Healing Dance

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 1.00.16 PMBy Kary Vannice

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you dance? Happy…

light…free? You feel less burdened by the stresses of life, it puts a smile on your face, and the whole world seems- better somehow.

It’s that feeling we all experience, innately, when we move rhythmically (or even un-rhythmically) on which the entire foundation of dance therapy is based. Dance is being shown to heal both physical and emotional illness in dramatic ways.

Ancient cultures have always known this; it is only in the last 50 or 60 years that our modern western medicine has also started to give credence to the idea that dance can heal. Dance has been a fundamental part of nearly every civilization on earth. Dance has been used to communicate story, to entertain, as peaceful interaction between cultures. But even more than that, dance has been used in ancient societies to promote a good harvest, fertility in the body, to heal the sick and even celebrate death. Thousands of diverse cultures all over the world have used movement to influence the health of their people and planet.

The many ancient codices, murals, and recorded observations of the Spanish people demonstrate that dance was a fundamental part of the ancient cultures here in Mexico. Both Aztec and Maya peoples used dance in healing ceremonies, in preparation for war, to influence the powers of nature and even to gain political and economic power.

When you think about it in that context, it’s hard to believe that it took our modern scientists this long to realize the healing power of dance, in all its forms. It really wasn’t until the early 1900’s that our modern society started to conceive that the movement of dance could have a powerful emotional effect on the dancer and was not just an expressive art.

From this concept sprang a new philosophy, Dance Therapy, sometimes referred to as Dance/Movement Therapy or DMT. This new school of thought got its “legs” from Marian Chace, “The Grand Dame” of DMT in the United States in the 1940’s. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that doctors really started to test the idea in earnest, conducting scientific studies to prove the concept’s validity. Since then, dozens, maybe even hundreds of studies have demonstrated the power of dance to support and even heal the emotional and physical functions of the body.

And, dance is not just being used for minor physical ailments, or just to cure “the blues.” No, the concept of using dance as a healing modality is taking on big problems in our society. Studies have been done to prove the benefits of dance in breast cancer patients, military personnel returning from active duty, people with autism and even those trying to stave off dementia.

Conventional DMT, conducted by a therapist in a traditional psychotherapeutic setting, has a very defined structure. It is composed of 4 distinct parts and can be practiced individually or in group settings. But many of the studies conducted were focused on groups that participated in ballroom dancing, belly dancing, salsa or some other form of what most would consider enjoyment movement. There is strong evidence to suggest that just about any form of dance can, and likely will, have beneficial healing effects on the body. So, the next time someone says you don’t dance well, just tell them you’re not dancing, you’re healing, and keep on moving!