The story of dance therapy

by frank-stuart

We all need a bit of therapy every now and then. We all have to deal with stress, anxiety, illness, listlessness and lack of confidence at certain points in our lives, and a dose of therapy might be the very thing to help re-energise us, and give us a more positive outlook on life. One form of therapy that has proven to be effective for many people is dance therapy.

Dance therapy began in the US in the 1940s, but wasn’t regarded as a profession until 1966, when the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) was formed. Dance therapy reached Australia in the 1970s. But despite formal dance therapy being a relatively new practice, people have extolled the benefits of dance as a therapeutic activity for centuries.


For centuries, dance has been a central part of many cultures, used as a form of expression and communication, and for spiritual and physical healing. These qualities underpin the philosophy of modern dance therapy, which promotes self-expression through dance.

Former professional dancer Marion Chace is regarded as the pioneer of dance therapy. When she was a dance teacher, she noticed many students using dance as a form of expression, so she encouraged her students to express their emotions through movements, rather then focusing on technique. Chace then studied psychiatry, and in 1966, became the first president of the ADTA.

What is dance therapy?

The ADTA defines dance therapy as the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual”.

Dance therapy recognises that the physical, emotional and psychological elements of a person do not operate independently of one another. They are interconnected, and so dance therapy promotes a holistic approach to healing. Practitioners believe that expressive dance movements can have a positive effect on one’s physical and mental wellbeing.

A qualified therapist can assess a person’s movements to gather information about their physical and mental state, and devise a program to meet their needs.

The benefits of dance therapy

Dance therapy is seen to have a number of benefits, both physical and psychological.

  • Physical. Dance therapy has a number of the same physical benefits of other forms of exercise, such as increased fitness, weight control and increased mobility. Dance therapy can boost aerobic capacity, increase muscle strength, improve circulation and release endorphins, which make people feel happier.
  • Psychological. Dance therapy promotes self-expression in a comfortable and cordial environment and therefore can be a cathartic experience for people with built-up tension. It can also be a powerful tool to help people suffering from mental illness, or struggling with grief. Dance therapy can improve self-esteem and create a feeling of liberation.

Dance therapy has become more popular in recent times. If you’re interested in a career in dance therapy, find out how ACPE’s dance courses can provide the knowledge and formal qualifications you need.

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