What is dance movement therapy?
Dance movement therapy is the relational and therapeutic use of dance and movement to further the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and cultural* functioning of a person.
Dance movement therapy is based on the empirically-supported unity of body and mind. It recognizes that change and growth in one supports change and growth in the other.
Dance movement therapists combine the elements of dance, movement systems, creative processes, and psychological and scientific theories, to address the specific needs of groups and individuals.
Dance movement therapists work in clinical, institutional, community and private settings, using clear therapeutic contracts, agreements and goals, often within a defined time frame. Verbally and non-verbally, they attune to client/s’ needs and provide the therapeutic relationship requisite for growth and change.
In Australasia, the DTAA recognizes only Associate, Provisional Professional and Professional level members as ethically credentialed to deliver dance movement therapy, call their work ‘Dance Movement Therapy’, and call themselves a Dance Movement Therapist.
Other therapeutic practices of dance and movement, including those provided by members of the DTAA who have not reached Associate, Professional or Provisional Professional Membership status, are not recognized as dance movement therapy by the DTAA.
*Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society (UNESCO, 1982).
(Revised December 2017)
Dance has been fundamental to human life and culture since the time of our earliest ancestors; a form of self-expression, communication and celebration of life and community. Indigenous peoples of Australasia have practiced dance as a healing art since their earliest histories. In the early-mid 20th century, the formal recognition of dance as a healing modality began. This recognition came with the development of more expressive and improvisational forms of dance popular at that time, as well as the acceptance of the integral relationship between mind and body. Dance movement therapy emerged as a profession in the US in the 1960s. It began in Australia in the 1970s, largely due to the leadership of European-born dancer and educator Hanny Exiner, and is now an established profession.
Dance movement therapists are drawn from backgrounds in dance, education or the health sciences including, for example, teaching, physiotherapy and psychology. Practitioners are required to undergo extensive dance movement therapy training together with supervised clinical practice. They may be employed specifically as dance movement therapists, or integrate dance movement therapy within the broader context of their work.
Dance movement therapists
- appreciate the therapeutic value of aesthetic and artistic experience of dance
- understand the interrelationship of the physical, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of human behaviour
- use their skills in movement observation and analysis to assess individuals, develop and evaluate therapeutic programs
- recognise body movement as the basis of human interaction and communication
- are trained in counselling skills and group facilitation
- design and implement programs for diverse client groups.
The dance movement therapy profession in Australasia consists of an ever-growing number of practitioners working in clinical, educational and community settings with individuals or groups of all ages including:
- special schools
- rehabilitation centres
- aged care facilities
- psychiatric clinics
- community health centres
- private practice
Research and writing about dance movement therapy
Perspectives on the Profession of Dance/Movement Therapy: Past, Present, and Future
Article by Robyn Cruz, Ph.D., ADTR, former President of the American Dance Therapy Association
Moving Towards Wholeness, Joan Chodorow’s keynote presentation at the 2000 DTAA conference
List of dance movement therapy references
The American Dance Therapy Association has a comprehensive list of dance movement therapy references. www.adta.org
Information about Dance Movement Therapy in Australasia
Mental Health General
Mental Health Agency
Older Adults General
Older Adults Agency
Anxiety and Depression General
Anxiety and Depression Agency
The development of dance therapy practice in Victoria: the status quo and the future,
Presentation by AADE Andrew Morrish at AADE Conference, Adelaide, 1989, available by kind permission of the author.
Making our mark: an introduction to dance therapy in Australia,
by DMT Dr Heather Hill, first published in 2007 on ArtsHub.com.au and presented here by kind permission of ArtsHub.
Dance movement therapy in Australia,
one page flyer describing DMT in Australia, DTAA 2008
Dance movement therapy in diverse societies: the Australian experience
Kim Dunphy, Vice President, DTAA, International panel presentation, American Dance Therapy Association Conference, 2008
Dance movement therapy as a specialized form of counselling and psychotherapy in Australia: the emergence of theory and practice. In C. Noble & E. Day. (Eds.) Psychotherapy and Counselling: Reflections on Practice. (pp. 173-189). London: Oxford University Press.
Dunphy, K., Mullane, S. & Guthrie, J. (2015).
Other information about dance movement therapy in Australasia is available in our:
- Dance Therapy Collections series 1, 2, 3 and 4
- Bi-annual journal Moving On, which is available by subscription and for sale of individual articles
Dance movement therapy in the news
Dance movement therapy and trauma, interview with Juliette Kirkwood, ABC radio, 17 May 2019.
Dance movement therapy in Vietnam, interview with Kim Dunphy, Net Viet, Hanoi, September 2018
Dancing to grow learn and connect: the benefits of dance movement therapy and creative dance, Samantha Smrekar Thompson and Tessa Hens, Source Kids magazine, Summer 2017, pg. 49-50.
How to become a dance therapist, article by Grace Edwards about DTAA member Bouthaina Mayall, Dance Informa, 2013.
Report on dance therapy program for children with autism led by Heather Hill, Bayswater Buzz newsletter