Why Dance Movement Therapy isn’t just for “dancers”

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what might get in the way of someone trying Dance Movement Therapy, what obstacles there are to overcome before you can commit to coming to a session. One of the things I’ve heard from clients is that the dance/movement aspect can feel intimidating if you’re not someone who identifies as a “dancer”. My goal for writing this blog is to try to put some of those fears to rest.

But first, if you need a bit of clarity around what DMT is or why you would consider it as an option for therapy, you can read my other two blog posts here.

So – Dance Movement Therapy – there it is, first word, right off the bat: DANCE. I actually know quite a few DMTs who refer to themselves as Movement Psycho/therapists because of the implications the word dance has. I’ve chosen not to do that because I feel that dance is such an integral part of the process and I don’t want to negate that by taking it out of the title.

I’m not denying that dance can be a scary experience: moving our bodies can feel vulnerable and exposing, especially if there are other people in the space, as there are in DMT groups. But I want to assure you, the therapy space is a safe space. There is no room for judgement. There is no right or wrong way to move, and we will celebrate your dancing body regardless of what your movement looks like.

Another thing that you may find reassuring, is that everyone is moving and focused on their own experience and body. For example, in a warm-up, we might do a moving body scan, going through each part and asking the question “what does my (shoulder/back/foot) need right now?”. The focus is inwards, and people may even move with their eyes closed to start, to help them focus on what’s happening in their body. At other times in the session we might move in pairs or as a group, but I would only start a group with this if they had been moving together for some time.

In the session we will engage in verbal reflection as a group, and when we do everyone is encouraged to speak from the “I”. So when I talk about a movement exchange I had with someone, I might say “I noticed that I felt hesitant to make eye contact when we moved together. I found it easier to focus on the scarves we were moving with instead.” I would NOT say “Your movement was weird. I didn’t like it.” We always want to hear how and what you’re feeling, but not at the expense of someone else’s self-confidence.

In our DMT groups we celebrate difference. One of the things I love most about DMT, is that each person in the group is coming in with their own unique way of moving and being. That’s what makes it so exciting! Moving in a circle I may see someone moving in a way that looks totally different to how I move, and if I were to “try on” that person’s movement it could tell me something about my own preferences or patterns of moving.

The other thing to remember is that a DMT session is not a class. I do not teach anyone how to dance in sessions. All of the movement we do is spontaneous, creative, or improvised. I might suggest certain ways of moving – quick, sharp, loose, free, soft, strong – but these are suggestions, not instructions. You are never required to do anything you don’t want to do.

I think that one of the other reasons why DMT feels intimidating to people is that we spend so much of our day to day life thinking, and when we do connect with our bodies, so often we are focused on trying to improve it – whether that’s at the gym, in a yoga class, or going for a run. Now I’m not saying that those practices are bad in any way, what I mean is that connecting to our feeling, sensing, expressing , vulnerable physical bodies is not something many people practice regularly, so it can feel a bit scary to start off.

That’s why we take it in steps –  we start with a short check-in to see where we are, then we move into a warm-up, nothing too crazy, just getting into our bodies and getting the blood pumping, next we might try moving with other people, or not, touching a bit on what that might be bringing up for us emotionally. There’s always space to step back if things are moving too quickly, and we take time to reflect verbally throughout. It’s really not until half way through the session that we might start looking at the emotional content or themes that may be present for us that day. And you always decide how deeply you want to work. Maybe you’re feeling too overwhelmed or stressed from other life events, and we just work with embodied movement and keep things a little playful or lighter. Maybe you’re feeling ready to dig deep and have something specific you’re curious about. Almost anything goes!

And at the end of the day, you have confidentiality. No one – not other group members, and especially not the therapist – will be telling anyone outside of the session about what was going on for anyone but themselves. That’s all discussed and agreed on at the beginning of the group. Everyone is free to talk about their own experiences, how they felt and what came up for them, but that’s their story, they’re not going to be sharing yours.

Well, I think that’s all I’ve got to say on this topic. I hope this has been helpful for you and that I see you in a group soon!

Looking forward to moving together,

-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)

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