Dance Movement Psychotherapy for children and individuals facing communication difficulties

Rashi Bijlani

In this article I would like to bring out the benefits of Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) for children and individuals facing communication difficulties. But why the art therapies at all, one may ask. To this Butte & Unkovich (2012) have realized that individuals of all abilities can engage in art therapies. Furthermore, they describe how these therapeutic interventions provide a space for self-expression, be it verbal or non-verbal. During the course of therapy we unravel the damages the hidden emotions can have on an individual, especially the ones that are finding it difficult to communicate in our conventional and so called ‘normal’ patterns. As Goldbart and Carlton (2010) point out, distressing difficult emotions and events may cause more problems in the future if they are not expressed, which is often the case with people who are not able to verbally express their feelings.

Imagine when you enter a new class or a new work environment. You don’t know anyone. People look at you differently and think of you to be the “special one”. Nobody comes to interact with you, because it appears you want to be left alone. Wouldn’t your world become so lonely? And wherever you go, you are kept away from people because your elders are too shy to introduce you. Being in your own world is the only choice you are left with, at that point of time.

Thurman (2011) presents a very valid reminder in pointing out the importance of human rights for people with profound learning disabilities. Her musings were an eye opener as something like communication, that we took for granted, was being deliberated as a subject of human rights, for people with learning difficulties. It again had me wondering, Have we really become this tough as a society, where people with learning difficulties need a law to be implemented for them to be able to communicate?

Many neuroscientists think that children diagnosed with autism are not responsive or may not care about others’ needs. On the contrary, in my experience they have empathetic responses and sometimes may even be more loving than many others, who do not have any psychological difficulties. But often, they find it difficult to put it in actions that may be acceptable to others, or also they may find it difficult to track other people’s emotions and feelings. It then made me curious about the reason the young ones usually do not communicate with us. In my journey as a dance movement psychotherapist, I came across children, adolescents and adults facing difficulty in communicating. As Dance Movement Psychotherapists, we are in a position to be their voice, and attempt that their needs, desires, interests, joys, protests are heard. If children with learning disabilities are already finding it difficult to fathom relationships, then we as dance movement psychotherapists provide them with that space where they begin to find this relationship extremely valuable. Through DMP, we want to increase the positive associations children have in their relationships. This is a relationship that they can look forward to, and that can henceforth become a base for their future rapports.

As a dance movement psychotherapist I have always strived to make this relationship a journey that would be their foundation to future relationships. However, it was only when I entered their world, that I realized why they would never want to come out and speak to us. The reason that I sighted was that no one wants to listen to them. Sinason (2010) brings out a paradigm where she talks about the handicap in us, the so-called “normal-neurotics”(1991), of not being able to communicate with people with learning difficulties in their words, helping us see the reality of where the true handicap is.

Carlin (2011) similarly points that some people with multiple learning disabilities are still communicating with the early based communication system, which people with the spoken word find difficult to understand.

Case vignette –Kriti (Girl, Age 6 – Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder)

“Dumb, stupid, senseless. What will she understand? She doesn’t have the brains for that.” I wonder whether her parents actually believed in these words for their child, or was it something that they had come to suppose, or was it others’ perception that was arresting them to think in such a manner.

I always encouraged parents and adults around the child, to focus on building up a positive self-image of the child. Although if constantly the child was made to feel inferior about herself or made to believe that her opinions did not matter and her thoughts were worthless, why would she want to speak to us? If I were Kriti, I would also keep my thoughts locked inside me. The motivation to speak and break the barrier of this communication, which was anyway so difficult for them, was not being helped by us in anyway.

Case vignette – Pavan (Boy, Age 3 – Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder)

At the same time last year in 2014, I started working with a 3-year-old boy who was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was going for speech therapy and came to join the school as well as our set-up, for therapeutic support. DMP was suggested, and the same approach was taken on by the therapist, to encourage positive self–image by the parents for the child. In supervision, I discovered the value of being beside the child and that was enough sometimes. Every positive sequel deserved a celebration. Pavan’s mother was also a part of his first session and she said, “He has never connected like this before.” This relationship building plus connecting with the child was explained to the parents, which was well accepted and appreciated as a child centered approach. The parents would constantly support the child and celebrate everything positive the child did, which was helpful for his development and eventually helped in his speech as well.

Case vignette – Nanu (Girl, Age 21 – Diagnosed with severe Mental Retardation)

Nanu was described to have profound learning difficulties. When Nanu came to the center she had very poor eye contact, and would not be responsive to anything we said. I started working with her, having faith that through DMP we will be able to connect with her, however, I could not foretell the progress DMP would have with her. I had to reassure myself in the practice and started to instill a positive self-image for her. I kept her aware of her body, her fast head movements, her drooling, her rocking, her hands shaking. I started to put on a variety of music to see what she liked; and of course Bollywood was bound to click. Nanu has shown improvement beyond my anticipations. Nanu still continues DMP as well as developmental therapy at the center. She has started to produce some words by which she tries to communicate, gives excellent eye contact and shares emotions, when she wants to display them. She has started to be productive around the house also, sometimes by serving water to guests who come home.


In the cases discussed above, I trust that when children feel cherished, it gives them the opportunity to display/express their skills, as they can see their positive image in the eyes of their elders. This is the positive self-image that DMP tries to create in the child, which helps the child value relationships altogether. I hope this article has been helpful for the readers in seeing the effects of DMP on children and individuals with profound learning difficulties, as well as the importance of encouraging them to have a positive self-image.


  • Butté. C., Unkovich, G., & Whelan, D., P. Lacey (ed.) (2012). Turning, listening, moving closer, as you speak, when you dance: Arts Therapies for adults with profound and complex needs. London. Life is for Living. PMLD Link. Journal Spring. (Vol. 23, issue 68, p.22-25).
  • Carlin, E., Billingsley, J., H. Daly, Fergusson. A (ed.) (2011). TALK TO ME – Intensive Interaction: My Only Language. Speaking Up – Being Heard. PMLD Link. Journal Spring. (Vol. 24, issue 71, p.2-4).
  • Goldbart, J. & Carlton, S. (2010) Communication and people with the most complex needs: What works and why this is essential. Research Institute for Health and Social change/Mencap. Retrieved from
  • Lacy, P., H. Daly, Fergusson. A (ed.) (2011). Listening to Challenging Behaviour. Speaking Up – Being Heard. PMLDLink. Journal Spring. (Vol. 23, issue 68, p.7-9).
  • Liedloff, J. (1991). Normal Neurotics like us. The Liedloff society for the continuum concept. Retrieved from
  • Sinason, V. (2010). Mental Handicap and the Human Condition. London: Free Association Books.
  • Thurman, S., H. Daly, Fergusson. A (ed)(2011) .Is Communication a Human Right for People with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities?. Speaking Up – Being Heard.PMLDLink. Journal Spring. (Vol.23, issue 68, p.10-14).

A case study of the movements of a child diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy within the context of Dance Movement Psychotherapy at a school for special needs

Devika Mehta

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a consequence of a static lesion and leads to physical impairments chiefly, along with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Motor development is delayed and due to the spasticity, movements are bound and the range of motion is restricted. It affects the person’s capability to move, and to maintain posture and balance. Children with CP have co-morbid medical problems like mental retardation, epilepsy and learning disabilities. Since DMP is mainly non-verbal and most of these children are in the pre-verbal stage, they are still capable of moving and being affected by movement (Duggan 1980).

My therapeutic work involved working with a male child; Jo (pseudonym), aged 14, diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. He was referred by his class teacher and after pre-assessment, the primary therapeutic goals were to provide space to realize his potential, enhance self esteem, promote positive self-image, explore movements, and to increase the capacity to think and move creatively. The rationale behind trying to achieve these goals through Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) is, that the DMP experiences that develop body schema and body image, affect socialization skills and provide for a better understanding of self (Leventhal 1974).  I believe that it is through movement that I could meet him at an equally familiar level, explore movement and encourage him to engage.

There were a total of 5 out of the contracted 6 sessions. These sessions were held within the ‘naturalistic setting’ of a school for children with special needs. Apart from what occurred in the sessions in terms of themes, movement interventions and movement observations, Laban’s (1960) system of Movement Analysis (LMA) and Kestenberg Movement Profile (KMP) (1999) were utilized for observing, analyzing and embodying his movement preferences. My own responses as an artist were recorded in written work, artwork and movement after the completion of the sessions. After each session, I video recorded myself embodying the movements of the child in the session. I used my personal diary to record my moods, emotions and reflections. I recorded my responses and my embodiment, following every session prior to noting clinical notes. This made certain that I embodied my response before I got an opportunity to interpret as opposed to cognisizing the process before embodying it.

The therapeutic work was based on the work of Leventhal (1974) and Duggan (1980). I also integrated the work of Blanche Evans (Levy 2005), using creative movements and improvisational work to aid in movement exploration since the number of sessions was limited.

Using improvisation in practice, I had control of the stimulation presented. It is free movement to a specific stimulus; where the stimulus offered is based on proficient evaluation of the therapeutic goals and my client’s needs. Improvisation aided him to disengage from stereotyped responses and meanings, and we could delve together to explore those movements further.

In the second session, trust and safety were still in the process of being established. Jo exerted more control over his body and what he expected me to do within the sessions. From what I gathered in the initial assessments, he was used to another person perform actions that he assumed he wouldn’t be able to perform. His movements were ‘spoke-like’, ‘direct’ and ‘strong’. According to Erikson (1995), once the safety is established, the child moves onto the stage of autonomy versus doubt. In this stage, he is conflicted between experimenting with limits and his sense of control. For children who are still in the per-verbal stages of development, like those with multiple disabilities, exploration and combination of different movements can play a crucial role in being able to access the underdeveloped or unintegrated parts of the self ( Leventhal 1974; Winnicott 2005; Fischman 2009). This led me to resist him and encourage him to perform the action himself, which gave me the sense of a ‘push and pull’ between us.

As the familiarity with the space increased, Jo felt more comfortable to engage in movements which would not be allowed outside this space like that of spinning in his wheelchair and traversing across space backwards. I could feel the straining rhythm in my body when I was exploring this theme in movement. I controlled my urge to encourage creative exploration of movements and let him express himself to understand his movements and underlying process of each movement. Taking such risks could give an individual a chance at exploring inner impulses and expressing them.  I did not encourage this behavior further, but it seemed important to let the client explore the impulse for himself. This behavior was displayed sparsely in two sessions and in ways that would not be described as self-harming.

In the 4th session, Jo put a lot of effort in the preparatory movement of his intended action, but the release was not powerful enough for the action to be executed like he wanted. He was neither able to make shapes with ribbons nor throw the ball as far and high as he wished to. This seemed to disappoint him. He used my hand to try and do what he imagined, with more ‘strong weight’ and attention to ‘direct’ space. He displayed the ‘Straining and Releasing’ KMP rhythm and some level of ‘twisting rhythm’ as well. This indicates that he was still in the anal phase (KMP 1999), and that control over his movements was not mastered completely. Moving ahead therapeutically and working creatively, he learned to control the movements we were exploring in the sessions and this led him to believe that he can exercise control in certain aspects of his world, helping him slowly transition into the next stage of initiative versus guilt. Moustakas (1973) is of the opinion that when a child and a therapist immerse themselves in a movement form, this involves a risk, a moving forward of the self, which eventually leads to individuality. This individuality emerges from a deeper sense of self.

The therapeutic goals were based in working on self-concept, exploration of the movement repertoire and working towards expression. I believe that in the short term that I worked with Jo using movements and art work, he felt safe to explore certain movements, which earlier he would rely on someone else to do, take risks and understand what were the boundaries of the therapeutic space and would not engage in those movements outside the space.

DMP works with the child population, since creativity and its development has its foundation during the developing years, and creative ways of coping with the environment can help reduce the percentage of mental health problems related to disabilities specifically. During the course of therapy, momentary insights, finding links to ideas and producing innovative answers in movement form to difficulties faced by an individual, may be considered as examples of how dance movement psychotherapy is beneficial for them.


Amighi, J.K., Loman, S., Lewis,P.and Sossin, K.M. 1999. The meaning of movement: developmental and clinical perspectives of the Kesternberg Movement Profile. Great Britain: Brunner-Routledge.

Duggan, D. 1980. Dance therapy with severely multiply handicapped children. In: Leventhal, M. B.ed. Movement and Growth: Dance Therapy for the special child. New York: Center for educational research, pp.53-56.

Erikson, E. 1995. Childhood and Society. rev. ed. London: Vintage.

Fischman, D. 2009. Therapeutic Relationships and Kinesthetic Empathy. In: Chaiklin, S. , Wengrower, H.ed. The art and science of Dance/Movement Therapy- Life is Dance. New York: Routledge, pp.33- 53.

Laban, R. 1960. The Mastery of Movement. London: Macdonald and Evans.

Leventhal, M.B. 1974. Movement Therapy with minimal brain dysfunction children. In: Mason, K. ed. Dance Therapy. Washington: Aapher publications, pp. 42-48.

Levy, F.J. 2005. Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art. 2nd Revised ed. Virginia: National Dance Association.

Moustakas, C.E. 1973. The child’s discovery of himself. The United States of America: Aronson.

Winnicott, D.W. 2005. Playing and Reality. London: Routledge.

The Use of Movement in Space in Dance Movement Psychotherapy

Tarana Khatri

There are certain concepts that are widely researched in their own right but not comprehensively looked at, in relation to Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP). This article aims to present an overview of the Space and how interpersonal space is instrumental in the development of the self, self regulation and self boundaries which are also considered as therapeutic goals.

Space is a very broad topic in psychotherapy with multiple definitions. In general terms space is “a boundary-less three dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have creative position and direction” (Britannia Encyclopedia). With regard to DMP, Laban (1976) defines space as “a hidden feature of movement and that movement is visible in space”. Within the large container of one’s physical environment, each individual has their own personal space (Laban 1976; Studd and Cox 2013; Tortura 2006). Personal Space or Kinesphere as defined by Laban (1976), is the immediate space around an individual. This may be considered as an extension of an individual’s body. Interpersonal Space (Davis 1975a) refers to the interactive changing spatial distances between people in a given environment. Winnicott (1971) refers to this as Transitional space. This space does not belong to either individual, and may be a potential space for relationships (1975b). Within this article, the aspect of space that will be focused on is the Personal Space of the client and their use of the Interpersonal Space between client and therapist.

In DMP, Personal Space plays a vital role as the therapist uses their body as a medium of interaction (Taylor and Dragonosky 1979; Meekum 2002). The use of one’s kinesphere reflects the ability to define personal space, relate and interact. Boas (1978) emphasises the role of movement of the body through space, shaping an individual’s perceptions enabling confidence in reality and control of the body. Bartenieff (1980) supports this view by stating spatial intent as a contributing factor in one’s ability to express emotion and to communicate. Within the therapeutic relationship, interpersonal space may be a collaborative space of sharing, experiencing emotions and identifying boundaries (Dott 1995). Participating in this dialogue at a kinesthetic level enables the client to gradually affect and regulate kinetic qualities, which in time can be transferred to one’s everyday interactions (Samritter and Payne 2013).

The physical interaction and dynamic quality of movement forming the core of the therapy requires constant observation and assessment (Brooke 2006). The primary method of observing client’s use of space can be based on the Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). LMA considers Space as one of the four main components that form the basis of all forms of movement: Body, Effort and Shape (Laban 1976).

The importance of observing the client’s use of space as a part of an individual’s movement repertoire, and the information it may provide about their mannerisms and means of expression, has been observed by many (Laban 1976; Amighi et. al 1999; Tortura 2006; Meekum 2002). Some research in this area includes Taylor and Dragonosky’s (1979) use of interpersonal space as a means of building a working alliance in DMP. Meekum (1991) drew on invasion of personal space when working with abused children while Phipps (1995) did the same with homeless women. Identifying and working with the client’s use of interpersonal space as a Dance Movement Psychotherapist, could lead to more body-informed knowledge about development of self and attachment patterns within a therapeutic setting.

Personal space is a critical component of the sense of self and development of subjectivity (Goffman 1963). Gross (1992) supports this by emphasising the role of sensory motor receptors, motor responses, body actions and personal space in developing sense of body-self. Personal Space behaviours have also been directly linked to self-boundaries with regard to their functional significance especially their protective and mobile nature (Horner 1983). Spatial configurations help define relationships and set territories for action-interaction (Phipps 1995). Fisher and Cleavelend (1968) expand this link to include self regulation, by emphasising on the role of the self boundary system in maintaining homeostasis in one’s psychological interactions with the world. When raised in an environment of chaos, neglect and violence, the developmental experiences required to facilitate maturation of self-regulation, communication, and ability to relate are usually not supported (Perry 2005).

A primary characteristic of developing relationships with people is the ability to merge with another while retaining a sense of self (Pallaro 1993). Leventhal (1974) states that the effect of focusing on range of dynamics and spatial element on impulse control, ability to sequence and conceptualize and to a certain extent form object relations. Tactile, visual and kinesthetic sensations contribute to an integrated sense of self (Stanton-Jones 1992; Dosamantes 1992).

The therapist’s position in shadowing the client, gives them control over spatial placement and exploration. This control of approaching or distancing from the therapist contributes to the freedom of the client (Lewis 1993; Taylor and Dragonosky 1979), which supports the building of trust within the therapeutic relationship. From a developmental point of view, Erikson (1995) emphasized the stage of Trust vs Mistrust leading to Autonomy vs Shame/Doubt which is the stage of exploration from a secure base (Bowlby 1983; Ainsworth 1969). The processes that occur in this stage could be viewed as an extension of the Separation-Individuation Theory proposed by Mahler (1975).

Once the client has experienced trust and safety in the therapeutic relationship, this separation-individuation process can be explored. Interacting in interpersonal space allowed the transfer of information in a spontaneous, automatic and unconscious manner (Shamasundar 1999).

Horner (1983) has linked personal space behaviours and self-boundaries because of their protective and mobile nature. There is a constant testing of boundaries throughout the therapeutic process which leads to a perceived need for enforcing firm boundaries in terms of the use of time and the space. This was supported by bringing awareness to the client’s use of kinesphere, defining personal space, relating and interacting with others (Ramsden 1973). This contributes to a more defined sense of self in relation to another.

The little literature can help build on the concrete nature of use of space, that can allow for further empirical studies focusing more on its role as an intervention, and not only as an aspect of movement observation.


  • Ainsworth, M. and Witting, B. 1969. Attachment and Exploratory Behaviour of One Year Olds in a Strange Situation. In: Foss, B. ed. Determenents of Infants Behaviour IV. London: Methuen.
  • Amighi, K. J., Loman, S. and Lewis, P. 1999. The Meaning of Movement: Developmental and Clinical Perspectives of the Kestenberg Movement Profile. NewYork: Routledge.
  • Bartenieff, I. and Lewis, W. 1980. Body Movement: Coping with the environment. New York: Routledge.
  • Boas, F. 1978. Creative Dance In: Costanois, M. ed. Therapy in Motion. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
  • Bowlby, J. 1983. Attachment. Basic Books.
  • Britannica Encyclopedia. 2014. Space. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 18th February 2014]
  • Brooke, S. L. 2006. The Creative Arts Therapies Manual. [online] Charles C Thomas Publisher. Available at: [Accessed March 24th 2014].
  • Davis, M. 1975. Towards Understanding the Intrinsic in Body Movement. [online book] New York: Arno Press. Available at: [Accessed on 18th February 2014]
  • Dosamantes, 1. 1992. Body-image: Repository for cultural idealizations and denigrations of the self. The Arts in Psychotherapy [online] 19(4), pp.257-267. Available at: [Accessed on 18th April 2014]
  • Dott, L.P. 1995. Aesthetic listening: Contributions of Dance/Movement Therapy to the psychic understanding of motor stereotypes and distortions in autism and psychosis in childhood and adolescence. The Arts in Psychotherapy [online] 22 (3), pp.241-247. Available at: . [Accessed February 10 2014]
  • Erikson, E. 1995. Childhood and Society. rev. ed. London: Vintage.
  • Goffman. E. 1963. Behaviour in public places. New York: Free Press.
  • Gross, C. 1992. Body Image Concept in Dance Movement Therapy. University of London Press.
  • Horner, M. T. 1983. On the Formation of Personal Space and Self-Boundary Structures in Early Human Development: The Case of Infant Stranger Reactivity. Developmental Review [online] 3, pp.148-177. Available at: [Accessed on March 24th 2014]
  • Laban, R. 1976. The language of Movement. Boston: Plays.
  • Laban, R. And Ullmann, L. 1980.The Mastery of Movement. Plymouth: Macdonald and Evans.
  • Leventhal, M. 1974. Movement therapy with minimal brain dysfunction in children. Focus on Dance VII, pp.42-48.
  • Leventhal, M. 1980. Movement and Growth: Dance Therapy for a Special Child In: Leventhal, M. ed. Movement and growth : dance therapy for the special child. New York: Center for Educational Research
  • Lewis, P. 1993. The use of the Chacian technique in the depth of Dance Therapy Process of Recovery, Healing and Spiritual Consciousness. In: Sandel, S.L. and Chaiklin, S.e.a. eds. The Foundations of Dance/Movement Therapy: the life and work of Marian Chace. columbia: American Dance Therapy Association, pp. 154-169.
  • Mahler, M., Pine, F. and Bergman, A. 1975. The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation. Great Britain: Hutchinson and Co. Pub. Ltd.
  • Meekums, B. 1991. Dance/movement therapy with mothers and young children at risk of abuse. Arts in Psychotherapy, 18(3), pp. 223-230.
  • Meekums, B. 2002.   Dance Movement Therapy: a Creative Psychotherapeutic Approach London: Sage.
  • Perry, B. D. 2005. Applying Principles of NeuroDevelopment to Clinical Work with Maltreated and Traumatized Children: The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics. In: Boyd Webb. Ed. Working with Traumatized Youth in Child Welfare. NY: Guilford Press, pp. 28-51.
  • Phipps, K. M. 1995. A Place for My Self: Issues of Space in Dance/Movement Therapy with Women in a Homeless Shelter. [online] MA Thesis, Hahnemann University. Available at: [Accessed on 18th February 2014]
  • Pallaro, P. 1997. Culture, self and Body self: Dane Movement Therapy with Asian Americans. The Arts in Psychotherapy [online] 24 (3), pp. 227-241. Available at: [Accessed February 10 2014]
  • Pallaro, P. 1996. Self and Body-self: Dance /Movement Therapy and the development of Object Relations. The Arts in Psychotherapy [online] 23 (2), pp. 113-119. Available at: [Accessed February 10 2014]
  • Ramsden, P. 1973. Top team planning: A study of the power of individual motivation in management. London: Associated Business Programmes.
  • Samritter, R. and Payne, H. 2013. Kineasthetic intersubjectivity: A dance informed contribution to self- other relatedness and shared experience in nonverbal psychotherapy with an example from autism. The Arts in Psychotherapy [online] 40 (1), pp. 143-150. Available at: [Accessed February 10 2014]
  • Shamasundar, C. 1999. Understand Empathy and related phenomenon. American Journal of Psychotherapy [online] 53(2), pp.232-245. Available at: [Accessed on 27th April 2014]
  • Stanton-Jones, K. 1992. An Introduction to Dance Movement Therapy in Psychiatry. London: Routledge.
  • Studd, K. and Cox, L. 2013. Everybody is a Body. Dog year publishing Company.
  • Taylor, A., and Dragonosky, J. 1979. Using Personal Space in Developing a Working Alliance in Dance Movement Therapy. American Journal of Dance Therapy 3, pp. 51-61.
  • Tortura, S. 2006. The dancing dialogue: Using the communication of Movement with young children. Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
  • Tortura, S. 2010. Ways of Seeing: An Early Childhood Integrated Therapeutic Approach For Pa rents and Babies. Clinical Social Work Journal, 38 Febuary, pp 38-50.
  • Winnicott, D.W. 1971. Playing and Reality. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

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

Caregiving for Caregivers: A Happy Self-Realisation

Jessee Moirangthem*


There are populations in the society who give their best to hold their work and world in place. However, it often is not manageable and their needs are frequently overlooked as they are already a hand supporting another life. The article unfolds the stirrups that surfaced in a 6 hour session of movement therapy that stretched over 3 weeks, for the teaching population of 12, of Bubbles Centre for Autism, Bangalore.


The term “caregiver” holds a variety of population such as the nurse population, the teaching population, the caretakers and caregivers in general. In layman terms, a caregiver is usually referred to as a person who is either unpaid or paid, who helps another individual with an impairment, with his/her activities of daily living. In this study group, the caregivers referred to are the teaching population of Bubbles Centre for Autism, Bangalore. As the name suggests, it is a special school for children with autism. The effort put in for the functioning of the school was different, as compared to other schools for normal children, with focus on academics and extra-curricular activities as well. Apart from the required effort and energy for teaching, a lot of physical input is also needed, along with mental stability. The sessions held, enabled them to surface and unfold, those untold difficulties faced by each individual.

The Process

A prior knowledge accompanied us, when I started the session, that the interaction with the group was going to be short. Therefore, it was decided to work on the peripheral aspects of their needs. The first session started off with a brief introduction of me and my co-facilitator, and the participants. The prime focus of the session was to get an idea about whether they really knew about themselves, and whether they could hear themselves. Through the session a few points were noted from their body language and the words they laid down. A clear point that popped out was their inability to maintain eye contact. Also, the group was not willing enough to express much through words, and a there was a lack of willingness to come for the session. For the following sessions, care was taken to design activities in such a way, so as to get them to let things out of their body more and also to get them to take care of their body and themselves.

The following sessions were structured in such a way, so as to get them to participate in the sessions and also to make them talk or put down their thoughts and feelings. The beauty of the transformation that took place from session to session as compared to the first session was simply amazing; from lack of willingness to attend the session to waiting to attend the session, and from unwillingness to express to expressing to their hearts’ content, which made the sessions extend to almost 2 hours sometimes. There was a drastic change in their love for self and a realization of their needs and steps required to work out. This beautified the work even more. As a token of takeaway, one session was dedicated to teaching them how to take care of their body and superficial bodily problems, which occurred on a daily basis. The response was overwhelming when they were taught techniques on body postures that could be incorporated in daily life. They took efforts in practicing those in their day to day life and the appreciation received was just so beautiful.

Towards the closing of the final session, the participants were asked to draw out whatever they felt like and we got these touching mixture of colours and figures [as in the below fig.1(a)]. One gave these words for her drawing [fig.1(b)], “It was dark before you came in our lives, which is why it is in black. But then, you came as a sunshine and now we are like smiling flowers.”






Caregiving is a job which can be done properly and efficiently only when the heart and soul are united for it. It is a job which needs an extra bit of effort to be a medium for the receiver and the family of the receiver. Often the needs of the caregivers are overlooked. When someone thinks, its usually about the care that is given to the affected person – the one on the receiving end. Hardly efforts are taken or even thought of, to ask the caregivers of the difficulty they face to give care and if their life is affected by it. The experience received in this short span was a beauty. It made us realize that it is not an easy job to become a teacher in a school for the special population. It requires both physical and mental stability to work well. But, it cannot be done when there is an imbalance between the two. The happy realization of their needs and the ability to fulfill even a little of those, made the experience even more beautiful. Also, helping them to realize to love themselves and what they need to do, which they discovered by themself, made us appreciate ourselves for our work. Even though not much, we were content with the impact we made in such a short interaction. Meetings and partings are a part of life and here too we had to part.


I would like to thank Creative Movement Therapy Association of India (CMTAI) and Bubbles Centre for Autism, Bangalore for giving us an opportunity to work with the teaching staff of Bubbles. I would also like to thank Tasneem Jiruwala for being my co-facilitator.

An Insight

Pooja Singh

It is truly said, “A system of morality tells us what do and what not to do, but it cannot tell us what we should feel. Genuine feelings cannot be produced, nor can they be eradicated”- Alice Muller.

I met this group one month ago, with an objective to do a research on dance movement therapy and helping the group build cognitive abilities. The village I work in is Dungarpur, a district of Rajasthan, and the community mostly belongs to the tribal belt. The journey started with approaching the secretary of the school with the idea of dance therapy and its effectiveness. It was quite impressive for him and he gave the permission to start the research, as I began my intervention in school.

It was not a shocking experience for me since I had worked in government schools as a Gandhi fellow, which helped me with the school set up and the value of children in school. I knew they would be conditioned to behave well and any misbehavior would lead them to be punished or worse, get beaten. So, the group, during initial sessions was well behaved, disciplined, almost like robots following instructions and performing functions. But the beauty of dance/movement is that it does not let you be fabricated in any way. I kept on thinking about the activity that I could include in my session so that they could be true to their self, without thinking about the world outside the room.

The body is considered as the most expressive wagon and the movement with the body is important to vent out inner feelings. The body can most often than not, win over the false ideal self that we have imbibed in us. And it happened in 5th session, where they had to communicate their feelings for peers through movement and not by words, and the others would respond by movement again. It was an overwhelming experience to see the children expressing anger and hatred towards their peers. This made me believe strongly in the notion that ‘the body never lies’. The movements were often loud as though they wanted to slap someone or were using their leg to kick the other person. These were the pent up emotions they had for their peers. I could finally see them being themselves. I could see them struggling at a group task of hitting the ball together, as a team to meet a target. They did not succeed in doing so for 3 days continuously. This game brought out their frustration, their preferences, their comfort zone with their friends, disagreements with other members, some leading and some suppressing the introverts, blaming, fighting and the chaos. I played the role of the silent observer thinking very deeply that a simple activity like hitting a ball could bring out so many things in an individual. The experience was touching and got me shaken.

When you involve yourself physically through bodies you can never camouflage your emotions. Recently, I have been reading a book written by the former president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, that describes a beautiful connection between our thoughts and our actions. He throws light upon what Bruce Lipton wrote in his book “the Biology of Belief”, about the thought processes that cause the brain to release information-containing neurochemicals and send vibration signals to cells. Signals are then translated into biological responses in the cell. And this forms into cell membranes which ‘read’ and respond to environmental signals called as receptors. In the end, it comes down to a simple case of ‘mind over matter’ in controlling the fate of our lives.

pooja pic

These scientists and their inventions have proved that thoughts and intentions are very powerful when it comes to forming the reality that we live in. Dance movement therapy is one the most effective ways to bring oneself close to the reality of their lives. It is an outward journey that starts with the body travels through it and then initiates the inner journey of emotions and feelings, touching the deeper self.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”, said Frederick Douglas and it gets justified when we work with children. We as therapists, are building a strong future for our future generations. Exploring their bodies, reflecting on how the body expresses the inner conflicts which have been suppressed by teachers, parents and other environmental factors, understanding the self, knowing their own strengths and weakness, and finally coming out as strong individuals who are deeply aware of their consciousness, opens the path for a happier world and a happy country. This is what I aim to achieve in my life.

On a concluding note, I would like to share that the body can be the purest mirror to see how we change every day. I have noticed a major change in the group of children I am working with, and it’s simply because now they are being understood and heard.