You can move through your life with more awareness and less anxiety by practicing dance therapy.

Women enjoying dance movement therapyShare on Pinterest
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Do you remember the last time you danced?

Think of a time when you turned the music up, let loose, and had a dance party — whether it was alone in your living room or with a group of your closest friends. How did you feel while you were moving? How did you feel once the song came to an end?

Dancing and movement can be an incredibly therapeutic practice for many, and it’s a great form of self-expression. Yet, dance movement therapy can offer you an added element of relief while taking your self-expression and healing to a whole other level.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance/movement therapy (DMT) as as a therapy that improves your overall health and well-being — emotionally, socially, cognitively, and physically with movement.

The intention of dance/movement therapy differs from that of regular dancing because “there are collaborative, therapeutic goals for the session, such as reducing distress from a traumatic event, exploring ways to increase emotion regulation, or cope with anxiety and depression,” says Katie Bohn, a board-certified dance/movement therapist in Clayton, Missouri.

According to Bohn, a dance therapy session may help you process connections between movement and the feelings evoked by it.

“Through dance/movement therapy, you have the opportunity to nurture the relationship you have with yourself by turning inward toward your body’s sensations, exploring your movement preferences, and giving yourself space for self-expression, vulnerability, and social connection in a truly embodied posture,” she says.

While regular dancing can be therapeutic and absolutely make you feel better, dance therapy with a trained mental health professional can lead to a deeper sense of connected self and improvements in emotional, physical, and relational well-being.

In a session, dance/movement therapists may help you develop insights or guide you in behavioral changes sparked through movement and verbal interventions.

“Dance/movement therapy helps you develop body awareness and explore how you ‘move through’ the world,” explains Bohn.

“By engaging the body and movement into the psychotherapy process, you can develop new ways of being and moving through your life as old patterns become unstuck and more capacity for choice is created as you expand your movement repertoire,” she says.

While regular dancing can, of course, be a healthy exercise, dance therapy sessions can also promote change and healing within the comforts of confidentiality and privacy.

These sessions are led by certified dance/movement therapists who are trained mental health professionals, and they can be taught in either one-on-one or group settings.

“The mental health benefits of dance/movement therapy are similar to those of traditional talk therapy, yet with the added benefit of being an embodied and creative modality,” said Bohn.

Some known benefits of dance therapy include:

  • improved mood
  • enhanced body image
  • better quality of life
  • access to self-expression
  • improved communication
  • a deeper sense of self-awareness
  • increased self-esteem and calm
  • decreased stress and anxiety

Research has found positive effects of dance therapy:

  • Research in 2012 found that dance therapy had a positive impact on individuals diagnosed with depression, such as lowering levels of distress.
  • A 2021 pilot study suggests that mindful-based dance/movement therapy is a promising solution for people living with chronic pain, such as headaches.
  • Research in 2019 suggests DMT is effective for increasing quality of life and interpersonal skills while lowering depression and anxiety. While more research was recommended, researchers said the initial findings were promising.

The above research also points to dance therapy helping with the following conditions:

By working with a trained, board certified dance/movement therapist, you can expand your range of movement physically and mentally.

For more information on dance therapy or how to select a practitioner near you, you can visit the ADTA’s directory.

While your healing journey may not always be as easy as “shaking it off,” as Taylor Swift once famously sang, you could find more possibilities by expanding your self-expression through dance therapy.