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May 2017
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Dance is an important instrument for expressing ourselves and it can be used to show the deepest parts of human nature. Its ability to support our well-being, by letting us show our emotions, was even noted in primitive populations which, through traditional dances, mimed their individual or group emotional states. The use of dance as a type of therapy dates back to more recent times when different types of ‘dance therapy’ were developed which involved methods using body movement in a more or less structured way and in relation to various objectives. Different approaches are involved in the various types of movement therapy but they all have one thing in common; recognising the relationship that units the body and mind, which is why dance can be used as a therapy and can encourage and support a healthy mind and psychological development.

Evolution and the prospects of dance therapy

It has been observed that spontaneous dances, like primitive ones, benefit the body and mind, and non-verbal communication has been experimented with through dance, going as far as being used by the Slovakian dancer and choreographer Rudolf Von Laban for the use of movement for expressing emotions, thus tweaking the method that has been called ‘the drama of dance’. In this perspective, which today represents the foundation of the majority of dance movement therapies, the moving body is analysed by mainly considering four elements as indicators of reality, such as weight, space, the body and flow, creating an analytical system of movement called ‘Labal Movement Analysis’ and the relative methodology called ‘Effort-Shape’.

The term dance therapy began to spread at the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to the contribution of the two professional modern ballerinas, M. Chace and T. Schoop. They had first-hand experience at overcoming the traditional and rigid techniques of classical ballet by focusing the reason for dancing on the pleasure and well-being that dance provides and supporting the expression with the body and music through spontaneous forms of movement. Their most famous application of dance therapy mainly involved war veterans with problems like depression, psychosis and forms of hysteria.

Today, many forms of mental help exist which involve dance therapy and they are carried out in private, in hospitals or in public buildings, which belong to mental health, education or training sectors. The various methods of dance therapy are founded on different interpretations of the theories of dance and its ability to support the mind.

In analytical dance therapy, which is quite common in America, parts of the study of dance are combined with parts of (mainly Jungian) psychoanalysis, developing ideas such as those of Mary Starks Whitehouse, a promoter of dance therapy forms which are often called ‘authentic movement’, that is, completely spontaneous activities involving the body, through which participants can express the deepest parts of their subconscious. 
Analytical dance therapy represents one of the techniques of active imagination, which is combined with analytical Jungian psychotherapy, and this allows for a gradual opening of the subconscious, which is similar to other methods of artistic expression, which lead onto an awareness of one's emotions, which are firstly stimulated through natural movements, carried out with the eyes closed, and then expressed verbally, thanks to the help from the leader of the therapeutic process, called the witness.

The Maria Fux method came about from this Argentine dancer and choreographer’s experiences when she went through a period of deep depression, causing her to experiment with the spontaneous, therapeutic effects produced by dance. Following the benefits she saw in herself, obtained by deepening her relationship with dance, the ballerina founded a branch of dance therapy which involves spontaneous dance used to improve psychological well-being and social interactions. It can be followed by both fully-able and disabled people. 
This method has successfully been experimented with, with people of all ages, with vision or hearing disability and even with people who suffer from physical and psychological handicaps. 
The only thing Maria Fux’s dance therapy has in common with analytical dance therapy is the use of free dance to express oneself, but, a part from this, it does differ somewhat as it is not aimed at working on subconscious content, nor is it used to support forms of psychotherapy.
This approach is based on the use of instinctive dance, like moments of listening, knowledge and rediscovery of yourself, without using interpretation techniques or verbalising inner states experienced when dancing, according to very simple methods implemented by experts in this sector who, by not intervening in a structured way, do not base their approach on specific, professional notions, mainly because they are trained in the use of specific techniques of dance therapy which take on the roles of creative stimuli and different resources..
The unstructured Maria Fux method represents a form of creative dance which is able to spontaneously produce improvements in our psycho-physical state, which are not the results of a structured programme, rather they are the results of trusting in dance and not setting oneself any specific objectives.
The possibility of improving communication and expression through this method also means it is a point of reference in pedagogical-educational dance, which includes forms of dance therapy aimed at objectives related to education and the development of children, adolescents and disabled peoples’ personalities and skills.

According to the primitive expression method of dance therapy, founded by dancer Herns Duplan, the use of dance follows an anthropological approach and it is based on using archetypal forms of movement, that is, gestures and typical motor rituals which come from traditional cultures. Through this symbolic journey into the history of mankind, it is possible to recover universal aspects of human nature and primitive psychic states.
This type of dance therapy is often inspired by tribal dances, using sounds made by tambourines and repetitive singing, generally experimented with in group contexts where the group takes on a maternal function. The rhythm of the tambourines represents the heart beat, enhancing and tuning the relationship between our internal and external worlds; the rhythmic dance, often done barefoot, aims at symbolising our deep-rooted relationship with the earth; the conductor’s singing gives the participants a feeling of ‘being lulled’ to reassuring nursery rhymes and lullabies; the deep state of relaxation (which is almost a trance), brought on by repeated sounds and movements, encourages the expression of emotional parts of the participants, limiting the action of rational filters.

Psycho dance therapy is the result perfecting and systemising dance therapy techniques, involving principles and techniques of (mainly) cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy in dance, with the aim being to prevent, reduce and overcome psychopathological problems. This type of therapy, aimed at supporting mental health, is quite systematic and it is proceeded and includes anamnestic, verbal interviews and, for this reason, it is usually used by mental health professionals specialised in this approach, or by psycho dance therapy technicians. 
The dance techniques used for this approach are chosen according to the objectives the patient is working on, and they can come from any discipline of dance with elements which are useful for the chosen method. The Argentinean tango or ballroom dances are often used for relationship problems, as well as individual country dances or types of modern dance involving theatrical elements, or even group dances in which, and depending on the needs of the participants, the function carried out by the technical aspect can be increased/decreased using desensitisation techniques, assertiveness training or behavioural conditioning techniques.
If a patient has psychological problems but not psychological disorders, and the problems concern mental health and social well-being, similar methods can be used which go by the name of psycho dance and they involve verbal and non-verbal, psychological methods and they go hand in hand with movement and dance. 
The objectives which can be fulfilled are endless and they range from overcoming anxiety and insecurity to relationship problems or even just simple forms of chronic shyness.

Dance therapy to help the mind

Through dance therapy it is possible to work on improving your psychological well-being and mental abilities by setting yourself goals or by following specific programmes. The methodology depends on the method used.

The psychological areas which can be treated with traditional forms of dance therapy, psycho dance or psycho dance therapy, are:

  • the cognitive area, where it is possible to improve skills such as body awareness, the learning of concepts and the use of symbols;
  • the emotional area, where it is possible to increase the patient’s ability to react positively to emotional experiences, overcoming fears and phobias and improving self-esteem;
  • the relationship area, which is often worked on to improve personal relationships, partnerships or to reduce poor forms of behaviour;
  • the psychomotor area, where it is possible to improve special awareness and motor coordination in relation to specific or general practices.

The psychological personality disorders treated with dance therapy, either exclusively or alongside other treatment methods, are numerous and mainly include neurosis, psychosis, eating disorders, obsessive behaviour, depression, speech disorders and post traumatic stress disorders. 
Dance therapy sessions have never been shown to have any drawbacks and can be good for individuals, couples and groups. The choice of the type of dance therapy should be made regarding the methods used and the needs related to the problem being dealt with.

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