The healing power of dance: talking about it isn’t enough

Sarah* entered the studio eager to move but very aware that dance, which once brought her joy, was very difficult to engage in or initiate. I invited her to merely walk around the space and explore her connection to her movement and body. She began to walk quickly with intensity and a bound energy in her upper torso. I asked her to identify how she felt in this walk, to which she replied, “This is what I do. I push through things and just keep going. This feels familiar, but I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to move forward, but I’m not sure what that looks like or how to do that mindfully and in a healthy way.”  

I invited her to find different ways to walk through the room. Sarah began to walk backward. She mentioned that this actually felt safe and that she could trust herself. She then began to move sideways and slowly began to roll her shoulder with each step. When asked what this movement represented, she said, “My creativity.” This sparked a discussion about her connection to creativity. She was discouraged from indulging her creative side and made to feel like she was an outcast and the black sheep of the family. She didn’t allow herself to be creative.  

She was feeling fatigued, so I invited her over to the ballet barre against the wall and encouraged her to explore the idea of support using the barre. She pulled on it, leaned against it and then suddenly began walking into and away from the barre with both hands firmly wrapped around it. I said, “Do you notice that you are walking forward? How is that possible?” She replied, “I can walk forward as long as I have support. I invited her to try walking forward on her own, without the barre. She hesitated and then began stepping side to side while advancing forward. She began rolling her shoulders as she did previously. The movement took on a life of its own. Her torso relaxed, and she began to smile. I asked her to comment on her experience. Sarah looked and me and said, “I feel free to move forward when I am using my creativity.”  

That is where our work began. Through our time together, we explored her connection to creativity and her desire to reclaim what had been ingrained in her as bad and unnecessary. Through movement and dance, she was able to step into her power, explore years of emotional trauma, and begin to uncover how much of this paradigm had contributed to her inability to leave abusive relationships and feel unworthy of unconditional love.  

Sarah knew that dance and movement was her path to healing and that even though it was not the easy option for her mental health journey, that talking about it was not enough. She needed to express herself on a deeper level. Her body needed to express what her mind had been suppressing. This is the power of dance and movement. Dance heals through so many avenues. It can be a way to tap into community, explore our own self-awareness and help us get through hard times. As performers and artists, we often lose sight of this aspect of dance. I encourage you to tap into the healing power of dance for yourself.

(*Please not that the client’s name in this scenario has been changed to protect her confidentiality.)

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT of Dance Informa. 

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