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Dance therapy (also called movement therapy) is the therapeutic use of movement to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of a person. It focuses on the connection between the mind and body to promote health and healing.
How does it work?
Dance therapy is offered as a health promotion service for healthy people and as a complementary method of relieving stress of caregivers and people with cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Dance therapy is based on the belief that the mind and body work together. Physically, dance therapy can provide exercise, improve mobility and muscle coordination and reduce muscle tension. Emotionally, dance therapy is reported to improve self-awareness, self-confidence and interpersonal interaction.
What does it involve?
Dance therapists help people develop a non-verbal language that offers information about what is going on in their bodies. The therapist observes a person's movements to make an assessment and then designs a programme to help with a specific condition. The frequency and level of difficulty of the therapy is usually custom-made to meet the needs of the individual.
Who benefits from dance therapy?
In addition to those with severe emotional disorders, people of all ages and varying conditions receive dance/movement therapy. Examples are individuals with eating disorders, adult survivors of violence, sexually and physically abused children, dysfunctional families, the homeless, autistic children, the frail elderly, and substance abusers.
Effects of dance therapy
Although individual accounts provide most of the support for the value of dance therapy, a few experimental studies evaluated the effects of dance therapy on health. In one recent study, a group of breast cancer survivors took part in a twelve-week dance therapy and movement class. The women who had dance therapy showed better range of motion in their shoulders than those who had not participate in the class. The women's perceptions of their bodies also improved after dance therapy.
Clinical reports suggest that dance therapy helps in developing body image; improving self-esteem; reducing stress and depression; decreasing chronic pain and body tension; and increasing communication skills and feelings of wellbeing.
Possible problems or complications
People with cancer and chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease should consult their doctor before starting any type of therapy that involves manipulation or movement of joints and muscles. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer or other serious illnesses may have health consequences and therefore are not advised.