What is dance movement therapy?


Dance movement therapy is the therapeutic use of movement and dance to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual. It is based on the empirically supported premise that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected. Dance movement therapy combines the creative process and the study of human movement into a holistic approach that draws upon the elements inherent in dance. Programs are designed to meet specific goals and bring about therapeutic change.

Dance movement therapy differs from other forms of movement and dance that may be healing or therapeutic, as dance movement therapy can only be offered by a professional who is recognised by their professional association (in Australasia,  the DTAA) as having reached the appropriate level of training and skill, and that both the therapists and their client/s have agreed that the process they are undergoing together is dance movement therapy. Specific goals for the therapeutic journey should be agreed between these two parties, and a finite period is usually stipulated.

Other practices of movement and dance may be healing or therapeutic, including those offered by members of the DTAA who have not yet reached Professional or Professional (Provisional) status, but they are not recognised by the Association as dance movement therapy.


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. However, by the turn of the 20th century, the potential for dance to promote healthy growth and change was also recognised. 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. By the 1970s it had reached Australia  and is now an established profession.

Australasian practitioners

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
  • hospitals
  • aged care facilities
  • prisons
  • psychiatric clinics
  • community health centres
  • private practice

Research and writing about dance movement therapy

Arts and wellness, American Dance Therapy Association presentation at the Kennedy Center, USA, April, 2017.

Perspectives on the Profession of Dance/Movement Therapy: Past, Present, and Future

Article by Robyn Cruz, Ph.D., ADTR, President of the American Dance Therapy Association
(from www.the-bright-side.org/site/thebrightside)

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

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 movement therapy in the news

Bayswater Buzz newsletter (page 9) reports on dance therapy program for children with autism led by Heather Hill
More information