Category Archives: Marian Chace: Dance Therapy Pioneer – Biography, Theory & Methodology

Marian Chace: Dance Therapy Pioneer – Biography, Theory and Methodology

Rakhi Shingala


Marian Chace (1896-1970) dancer and dance movement therapist, was born in Rhode Island. Early in her life, Chace began to take dance lessons and “she was drawn to this form of art and focused all her attention on dance” ( In her 20s, she attended Denishawn School of Dance in New York City and worked as a professional dancer and performer. Soon after her marriage, Chace started her own Denishawn School in Washington, DC. Although her focus was on dance as a performing art, her interest and teaching style shifted over time. She realized that, although, not all of her students were interested in performance, they continued to attend class (Levy, 1988, p.19).

In 1940, Chace began experimenting with dance therapy. During this period, Chace continued to work in a dual role, as both a therapist and a performer. In 1942, she volunteered at the St. Elizabeth Hospital in a program called “Dance for Communication”, and became the first government paid dance therapist (Chaiklin, 1975, p.12; Levy, 1988, p.19; Straus, 2010, p.1). In the mid-‘40s, Chace started spreading her work outside of the hospital, by conducting workshops, giving lectures, and writing articles. She accepted and trained interns at the hospital. She started her first training program for dance therapists at the Turtle Bay Music School in New York, in the early 1960s. In 1966, she supported the development of the American Dance Therapy Association and became its first president (Levy, 1988).


According to Chace, “dance is a communication and this fulfilled a basic human need” (Chaiklin & Schmais, 1979, p. 16; Levy, 1988, p. 21). In addition to respecting and believing in healthy aspects of the individual, she had the intuition and skill to connect with patients through verbal and non-verbal communication, such as observing and responding to the patients’ small and distinctive movements and gestures. Through her profound ability to use dance movement for self-expression and her capacity for perception and interaction, she enabled patients to come out of their psychotic isolation (Levy, 1988).

Chace’s work was organized into four major classifications: body action, symbolism, therapeutic movement relationship, and rhythmic group activity (S. Chaiklin & Schmais, 1979).

Body action: Body action is about recognizing body parts, breathing patterns, and tension that blocks emotional expression. The therapist then provides therapeutic movement intervention as a way to release feelings, thoughts and ideas that might be held in the body as muscular rigidity. According to Chace, “change occurs when the patient is ready, and allows himself to experience action in his body” (Levy, 1988, p. 22).

Symbolism: In this process, one uses imaginary, fantasy, enactment with visualization, verbalization, and body action. According to Chace, patients can work on a problem through symbolic expression, without having to analyze and interpret it. The symbolic stage emphasizes communication and the release of unconscious emotions, after which a sense of trust and acceptance is established.

Therapeutic movement relationship: Therapists involve themselves in a movement relationship with patients as a way of reflecting and accepting the expressed emotion. Mirroring or reflecting is Chace’s revolutionary contribution to dance therapy. It is a simple and effective technique. By mirroring patients’ movement Chace communicates, “I understand you, I hear you, and it’s okay,” thus validating patients’ experiences. (Levy, 1988, p. 22)

Rhythmic group activity: Levy stated, “Rhythmic action was used by Chace to support expression of thoughts and feelings in an organized and controlled manner” (Levy, 1988, p. 22). According to Chace, the contagious nature of rhythm can mobilize the most withdrawn patient, providing a safe and simple way to engage and organize otherwise chaotic and confusing emotions. Through repetition and mastery, rhythmic action provides a sense of security and structure, as patients experience group support.


“Empathy through movement” was Chace’s expertise (Straus, 2010, p. 3).

Chace created a unique structure of group therapy that incorporates dance movement as its prime mode of communication and expression (Levy, 1988, p. 23). This methodology includes three stages: warm-up, theme development, and closure.

Warm-up: The purpose of this stage was to connect and communicate during initial contact. Chace incorporated different techniques such as mirroring or empathetic reflection, which are ways of kinesthetically and visually experiencing patients’ emotions by mirroring their movement. The technique of clarifying and expanding the movement, evolves the movement/gesture initially presented by the patient. By doing so, Chace helped patients identify and commit to their expression. In tandem with the technique of movement elicitation or dialogue movement, Chace gradually interacted with her patients verbally and non-verbally to generate responses from them. She used imagination and role-play to draw patients’ attention and elicit responses from them.

During the group development portion of the warm-up, Chace assessed the group’s willingness to form a circle, identifying if patients were ready to be part of the group while maintaining their individuality. “The emphasis at this stage is on building group rapport, building trust and openness” (levy, 1988, p.25). As a part of rhythmic expression/physical warm-up, Chace initiated certain simple rhythmic movements with the intention of developing trust and encouraging patients to engage in total body activity with simple rhythmic movements like swinging, pushing, and shaking.

Theme development: In this phase, Chace observed, picked up, processed and reflected back on thoughts, feelings and ideas, both verbally and non-verbally. With increased focus and clarity on patients’ nonverbal expression, she used movement, verbalization, imagination, and theme-oriented actions for deeper exploration of feelings and thoughts. Through continued verbalization, Chace clarified the group’s direction and intention. (Levy, 1988)

Closure: Chace emphasized supportive closure that leaves patients with a sense of release and satisfaction. In closure, Chace acknowledged each member and concluded by using repetitive common movements, that provided the group with a sense of connection, support, and wellness. (Levy, 1988)


  • Dance/Movement Therapy: A Healing Art, by Fran J. Levy, AAHPERD Publications, 1988.
  • Straus, R. (2010) Marian Chace. Dance Teacher Magazine. Retrieved from
  • Chaiklin, S. Marian Chace: Dancer & Pioneer Dance Therapy. ADTA – Marian Chace Biography. Retrieved from