In my 20s, I established an art school for street and working children in India and trained them in dance and theater for about 11 years. The purpose of this was to rescue them from the worst form of labour, educate and empower them. Many of them were abused, neglected and deprived of their childhood. One day I witnessed these children harm themselves after the super performance and that is when I decided to become a dance movement psychotherapist (DMP). Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is a combination of creativity and a psychological help. It aims to integrate the body and mind and help people to equip themselves with social, communication and motor fine skills.
I moved to the UK for training. At the very beginning of my training in DMT, I was asked to watch a professional performance in a London theatre and explore what I “feel” by watching dancers’ moves. With a performing background, I had to “unlearn” the way I see movement, judging no one and no movement. DMP is trained to regard any subtle movement that may reflect on the inner self. It can be just someone shrugging shoulders, leaning onto the wall, or moving fingers. Or just stillness.
Movement happens unconsciously and this is what we try to access in our therapeutic setting. How do you understand a baby who speaks no words? It is a movement where the baby communicates with you. In fact, DMPs study baby movement such as rolling and lifting the head up and embodying them. Babies learn to smile when they are about 6 weeks – that is a first distinctive way of communicating with others. How do they learn to smile? Babies ‘mirror’ adults’ facial expressions and that is how they learn to smile. DMT “mirrors” movement of participants and that would provide them a sense of empathy and being seen. Participants may mirror the therapist’s movement and that is how the therapeutic relationship is going to unfold between us. Participants who come to therapy may have been previously unheard and unseen.
When working with children, they often bring their imagination into play and movement. It is a safe way for children to project their difficult feelings such as anger and sadness into a story and action. A young child with trauma makes a cubby and lies down. I ask, “ Do you feel safe in this house?” They nod. Children struggle to articulate their feelings, therefore therapy helps them to untangle in their fantasy what they are experiencing in their reality. DMT often uses play, sounds and acting as well. Interestingly, children remember exactly what we have done in the last sessions. The longer they commit, the deeper the therapeutic relationship will become and the experience will be enriched.
In therapy, it is important to deal with disappointment as well. Therapy is not always fun – we need to actively go through participant’s anger, frustrations, sadness and so on. After the session, it may be important for the parent(s) to ask their child how therapy was, but not in terms of “good and bad”. We do not want to have split ideas about therapy whether it is good or bad. The reality is not just good or bad, but there are many more aspects in life. That is more crucial than anything else and we need to acknowledge difficult emotions in therapy. Perhaps you can encourage your child to continue therapy even when the session was not what they wanted. Perhaps this may help children to learn how to cope when something is not in their favour.
Dance Movement Therapy is my passion and I am very happy to have brought this to Adelaide. There is so much advocacy work to be done in order for this modality to be known to those who need to access it. We are offering one-to-one and group sessions as well as home and school visits. Creative Therapy Adelaide is the right place for you to come and get creative.