The American Dance Therapy Association celebrates its 50-year anniversary
“Dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement,” dance therapist Lauren Higgins says. “We are using the arts—but for the specific purpose of creating healing rather than necessarily creating the art form. That means that anyone can benefit from dance/movement therapy.”
Just as it isn’t necessary to be a professional writer to pen a therapeutic journal, there’s no need for people to be studio-trained dancers to benefit from dance/movement therapy. Higgins works with many clients who have never set foot in a dance studio, she says, including some who use wheelchairs for mobility.
“We use the arts as a way of accessing the healing potential we know all art provides,” she says. “Dance/movement therapy uses our connection to the body, rhythm, and movement as a way of getting to that healing possibility.”
Intuitively, her words make sense. People certainly feel better after “getting it all out” through bounding into a mosh pit or swirling paint onto canvas. Scholarly research also suggests dance/movement therapy may be beneficial. One comparative study showed dance to be more effective than non-dance exercise (or just listening to music without dancing) for lifting depression in adult patients of varied ages and genders. Dance/movement therapy may help people manage stress, enhance their capacity for empathy, and deal with trauma.
Higgins works with Focus Treatment Centers to help people struggling with eating disorders and substance abuse regain their love for their bodies. She is part of a national organization for advancing the science of dance therapy and credentialing dance/movement therapists (DMTs) known as the American Dance Therapy Association.
ADTA was founded in 1966 with the mission of furthering “the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.” Like other psychological approaches, dance therapy looks to help people heal from emotional traumas and become more fully themselves.
Survivorship may also be made more endurable, even joyful, through dance. Ann Law of Chattanooga—working in a different tradition of healing movement—has used dance to help breast cancer survivors regain physical strength and extension, as well as emotional wholeness and even joy.
Higgins, who also works in non-profit settings, points out that dance comes at the intersection of mind, body, and spirit. (Perhaps that is why dance—involving both physical and cognitive elements —was shown to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease in one longitudinal study.) “The field [of dance therapy] uses the sciences to explore how these connections are made,” Higgins says, “and how movement contributes to healing.”
If you’re curious to see what dance/movement therapy is all about, you can take part in an informational/experiential dance session at the Movement Arts Collective on Saturday, April 2 at 4 p.m. Or you can try out an authentic movement workshop with dance/movement therapist Kira Smith of New York at the Movement Arts Collective the weekend of June 10–12.
If you want to learn more about dance/movement therapy in Chattanooga, you can visit facebook.com/LaurenHigginsMovement. And for more information about ADTA, please visit adta.org.