An Introduction to Dance Movement Therapy


An Introduction to Medical Dance/Movement Therapy by Sharon W. Goodill

            All psychosocial assessment needs to take into consideration the developmental level of the child, the systems in which the child lives, and individual characteristics of the child or adolescent.  For children who have chronic disease, six developmentally ordered categories are attributed to the child’s understanding of their illness.  In the pre-operational stage, the child’s idea of disease is based on catching the disease from somewhere.  In the concrete operational stage, the child defines the difference between what is internal and what is external to the body.  In the formal operations stage, the child will consider multiple possibilities for his or her disease.  An understanding of the disease process can bring a sense of control to the child or adolescent.  The emotional experience of being hospitalized can bring about behavioral and psychophysiological reactions like separation anxiety.  Preschoolers tend to regress under the stress of hospitalization and resort to behaviors that pattern after “protest, despair, and detachment.”  Older children will experience fear of pain and mutilation of their body.  “With illness, pain, disfigurement, surgery or invasive procedures, the developing child’s attention and emotional energies are redirected to the affected body parts and zones, altering the formation of the body image accordingly.”  Dance movement therapy treatment methods impact felt experiences for the child.  Criteria for referral to dance therapy are observed body tension, immobility that is not the result of medical devices or medication, restlessness or lethargy.  Pediatric medical dance/movement therapy aims to decrease anxiety connected to hospitalization and procedures, aids in the adjustment to the changes in the body, provides an active rather than passive experience with one’s own body, provides an environment where related feelings can be expressed safely, and address the total child and not just the disease or dysfunction.  Facilitating movement impulses and play are important in medical dance movement therapy with children.

Dance Movement Therapy – A Healing Art

Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art by Fran J. Levy


Author Fran J. Levy writes a comprehensive chapter on using dance therapy with children in various settings.  She includes research conclusions from several contributing authors such as Suzi Tortora, Jane Wilson Cathcart, Rena Kornblum, Tina Erfer, and Diane Duggan, among others.  Each of these authors did research on a different population of children with special needs.  Tortora discusses her program Ways of Seeing which emphasizes that there are many ways to experience our surroundings and get feedback from others.  There must be a social and emotional relationship between the client and the dance therapist before any real work can begin.  Tortora has a 4-part procedure for her therapeutic process with children in dance therapy.  Cathcart sees “freedom of expression as a basic tool for the healthy development of full selfhood.”  Cathcart utilizes mirroring during sessions to establish trust between herself and clients.  Kornblum discusses children at risk of violence and ways to prevent acting out violently towards the therapist.  She states that there are three major skills to prevent violence; 1) be pro-active, 2) ability to manage anger, and 3) the social skills necessary to get ones needs met.  She has developed curriculum called “Violence Prevention through Movement.” She developed the four Bs, brakes, breathing, brains, and body and uses these as methods for calming clients.  Duggan developed the “4’s” which is a movement structure that engages and organizes adolescents and addresses prominent adolescent issues.  Erfer and Ziv explains how group cohesiveness comes with being present in the moment and reduces anxiety in the client.  They have found that dance therapy is quite useful for the autistic child and Kalish-Weiss researched dance therapy with autistic children and was concerned with what drives the movement behavior in these children.  Dance therapy with sexually abused children is discussed by Erfer, Weltman, and Harvey and the unique challenges this population adds to dance therapy.

Group Work with Adolescents

I am set to take a dance therapy class next week for working with children. I’m excited about this class as I am learning a lot about how children move in their various stages of growth. Do you know a child of three cannot skip? The coordination for this activity is too difficult for a three-year-old but a five-year-old will have no problem, generally. I was tasked with reading a lot of material for this upcoming class and I had to write summaries of each reading I read. So, I decided I would post some of those summaries here on this site as a way to educate the public on various issues related to dance therapy and children or adolescents. Below is one of the papers I wrote for this class on group work with adolescents. Group work generally relates to process groups where individuals sit in a room and discuss their issues with a therapist present to facilitate a group. Process groups just means that an issue relevant to the participants is discussed and the emotions and feelings stirred by the issue are discussed and analyzed by the group participants.

The following is my summary of a chapter in a book titled Group Work with Adolescents by Andrew Malekoff.

Group Work with Adolescents

            Andrew Malekoff’s article is about therapy groups comprised of adolescents and the general way to facilitate a successful group.  Nodding to the mindfulness practices of today, Malekoff makes note of how the general mindfulness practice currently is that of being fully present, non-judgmental, patient, and accepting of clients.  This is the way to connect with and facilitate a successful group of adolescents.  Group work is defined, as Malekoff writes, as “an educational process emphasizing 1) the development and social adjustment of an individual through voluntary group association and 2) the use of this association as a means of furthering other desirable ends.”  Malekoff contends that strength-based methods are the best methods to use with individuals in groups.  He has stated seven principles for this type of group. The first principle is that the group is developed and comprised of individuals with similar felt needs and wants and not just the diagnosis.  The second principle is that the group should take the whole person into consideration and not just the symptoms and problems.  The third principle is that verbal and non-verbal activities should be included in the group.  The fourth principle is to develop alliances with the individuals in each of the participants lives.  Therefore, getting buy-in from group participants is greater if the people in their lives are on board with the group process and goals.  The fifth principle is to decentralize authority and take it from the therapist and disperse to all the members in the group. The sixth principle is to focus on individual change and also social reform.  The seventh principle is to understand and respect group development as the key to promoting change within the group.  Malekoff expands on these principles in this chapter to illustrate the meaning of each principle.  Group work can be challenging.

Malekoff, A. (2014).  Strengths-based group work with adolescents In Group Work with Adolescents Principles and Practice. (pp. 41-67).  New York:Guildford Press.

Intro to Expressive Arts

I attended a weekend class at the Expressive Arts Institute in San Diego. One can be educated and registered with the state of California as an expressive art therapist, as well as a dance therapist. In psychotherapy, we communicate with our therapist by verbal discussion. In expressive arts, we use our senses to communicate with others. For someone seeking to know oneself better, memories and “a ha moments” come to our consciousness through the five forms of expressive art (dance, drama, poetry, visual arts (e.g. photography, painting and drawing, etc.) and preforming arts (e.g. music). We wrote poetry, we danced, we painted, we wrote some more, and we worked with clay. We interacted with each other throughout the day in the various forms of art and shared our vulnerabilities. It was a spiritual experience as well as the experience of using the physical elements of art.

The studio was large with a beautiful wood floor and a giant tarp attached to one wall adjacent to the windows that looked out to the ice skating rink at Liberty Station. Dr. Greer has all sorts of objects in her studio as well as art supplies, drums, pillows, and scarves just to name a few. I had been here a couple of times, one of which was a class geared to dance therapy, called Women+Studio. The intro to expressive arts class was about different forms of art and moving from one art form to another, such as from using cray-pas to create our color block to lying on a huge piece of paper while another student traced the outline of our body, to painting a large picture, to performing a small dance phrase. There were four students so the connections to each other in the class felt safe enough to let down my walls.

It was a mutually satisfying connection with each student and Dr. Greer Essex. We started off all sitting on the floor with a center piece of yellow flowers in a decorative pot sitting on a blanket. Interestingly, a space was made for the prophet, Elijah, as Jewish people routinely do this at Passover. Dr. Greer Essex invited us to share our stories with each other. We began with our story of how we each ended up at this particular class on this particular day and we built connections from there. Dr. Greer Essex facilitated the discussion and shared some of her own story which had similarities to my own in the journey to becoming a dance therapist. But this class was not all about dance therapy. It included all the expressive arts. I learned that there are five expressive arts; Dance, Drama, Poetry, Music/Performing Arts, and Visual Arts, (eg. photography, painting, drawing, etc.). I was pleased to learn that drama was included in the field as I have some experience doing theater. I was awarded the Student Drama Award, as a senior in high school, but did little with drama past high school.

One of the activities we did was to lay on a 6 foot piece of paper and have another student trace the outline of our body. After we did this, we hung the huge pieces of paper on the tarp against the wall. We painted this figure with acrylic paints and using the same color we chose when we made our color block. The color block was just a rectangle piece of card stock and we filled in the card with one color after we had thought of ten things that a particular color had brought up in us. For example, my color was red and I wrote things like my red hair, my red Miata and a red sequins dress that had special meaning to me. We wrote a poem about one of the things on our list and Dr. Greer Essex taught a way to write a poem that was very effective. After we had used this one color on our huge piece of paper, we were instructed to select other colors to complete our individual paintings, keeping in mind all the things we connected to the color of our choice.

Throughout, before, and after each activity, Dr. Greer Essex gave us verbal suggestions and encouraged us to journal our thoughts and share with each other. We each did an improvisational dance that connected the things we wrote about and painted about. There is no emphasis on technique in dance therapy so while my previous training made this part of the day especially exciting, the other students did not identify as dancers. But it was all beautiful and each piece was unique and descriptive of the days’ experience.

One student articulated my own curiosity in what is the “therapy” in dance therapy? We each explored this in our own thoughts and realized that some things had shifted in our minds about our individual life in our journeys. I am usually very hard on myself and very self-critical and judgemental and its something I carry around with me and I desperately want to put it down and never pick it up. I felt some progress in myself in that I walked out a little lighter, having put off some personal baggage and my walls had come down during this class. I walked out liking myself better than I walked in. It is personal to each individual and my fellow students were able to express themselves in their own way and come to their own conclusions. That is the key. There is no psychological interpretation that was done by Dr. Greer Essex. Her role is to facilitate and make suggestions which can be taken or not. Our own opinions of our experience is what matters and to the extent that it released something in me, it will bring participants back to expressing themselves through art and making sense of our journey in this world.

Seeking Employment

I have been going on interviews for a week to obtain a paid internship as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. I have had a total of five interviews and while I have eliminated at least two of the positions that I would like to have I am not closing my mind to opportunities that may come along to stretch and grow me. Specifically, two of those interviews involved visiting the homes of clients to give them therapy. Just the thought of walking into unknown homes of people who are struggling with mental illness sends off danger signals and red flags in my mind. As someone who has struggled with traumatic events, my brain is wired to protect me when I feel I am in danger. The problem with a traumatized mind is that the individual feels danger in situations that aren’t necessarily dangerous but remind the individual of past traumatic events. This is the struggle I have when thinking of going into homes of people I do not know. So, I am leaving the offer of employment up to God and in his perfect will. If God puts me in a position where I do have to visit people’s homes for therapy, then it is something he wants to grow in me. Truthfully, I wish I was not afraid of going into people’s homes and visiting them. I wish I was were strong enough in myself to know I can handle crises and difficult conversations without feeling hot with danger. I wish I were confident and strong on the inside as I appear on the outside. This, I believe, is something God is working out in me through my difficult conversations and situations. One job interview I went to involved the knowledge that the position required 10-20 group therapy sessions a week. That is me, if I get the job, conducting group 10-20 times a week. The prospect of that seems insurmountable in some respects but I feel God telling me strongly, that it is something that I can do and will excel at. I believe I being afraid of things is something God wants to change in me. Of course, fear has its place. It is an emotion that we all feel when we are in danger so it is not like we are not supposed be fearful. But trauma changes that healthy fear into sometimes irrational fear. I know in my heart I am strong and I have proved to myself and other people that I am strong and can do pretty much what I set out to do. So, I will welcome and accept a job offer from that institution where I have to conduct 10-12 group sessions a week because I know it will grow me into a strong successful therapist. Of course, the real possibility is that I may not be offered any of the positions I applied and interviewed for. That, too, I will accept as God’s will and continue to search for my place in this new career.

I am taking another class this weekend in expressive arts. It’s not a course that will give me credit towards my board certification in dance therapy but it is a course that I hope will give me knowledge and experience in conducting dance therapy sessions. My perspective is I need to keep moving forward toward my dream by putting one foot in front of the other and gaining all the knowledge and experience I can to help me further my career dreams.

Expressive Arts

So, I went to my first dance therapy group session at the Expressive Arts Institute in San Diego, last night. It was wonderful! I danced freely to the therapist’s suggestions which I was free to choose or not. We started the session all sitting on the floor in a circle and the therapist had placed a centerpiece in the middle of us. We did a check-in, which in the mental health field, simply means speaking about what is currently going in his/her life. Participants are free to speak in this “judgement-free” zone. The whole session is a judgement-free experience and we are not critiquing each nor does the therapist critique us. There were several pieces of music played, all instrumental, and as the music began the therapist would suggest things like move within the idea of “give and take”, whatever that means to each individual. This involved interacting with each other as we danced or moved about the room, not verbally, but “movementally” (It’s a word. I just made it up ). I also used a scarf and played with it as I danced and that was a new experience for me and gave me lots of ideas for routines. At the end of the session, we all came back together as a circle with the centerpiece in the middle again. We then were given paper and coloring pens and were instructed to draw anything that came to mind. Since, I don’t have a skill in drawing, I simply moved my pen in circles to the the rhythm of the music playing, changing colors periodically. We were then invited to share any experiences or epiphanies that may have come to us during the session. I came away with just a feeling of joy of being able to move freely in a dance studio where, I have discovered, is a place of safety for me. Since I grew up taking dance lessons and performing it was only natural that I felt safe. But I have to share that throughout my life, as I have taken various dance classes, every time I walk into a dance studio, my heart sings and my body wants to chaîné-turn all over the floor. That’s just a succession of turns across the floor with legs straight.

So, after coming to this realization that my body is telling me something important when I’m on a dance floor, I have pressed into this dance therapy journey with all exuberance. I am leaning into what God is calling me towards. It’s actually very freeing and peaceful to completely put my trust in God and moved toward the things that make sense to me. Praise the Lord that he is moving toward dancing again!

Move Continuously

I’m including some links to articles regarding Dance/Movement Therapy. Some of these I may have posted on the GodStrongDance Facebook page. I created this page a couple of years ago and then got involved in graduate school and had to cut back. I’ll be updating this page as time goes on as well. Click here to go to Facebook.

From what I’ve learned about dance therapy is just the need to keep moving on a daily basis. I’m not talking about constantly moving but not at least stretching out your muscles and limbs. Especially, if you have arthritis, movement is essential to maintain good health. Of course, I understand, having arthritis myself, that some days you just can’t. I get it. My body hurts. It’s exhausting dealing with daily chronic pain. But if I let this continue day by day, my body begins to react do my inactivity. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, as well. I become depressed and sullen and just do not want to move. But a nice warm shower, or stretching into the star pose, warms my body so moving is easier. Also, I find that walking at least 2 blocks a day will keep my blues away. If I absolutely just cannot get out of the house, I will at least stretch my lower back, my legs, my arms, and I try to move all the joints in my body. I’m kind of like the tin man in that if I don’t move I’ll get rusty.

Daily Movement Therapy

Ever since I came back from that 6-day intensive study in dance therapy, in August, I have been more cognizant of how much I move in a day.  I have spent the last 9 years mostly sitting and reading or writing papers.  So, now that I have graduated and am free to do pretty much what I please, I can concentrate on doing what I love most.  And that is dancing, moving, and keeping my body active.

I have found just the act of stretching out in a star-shape, with both of my arms and legs reaching toward the points of a star, ignites a fire within me that spurs me to move.  I learned this shape or movement from the class and I have found that on days which I do this I have a I tend to keep moving for most of the day.  I love to read and write so trying to keep physically active is a challenge for me, especially since I had shoulder surgery recently.

I went to the pool the other day and loved swimming under water and paddling back and forth with my kickboard.  However, I’m paying for it today.  It seems like that when the doctor told me it would take 6 months or longer for my shoulder to be back to normal, he really meant it.  I mopped the floor of the common area in my home and today it is causing me a lot of pain.  So, my movement is still restricted following my rotator cuff injury to my shoulder.  This hinders my movement in dance but also when it causes me pain I tend to hunker down and veg for a time until I can move without pain.  But this is contrary to what I believed to be true in the past.  I used to exercise daily without regard to how my body felt that day.  Maybe I have finally gotten to the place where I respect my body and the messages it gives me and am not as harsh on myself. 

This place that I’m in emotionally and spiritually now is very different from the past 60 years of my life.  I have quieted the voices of condemnation and criticism, and have surrendered my heart totally to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This was a long, hard, fought for, war.  I had grown up believing that I was not very smart and had little chance of succeeding at the things I enjoyed.  Through many years of education and therapy, I have come to terms with who I am and have learned to honor myself more than I have ever honored myself before.  I now place a large value on myself and quiet my thoughts of being unworthy.

One thing that God has blessed me with is being able to feel music in my body.  I guess this is why I love to dance so much.  I am fascinated by the way my body almost moves spontaneously when my sense of rhythm picks up a pattern in music.  It is something that is inborn in me and while I have mostly used it for my own pleasure, I now see it as a way for me to worship God with my dancing like most people do with their voices and singing.  The Lord did not bless me with a good singing voice but he did give me the gift of dance.

So, now that I am older and in a phase of my life where I am physically limited, God has opened the door for me to realize my dream of becoming a dance therapist.  Since I have such a personal relationship with our Creator, I desire to have God instruct me and lead me to developing my own style of dance therapy.  As yoga has now a “Christian” version, where references to yogis are replaced with the Holy Spirit, God is developing within me a method where focus is on God and individual spiritual connections with each other.

Through heartache and hardship, I have finally arrived at the point I have been dreaming of for the past 8 years. 

Welcome to the next phase of my journey.

What is Dance Therapy?

I get this question whenever I tell someone that I am interested in dance therapy. Dance therapy is movement therapy and was developed by a dancer for dancers. It was intended to help dancers perfect their moves but research has proven that dance therapy is not just for dancers. Dance Therapy is for anyone.

The picture featured above is from a Laban Movement Analysis class I took in Berkeley, California, the summer of 2019. I have blurred out the faces of everyone except for myself to protect the identities of the other participants, should they object to having their faces on my blog site.

Who I Am

I am Patty Loy and I was born to dance! My parents danced together in the swinging social scene of the1950s. They won several dance contests. I started dance lessons at age 5 when my mother thought it would be a good idea to get me and my older brother into dance lessons since we both displayed a love of dancing. She was right!

We were an entertaining duo for our hometown, as we danced in nursing homes, recitals and the Indiana Dance Convention for years. We danced as a team until I was about 13 years old and then my brother decided he did not want to take dance lessons anymore so I had to quit as well. My love of dance never left me and I sporadically took lessons until I entered college in 1977. The college I went to would not let me declare a major as a freshman but they allowed me to take all the dance classes I wanted, as well as, the general pre-requisites for a Bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t until I was completing my first semester as a sophomore that I found out about dance therapy. I was always interested psychology and had taken a couple of psychology courses over the years. But as I was setting up my schedule for the coming Fall semester, the person I was speaking to suggested that I major in psychology and minor in dance, since I had shared with her that I knew I was never going to make it as a professional dancer. It was then that she told me about dance therapy.

As fate would have it, and obviously to me, God had a different plan for me. It was God’s plan all along for me to become a dance therapist but I had to expand my family. During my summer break I became pregnant with my daughter and I did not return to dance therapy until late 2009. I am now a very blessed mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother to my daughter, her husband, and three beautiful children. My heart is full and I raised a wonderful daughter who continues to bless me with her love and success.

After getting laid off for the first time in the 30+ years I worked for a living, I rediscovered the field of dance therapy. I had been working as a computer programmer for over 15 years until I sustained repetitive stress injuries to both my wrists and elbows that forced me to leave that field of work. This forced me to reevaluate my future in the work force. When I remembered my dream of being a dance therapist, after I was laid off and could not find a job, I Googled “dance therapy” and The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) web site popped up, and I knew my journey to become a dance therapist was beginning. I needed a masters in psychology but I hadn’t yet completed my bachelor’s degree.

I graduated from San Diego State University, in 2014, with my bachelor’s in psychology and completed my masters degree in psychology in July 2019, from Azusa Pacific University. As of September 2019, I am awaiting my Associates number so that I can begin practicing therapy as an intern. I need 3000 hours of supervised therapy to complete the requirements for a licensed marriage and family therapist. I intend on working on my board certification as a dance/movement therapist simultaneously. I have to have 700 hours of supervised therapy to accomplish that, as well as, a few dance therapist-geared courses. Those hours are included in the total 3000 hours for state licensure. It’s a lot, I know, but this is my dream and God has been blessing me since I started on my journey to become a dance therapist. He knew I would need the support of my family. He knew I needed to learn some hard life lessons and be humbled by what he has already given me. He also knew that although the idea of moving to San Diego first germinated in my mind in1980, I would not be ready for such a journey until nine years later.

On the east coast, dance therapy is more well known and practiced. There are universities that offer masters degree programs in dance/movement therapy but there are none in California. I can get a masters in Expressive Arts at the University of California in Marymount but not a masters in dance therapy only. So, the ADTA has come up with an “Alternate Route” for therapists who live on the west coast or in a location where there are no degree programs for dance therapy. The Alternate Route specifies that one can get a masters degree in psychology and then get board certified as a dance/movement therapist by taking the additional dance therapy-focused courses. So, while I was closer to the action back in Pittsburgh, where I attended in 1979-1980, I am glad that I am now in San Diego. If I had started this journey back then, I probably would have never made it to the west coast. And that would have been tragic to my descendants.

As the Lord would have it, I am now focused on my journey into dance therapy and I have a lifetime of success and love to keep me going through the trials.