The Advantages of Dance Therapy and the Language of Dance

21 February, 2021
Dance therapy has become part of psychotherapy's group of creative arts. It takes advantage of our body's disposition for movement, thus enabling a way to express emotions and sensations that aren't possible through other methods, and helps us to understand them.

Life revolves around movement, from the life cycle of nature to the tides of the sea. Moving connects our relationship with life. When we move, we create a bridge between what happens inside us and what we show to the world, shaping a dance that reveals more about ourselves than we would’ve ever thought. Discover the neuroscience behind dance therapy in this article.

Dance rituals have formed the core of community life for thousands of people since ancient times. Dance has marked major life experiences, life cycles, rites of passage, and even acts of war.

During the 20th century, the concepts of movement and dance have developed as a specialty in the field of psychology. In addition, neuroscience is providing a lot of data on the relationship between the brain and dance. When a person dances, several psychological entities emerge: their life script, the way they connect with the world, and even their main problem areas.

A woman dancing.

Dance is a means to reconnect mind and body

Expressing yourself through dance is beneficial for both mind and body. The human body produces endorphins when we dance, which, besides making us feel good, help concentration, and improve sleep quality. They provide energy to face mental and emotional challenges.

The therapeutic elements based on dance are part of transpersonal psychotherapy. This is a psychology discipline that emerged from humanistic areas of psychology that focused on the connection of body, mind, and emotions.

Despite not being recognized by many as a valid current of what we might call scientific psychology, it’s widely used within the framework of complementary therapy to enhance its effects.

Some schools of thought would add that dance brings the content of the unconscious to the surface – forces that motivate many of our impulses. In addition, the content of the unconscious is also poured into our internal dialogue, whether for good or bad.

The neuroscience of dance

The latest studies in neuroscience in relation to dance are helping us to understand why we dance and how dance can influence our nervous system.

Thus, one of the main conclusions of the research conducted by Dr. Hanna Poikonen at the University of Helsinki on the synchronization of dancers, is that expert dancers have a very significant synchronization of theta waves. These brain waves are, in turn, linked to the synchronization of deep brain areas.

From other previous studies, we know that transcranial magnetic stimulation of the cerebellar vermis (which connects the left and right hemispheres of the cerebellum) also increases theta wave synchronization.

What’s “dance therapy”?

Dance therapy (also called movement therapy) is the psychotherapeutic use of dance and movement to support the body’s intellectual, emotional, and motor functions. It’s a form of expressive therapy that works on the association between movement and emotion.

In this way, the therapist uses dance to help the patient achieve cognitive, emotional, physical, and even social integration. The proven benefits are many. Stress reduction, better mood management, and improved self-esteem are some of them.

Dance therapy is different from regular dance

Dance performed in therapy is much more than just an exercise. The movements and fluidity are interpreted as a language. Movements communicate feelings and the therapist evaluates body language, emotional expressions, and overall nonverbal behaviors.

Some of the interventions in dance therapy include pairing the dance with someone else and echoing another person’s movements as a mirror. Movement metaphors are also used to express a challenge or accomplishment.

During the dance therapy process, one can develop important skills. These can include confidence in the ability to be empathically present, and the ability to provide authentic, sincere responses.

A dance therapy class.

Speaking through the body

Feelings and life experiences live inside the body and may have become trapped inside it. The body may hold the keys to unblocking emotional knots at the very deepest levels.

We can understand all of this as a process that speaks through the body, which is very different from speaking only through the head.

It isn’t necessary to be a professional dancer in order to benefit from this type of therapy. In fact, this therapy hasn’t been designed with professionals in mind. In short, dance has been shown to be a way of expressing emotions and sensations that can’t be expressed via other methods or in any other setting.

  • Ellen Searle LeBel (2017) Soul and spirit in dance movement psychotherapy. A transpersonal approach, Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 12:3, 223-227, DOI: 10.1080/17432979.2016.1190790.
  • Balme, Christopher B. (1999) Dance and Body Language. Decolonizing the StageTheatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama. Chapter 6. Published to Oxford Scholarship Online. ISBN-13: 9780198184447.
  • Bergland, Christopher (2018) The Powerful Psychological Benefits of Dance: Dancing engages and changes the brain in unique ways. Psychology Today. Recuperado de https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-athletes-way/201805/the-powerful-psychological-benefits-dance.
  • Gleissner, Greta (2017) What Is Dance Movement Therapy? Expressing yourself through movement can help connect the mind and body. Psychology Today. Recuperado de https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/hope-eating-disorder-recovery/201704/what-is-dance-movement-therapy.