psychotherapy. The class covered a variety of topics including somatic (ie body) methods from Feldenkrais and yoga, to foundations of dance therapy. We were given the opportunity to move and experience these methods weekly.

Dance and Movement Therapy

As a dancer, I had to find a way of moving that felt authentic to the therapeutic process. I love pirouettes and battements, but they did not feel appropriate for the class. I turned inward and went on a journey of self-exploration though authentic movement and focusing on my own bodily movement urges and needs, which culminated in a movement exploration [described later].

To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, I will briefly discuss some of the key elements of dance and movement therapy. Dance and movement therapy was started as a way to explore the body through its own movement voice. Janet Adler was a pioneer in the field working with children on the autism spectrum. She worked to create a therapeutic relationship with her clients through mirroring, a key element of dance/movement therapy.

Mirroring is the reflecting of movement between two people. One person offers a movement such as lifting an arm in the air and the other follows as a means of accepting the movement. This method of moving with a partner creates a connection and an understanding between the two people. It is a conversation of sorts, another method of communicating non-verbally. Research by Malchiodi in 2005 furthered mirroring, and investigated its effects in expanding movement to different levels, changing the tempo of a movement, and containing or expressing emotions.

Movement requires a relationship between the self and the body. This means that you need to be aware of what your body can do, what it wants to do, and potentially any blocks that might exist when you start to move. These blocks can be due to a negative relationship with the body and/or due to an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. These blockages are often unconscious and are referred to by the term body armoring. Body armoring helps to shield the body from the outside world, but it also locks the body and its flow of energy, making it rigid when asked to move and be expressive. Furthermore, this locking of energy in the body can lead to medical problems such as ulcers and headaches.*

Jane Adler suggested that one method of creating a positive relationship with the body through movement is the exploration of authentic movement. This is also another key concept in the practice of dance/movement therapy and generally involves a mover and a witness (someone to watch and take in the movement without judgment). What can start out as small, almost invisible movements might eventually move outward and expand into the space or may remain tiny. The process is intended to encourage the body to move in its own unique way, expressing its own unique language and messages.


I had the opportunity to experience a variety of movement techniques over the last few months. In my own experience, movement can be both a positive and negative way to access emotions. At times, movement helps to distract from intense emotions. It can serve as a way to rid excess energy and tension from the body. Movement can also be a way to explore those intense emotions and access them for dissection in a therapeutic/safe setting.

In my own movement exploration I focused on the way movements and body parts are related rather than separated. I started by working with small individual body parts such as toes and fingers. I progressed to larger parts such as legs and arms, playing with using each leg separately, then together as a unit. I enjoyed the feeling of separation and then unity in this movement progression. In time, this progressed into full body movement, which felt expansive and expressive even if it was small at times.

There was a point that I thought I was done moving and made my way to stop the camera, but then I had the impulse to jump and leave the floor. I think my body was screaming out for a little more energy to be expended and to feel the detachment from the earth. I enjoyed the slow start and often enjoy moving slowly and expansively, but needed the quick release at the end. I also noticed that after the quick movement I felt a sense of relief. It felt nice to move in two very contrasting ways and allow my body to feel the difference.

As a dancer, I found the experience of authentic movement to be freeing. There was no sense of needing to create something aesthetically appealing, innovative, or worthy of an audience. I simply moved and allowed my body to talk for a couple of minutes. In the field of dance, we talk about creating a voice as a choreographer, but it is rare that I check in with my body and ask exactly what it needs in the moment. I encourage you to focus in and see if your body is asking you to move in a specific way and ask yourself if the movement feels familiar or foreign or something else entirely.


* Check out Body Armour (2013) online article to read more on energy blocking.

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