How is Dance Movement Therapy different from a dance class?

Being a dance/movement therapist and a professional dancer, I am often asked the difference between going to a dance/movement therapy session and taking a dance class. Parents, clients, teachers, professionals, family members and even fellow dancers are often confused about the same. This confusion stems from the name of the discipline itself -“Dance/Movement Therapy”. Through this blog, I hope to highlight some of the main differences between the two disciplines.

While the word “dance” is a part of the discipline, Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) focuses more on movement rather than the typical understanding of “dance”. Movement, in dance/movement therapy ranges from micro (involving breath, postures, gestures, shadow movements) to macro (full bodied). In a DMT session, each movement, whether micro or macro is seen as a form of communication. Rather than coordination or fixed routines, Dance/Movement Therapy focuses on the organic movements of the body, as we see in everyday life. It aims to observe, work through and modulate these movements of the body to help bring about a change in behavior, thought process or emotional understanding of an individual.

Being a dancer, I have experienced that going to a dance class may relieve stress, fight negative emotions and lead to the feeling of “being happy”. It may provide a sense of achievement that boosts self-confidence and esteem, along with deepening a spiritual connection for many. In many ways, it is therapeutic. However, there is a difference between dance being therapeutic and movement being used in therapy.

In a dance class, the focus is primarily to learn a specific dance form or routine. The mood and health benefits of attending a dance class can be seen as by-products of the process. In a dance/movement therapy session, the focus is to promote the bio-psycho-social goals of the client through the medium of a movement relationship between the client and the therapist. Thus, a DMT session is often more improvisational and client driven than a dance class. DMT particularly focuses on the integration of the body-mind-spirit, through the use of techniques and interventions based on theory and clinical practical.

Instead of a leader-follower relationship like in a typical dance class, the relationship in a DMT session is shared and mutual, whereby pieces offered by both the therapist & client lead to the formation of a movement dialogue. This movement dialogue may consist of breath, verbal communication, gestures, postures or even body actions being shared between the therapist and client. Moreover, verbal processing at the end of the session, to process the experience is of utmost importance in a dance/movement therapy. Because every movement is communication, each movement has a meaning that is processed.

Finally, there is a difference in the skills and training of a dance teacher and a dance/movement therapist. Professionals who are trained and educated in a particular/multiple dance styles lead a dance class. Individuals who have completed a degree and are licensed/registered in Dance/Movement Therapy and counseling facilitate a DMT session. The skills required for the two disciplines find their origin in dance but branch out in different directions. Like any clinical practice (such as counseling), Dance/Movement therapists are supervised by seniors in their community who guide them based on each clinical case and also ensure ethical clinical practice.

Dance/Movement Therapy today is being used with children, adolescents and adults coping with a multitude of developmental, mental health, neurodegenerative and other challenges irrespective of their physical capabilities.

I hope that this blog was able to clarify some of your confusion about the difference between a DMT session and dance class. In case you find yourself confused about which one is the best fit for you or your family member, please contact a professional to help you out

Akanksha Mishra
(Dance & Movement Therapist)

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