Dance involves the culturally mediated body, emotion, and mind. So do illness and pain. Dance may promote wellness by strengthening the immune system through muscular action and physiological processes. Dance conditions an individual to moderate, eliminate, or avoid tension, chronic fatigue, and other disabling conditions that result from the effects of stress. Dance may help the healing process as a person gains a sense of control through (1) possession by the spiritual in dance, (2) mastery of movement, (3) escape or diversion from stress and pain through a change in emotion, states of consciousness, and/or physical capability, and (4) confronting stressors to work through ways of handling their effects.
The Dancer, Once upon a time, a dancer and her musicians came to the court of the Prince of Birkasha. She was admitted in the court, and she danced to the music of the flute, the lute, and the zither. She danced the dance of flames and fire and the dance of swords and spears; she danced the dance of stars and the dance of space, and then she danced the dance of flowers in the wind. When she had finished, she approached the prince and bowed her body before him. The prince asked her to come nearer, and said unto her: “Beautiful woman, daughter of grace and delight, whence comes your art? And how is it that you command all the elements in your rhythms and your rhymes?” The dancer came near, bowed her body again and said: “Gracious majesty, I know not the answer to your questionings. Only this I know: the philosopher soul dwells within her head, the poet soul dwells within her heart, the singer soul dwells within her throat, but the soul of the dancer dwells in all her body. By Khalil Gibran
The Spiritual Power Of Dance By Gabrielle Roth
Each of us is a moving center, a space of divine mystery. And though we spend most of our time on the surface in the daily details of ordinary existence, most us hunger to connect to this space within, to break through to bliss, to be swept away into something bigger than us. As a young dancer, I made the transition from the world of steps and structures to the world of transformation and trance by exposure to live drumming. The beats, the patterns, the rhythms kept calling me deeper and deeper into my dance. Being young, wild and free, it didn’t dawn on me that in order to go into deep ecstatic places, I would have to be willing to transform absolutely everything that got in my way. That included every form of inertia: the physical inertia of tight and stressed muscles; the emotional baggage of depressed, repressed feelings; the mental baggage of dogmas, attitudes and philosophies. In other words, I’d have to let it all go — everything.
At the time, I was teaching movement to tens of thousands of people and, in them, I began to witness my own body/spirit split. Between the head and feet of any given person is a billion miles of unexplored wilderness. I yearned to know what was going on in that wilderness, not only in me, but in everyone else as well. And so, movement became both my medicine and my meditation. Having found and healed myself in its wild embrace, I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.
The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath? Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.
We dance to fall in love with the spirit in all things, to wipe out memory or transform it into moves that nobody else can make because they didn’t live it. We dance to hook up to the true genius lurking behind all the bullshit — to seek refuge in our originality and our power to reinvent ourselves; to shed the past, forget the future and fall into the moment feet first. Remember being fifteen, possessed by the beat, by the thrill of music pumping loud enough to drown out everything you’d ever known?
The beat is a lover that never disappoints and, like all lovers, it demands 100% surrender. It has the power to seduce moves we couldn’t dream. It grabs us by the belly, turns us inside out and leaves us abruptly begging for more. We love beats that move faster than we can think, beats that drive us ever deeper inside, that rock our worlds, break down walls and make us sweat our prayers. Prayer is moving. Prayer is offering our bones back to the dance. Prayer is letting go of everything that impedes our inner silence. God is the dance and the dance is the way to freedom and freedom is our holy work.
We dance to survive, and the beat offers a yellow brick road to make it through the chaos that is the tempo of our times. We dance to shed skins, tear off masks, crack molds, and experience the breakdown — the shattering of borders between body, heart and mind, between genders and generations, between nations and nomads. We are the transitional generation. This is our dance. By Gabrielle Roth , Founder of 5Rhythms
Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. Jacques d’Amboise
Dance embodies one of our most primal relationships to the universe. It is pre-verbal, beginning before words can be formed. It is innate in children before they possess command over language and is evoked when thoughts or emotions are too powerful for words to contain. It is essential that education provide our children with the developmental benefits and unique learning opportunities that come from organizing movement into the aesthetic experience of dance.” — National Dance Education Organization
Dance Movement Therapy
Dance/Movement Therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of dance and movement processes to bring about healing and recovery for individuals of all ages and cultural groups. It is practiced by trained, masters’ level professionals: mental health clinicians who specialize in this creative arts therapy. Since 1966, the ADTA has advanced this mind/body integrated form of psychotherapy, with member services, educational standards, professional credentialing, continuing education and public action to advocate for the needs of those we serve in hospitals, after-school programs, mental health centers, schools, rehabilitation facilities, wellness programs, and other settings.
One of the benefits of dancing is an increased sense of vitality—an awakening and renewal of one’s life energy. Studies have shown that dance interventions by trained professionals can decrease depression, improve mood, and strengthen positive feelings about one’s self. Dance/movement therapy (or DMT) harnesses the many elements of dance that have therapeutic potential. DMT does not emphasize dance technique and it is not about the artistic product (a performance). Rather, it is very much about improvisation, the mobilization and exchange of energy, and the creative, expressive process. DMT clients learn to move in ways that are authentic to how they are feeling and experiencing life, in the context of a supportive therapeutic relationship.
We dance/movement therapists focus on rhythms and phrases, and on the quality of the movement: space, weight, and time. We rely on Laban Movement Analysis for assessing movement in relation to health and human development. We work with transforming fragmentation into connectedness, and giving the silenced a voice through the medium of dance. Dance forms and structures are modified for release of tension and for helping people become comfortable moving. While the dance/movement experience is the main focus of a DMT session, dance/movement therapists will also use verbalization and discussion in sessions, and sometimes DMT sessions can be noisy with music, rhythm instruments, foot stomping, hand-clapping, or laughter and all kinds of vocalizing.
Dance is movement, and movement is essentially a process of ongoing change. Moving with one’s whole body, with and against gravity, one learns to both yield and resist, to feel one’s strength and to feel one’s vulnerability, to try on new qualities of action and behavior. This is what it means to be fully human. DMT can improve body image. Paul Schilder, a developmental neuroscientist, once said that dance is a loosening up of the body schema. He was describing how when we dance, the movement activates a dynamic and constant feedback loop back and forth between our brains and our bodies, so that our experience of our felt and living selves is one of change. It has been reported that children who have been traumatized can live on the alert, anxious and fearful. Dance-based methods for getting grounded, for sensing the body’s energy and position, and for developing breath support can help with learning to pay attention to one’s own needs, and for feeling more in control, and for regulating fearful or angry reactions.
As dancers know, dancing and moving rhythmically with other people creates a powerful sense of “with-ness.” This is a basic principle of DMT, as noted by dance therapy pioneer Marian Chace, and group cohesion is formed very quickly through what she called “shared rhythmic action.” Unlike most dance classes, group dance/movement therapy sessions will often start and end in a circle formation. In a circle, everyone can see everyone else; we connect visually with the people across the circle and kinesthetically with the people on either side. Everyone is of equal status: the circle encourages participation by everyone, and invites each person to contribute movement ideas.
“A definite movement with a definite trace form is always connected with inner happening such as feelings, reflections, determinations of the will, and other emotional impulses.” –Rudolf Laban, Choreutics
The Healing Power of Dance By Susan Rueppel
Movement and dance are inherent qualities, not only to humans, but to all of nature and the cosmos. From the creation of the universe, to the first heartbeat of the fetus in the womb, rhythm and dance have always existed. For tens of thousands of years, humans have used dance as an integral part of ritual, prayer, and reaching other states of consciousness, for the purpose of healing, and to facilitate contact with the Divine. It is believed that the soul of a people is woven into the steps of their dances. Sadly, the incredible power of dance as a sacred ritual has often been interpreted as a threat throughout history. The male-dominated Christian church put an end to women dancing and drumming in the church, as it represented power and worship of the Goddess. The United States government outlawed Native Americans from gathering and performing their sacred and traditional dancing and drumming up until 1978 when that freedom was restored by the Religious Freedom Act.
Fortunately, dance as ritual and healing is becoming popular once again, as people from many cultures and walks of life have been exposed to some of the many healing properties of dance. Throughout history, most cultures have used dance as a method of accessing the Divine. Dance is often performed as a spiritual experience, either for the self, for others, for community, or for the planet. Dancing is a popular method of socializing and creating and enhancing relationships. Movement and dance have been used for thousands of centuries around the world specifically for their many healing qualities. The western world is just recently waking up to the understanding of the healing power of dance.
More recently dance is acknowledged for its physical exercise aspect, where the healing comes from the healthy body experience of increasing the heart rate and enhancing cardiovascular endurance, body strength, and flexibility. This is exemplified in the form of Dancercise, also known as Jazzercise, made popular in the 1980s. I have been dancing and playing music for most of my life, from grade school through high school rituals of cheerleader and pom pom girl, to adult endeavors of middle eastern dancing, flamenco dancing, Greek dancing and playing a variety of percussion instruments. I have had the good fortune of experiencing many cultures through music and dance. The healing and joy I have felt, and at times been able to share with others, is something I was able to access by using music and dance as a universal communication conduit for participating in and learning of other cultures’ wisdom.
Let us dance together through time, from the origins and history of dance, to its many healing modalities of the current day. We will explore the inherent healing aspects of dance, along with various dances throughout the world, that are meant specifically for the purpose of healing. We will also take a brief glimpse at the relationship of music and costume to healing dance. Let us first take a look at the specific difference between curing and healing as it relates to dance. In Dance as a Healing Art, Anna Halprin so eloquently states “There is a distinction between “curing” and “healing”, which is useful when we approach dance, or any of the arts, as a healing modality. To “cure” is to physically eliminate a disease….To “heal” is to operate on many dimensions simultaneously, by aiming at attaining a state of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health….Dance engages our whole being. It is, in my opinion, the most powerful of the arts because it is holistic in its very nature. Our body is our instrument. It is immediate and accessible, holding our wisdom and truth.”
Dance is so powerful because it is accessible to nearly everyone. Dance is a very holistic and integrative healing modality. The very nature of movement and dance demand that we be fully present. As Iris Stewart relates in her insightful book Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance, “Since we are working at very subtle levels of energy, our level of consciousness or attitude can greatly affect the outcome of our dances.” As well, our dances can greatly affect our level of consciousness. With only 07% of communication being verbal, movement is an important component of the remaining 93% of our communications.
“Movement has the capacity to take us to the home of the soul, the world within for which we have no names. Movement reaches our deepest nature, and dance creatively expresses it. Through dance, we can gain new insights into the mystery of our inner lives. When brought forth from inside and forged by the desire to create personal change, dance has the profound power to heal the body, psyche and soul. Our journey through illness and health, and the power of the dance to illuminate the way, is a passionate aspect of my life’s work.” Anna Halprin
Movement as our Medicine
At Life Change Health Institute we believe that body and mind are directly related and through movement we find a healthy balance and sense of wholeness. We are born into bodies that are relatively fluid and free; bodies that express instinctively the circulation of life force through movement. As babies, and then through childhood and adolescence we often encounter circumstance and emotion, which we are unable to accommodate into this elemental fluidity. In subtle and invisible ways we freeze and harden. Our bodies hold the experience within us, locked up as immobile or stagnant energy. This pattern of holding and hardening becomes habitual In many ways we feel and get stuck.
The practice of ecstatic dance and moving meditation supports and encourages ways in which to free this trapped vitality to give us more movement and more freedom in our lives. The more we can learn how to absorb and digest the power of all our experience the more fully and creatively we can live, the more fluid we become mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Dance is a very effective way to raise moral and well being. It is a fun and safe way of deepening and exploring ones sense of self. In a safe and creative way we can also explore how we relate to others, enabling us the courage to reconnect or deepen our relationship with our community. Everyone moves at his or her own unique pace and the facilitated journey through movement catalyzes shifts when they are ready to occur.
“Regular moving meditation in addition to other forms of conscious lead therapies such as yoga, somatic psychotherapy, tantra and massage are very powerful & transformative healing strategies, when we put the psyche in motion through moving the body, and speak of our experience by bringing that which is unconscious to conscious awareness in a safe and loving space it will heal itself. What we shift and heal in this way also transforms in our lives. This is a moving meditation where our movement becomes our medicine.” – Life Change Health Institute