By: Stacey Chamberlain
The Oxford dictionary defines dance as a verb, which means “to move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps”. In modern popular culture, dance is predominantly understood to be a performing art of varying genres, often particular to an individual’s culture or social group. The athleticism of dance is glorified in television shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and America’s Best Dance Crew where dancers are admired for their enthusiasm, grace, and physical agility. However, dance is so much more than just a performing art and has found its place within the world of holistic health and psychotherapy. Dance can be used both professionally and personally as a means to facilitate both emotional and physical healing.
Dance therapy can trace its earliest beginnings to the modern dance movement, a genre of dance that developed in opposition to the more traditional forms of art such as ballet in an attempt to the full range of human behavior and motivation behind it. Dancing for therapeutic purposes is rooted in the idea that the body and the mind are inseparable. Sigmund Freud, arguably one of the most important figures in modern psychology, understood this idea. Freud believed that “conflict, with its resulting mechanisms of defense and repression, is the responsibility of the ego which is, first and foremost, a body-ego” as described in his book The Ego and the Id. According to Dr. Levy, psychotherapist and author of Dance/Movement Therapy, the overall focus of the field of psychology during the first half of the 19th century was on the use of verbalization as a medium for the expression of the unconscious. However, through the influence of modern dance and developments in other fields such as psychology and somatics, the relationship between psychoanalytic thought and nonverbal communication has been recognized.
In an article from The Journal of Aesthetic Education titled The Neuroscience of Dance and the Dance of Neuroscience: Defining a Path of Inquiry, dance is defined as “an emotionally expressive use of the body-mind that gives form to feeling, involving conscious choices made regarding an exquisitely refined motor relation at the interface of motion and dynamic stillness, of voluntary and involuntary neural systems.” This article, written by several neuroscientists, discusses the concept of a ‘body map’ and its ability to be reprogrammed both consciously and unconsciously through experience.
My issue, The Value of Dance as a Healing Art, is relevant not only to our understanding of the fields of dance and therapy, but to our understanding of what it means to be human. Movement is the most basic form of communication, bridging all language barriers, allowing us to relate to each other in new ways.