The Dance of the Therapist: seven ways dance can fuel our practice
Updated: Nov 20
This article was first published in the Centre for Counselling & Psychotherapy Education Summer Newsletter, July 2021
For most adults over 30 dancing is just the occasional experience at a party or celebration. The recent growth of Zumba, Tango, and Salsa classes have put dance back on the agenda, primarily as a way to socialise or get fit. For our forebears, dance was a ritual, tribal or group bonding activity, and a revered medicine.
Many years of dancing, first in parties, nightclubs, raves, and, latterly, in ‘dance practices’ such as 5Rhythms and Ecstatic Awakening Dance, has made me very much at home in dance mode. I spent a decade as a promoter in the dance and rave scenes of the 1980s and 1990s before training as a transpersonal psychotherapist. In the 1990s I became interested in finding a sense of connection, freedom, and energy through dance, without resorting to pharmaceutical assistance. I developed a workshop, Spirit in the House, to explore these themes.
Lockdown led me to experiment together with other therapists on reclaiming dance. ‘The Dance of the Therapist’, a 3-hour CPD workshop was born. Over several sessions, with groups of 6-12 people, we worked with music, dance, and reflection. We also had some fun, and seven insights emerged:
1. Reclaim our dance, shed our inhibition
Participants loved dancing when they were younger, but most have not danced much in adult life. Age sets in, bodies become less agile, and we feel embarrassed, exposed, or ‘silly’ about moving our bodies in uncontrolled ways. Many of our clients would also love to dance but lack a ‘place’ in which to do so. We can be locked together in mutual restraint. By reclaiming our dance as therapists, we become more fluid and comfortable to invite clients to dance. This offers them a space to experience, communicate with movement, to explore bodily feeling, to find a sense of self that words cannot often always locate.
2. Dance as restoration and self-care
Dancing helps send signals in the brain that aids the way that we experience pleasure and cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. In his wonderful book, The Dance Cure, Dr Peter Lovatt notes:
‘Dancing to Music is a great way to overcome [these] negative feelings because both the exercise and our emotional responses to the music we’re hearing can increase the release of dopamine in different parts of the brain. As dopamine levels go up, we can shake off some off those negative feelings and float into a euphoric state.’
One outcome of our workshops was a deep sense of being replenished, de-stressed, more embodied. Dance gave us new energy and buoyancy.
3. Enhanced body presence means better attentiveness.
What goes on in our bodies is fundamental to how we feel. Dr Stephen Porges and Deb Dana’s Polyvagal Theory tells us that emotions are regulated in the body, that physiological states create psychological stories via the autonomic nervous system.
Remote working leads to less direct engagement with clients and challenges our work. Dance offsets this remoteness both in directly communicating with the arousal system, creating the safety of social engagement, and in giving expression to the body.
4. Dance as an equaliser: we are peers when we dance together.
When we dance with clients our roles are less defined. The therapist is no longer ‘the expert’ or ‘the one who knows’. We encounter each other in a spontaneous way, without hierarchy and set techniques. This is empowering and helpful for clients in terms of modelling a ‘try it out’ approach, rather than ‘paralysis by analysis’.
5. The Transpersonal in action: dance breaks patterns and scripts
According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, in The Body Keeps the Score:
‘Collective movement and music create a larger context for our lives, a meaning beyond our individual fate’.
Our workshops revealed that dance allows us to go beyond the stories and limitations of our biographies. It unravels emotional, mental, physical, and social paths and offers a space for liberation from our habituated scripts and behavioural patterns.
6. The vibration of synchronicity: dance as Ritual, Play, Community
People have come together to dance throughout all ages and in all civilizations, in part to bind groups together, to aid higher consciousness and promote healing, all of which are deeply appealing to us as therapists. In his fascinating historical account of synchronised human movement practices, Keeping Together In Time, Prof William McNeill, notes the ‘muscular bonding’, ‘visceral emotions’ and resultant ‘boundary loss’ when people dance and move together in groups.
Our Dance of the Therapist workshop is an invitation to pool experience, encounter each other, and synchronise an experience. In this we find deep connection and co-regulation within the bond of movement.
7. Dance can broaden appeal and widen our breadth of clients
Dance also offers an opportunity for some clients and groups who may not want conventional talking therapy, or at least at times would like to use dance and movement in their sessions. For those who have experienced trauma for example, it sets a scene of co-regulation and social engagement, which mean that the trauma can be accessed in a safe, contained and grounded way.
I am currently using dance with a young woman with anorexia, a 90-year-old man with Parkinson’s, and a middle-aged woman with depression. They are engaged by the opportunity to dance, and then surprised by the rich experience and flow it evokes.
Watch this space for further offerings for therapists relating to dance, the moving body and healing. You can also come along to the many other dance movement sessions that I offer.
Go to www.flomotion.dance and sign up to my mailing list.
I look forward to dancing with you!