Can dance be therapy?

Absolutely. Caroline Frizell, Dance Movement Therapy (aka DMT or ‘Dance Therapy’) lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London, explains how dance holds great therapeutic powers.

Body and mind are closely linked, she explains. An emotion can trigger a physical reaction, just like in crying or laughing. In Dance Therapy, dance is used to explore those connections and understand them.

In verbal therapy, you use words. In dance therapy, you are using your body. Therapist and client employ movement and non-verbal cues to communicate and make meaning out of these experiences.

With the advent of civilised, Western society, however, we moved away from dance as a natural part of our society, Caroline further explains. We can learn ballet or Paso Doble today, for example, but these come with a very strict set of rules that regulate our movements.

When we look back at the early days of our communities, dance was naturally linked to our society, used in different kinds of healing rituals and more generally as a method of expression.


“When connecting naturally to dance, you listen to what is going on inside your body and let something inside move you. Music and dance can really bring things to life,” Caroline says.

Even if we go back to the very first place where we are born – the womb – movement is inherent within that environment too. As we grow within the womb, we start testing the boundaries of our surroundings, finding ways of stretching and curling.

That very first dance continues when we are born. Before we even start to speak, we use non-verbal cues to express ourselves and communicate with others.

The body hence holds our emotional world, including our preverbal experience. This is why we use words like ‘embodiment’ – because our bodies integrate our emotions, experiences and feelings. The body is therefore a very powerful tool through which you can really get to the root of many problems.

“We are physical organisms in a physical universe. Our senses are extremely powerful”, says Caroline, “even a smell can take you back to when you were a child.”

“So, as a dance therapist, I am taking people back to something they already know but forgot along the way of being westernised. Dance therapy is about bringing back that side of dance, the part where we connect to it organically, naturally. It is about using movement to let our bodies express themselves freely.”

The phrase “I can’t dance” has no real foundation, Caroline continues. “Everyone can dance”, she stresses. When someone says “I can’t dance”, what they usually mean is “I can’t dance the way I think I should be dancing”. In dance therapy, there is no wrong dance, you can’t “get it wrong”; you just listen to your body and let it speak.

Who is the typical recipient of Dance Therapy? There is no typical recipient, Caroline explains. “Anyone who can breathe” can be the subject of Dance Therapy.

People suffering from mental disorders or multiple disabilities, for example, or elderly in dementia care, or people going through a rough patch in life can all be the recipients of Dance Therapy. It can also be ideal for people who have impaired verbal communication, or for those who might have tried verbal psychotherapy, but could not get through it.

What can people expect to get out from Dance Therapy? “It really depends on the needs of the individual”, Caroline explains. It could be distress relief, improvement in social skills, increased self-awareness or enhanced quality of life, for example.

The type of dance used in Dance Therapy can vary as well, again, depending on individual needs. It can be anything from freestyle to Turkish to Afro-Latin dance, among many others.

Writer and theatre director Samuel Beckett once said: “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order” – this is dance therapy.

By Farah Hesdin.

For anyone interested in becoming a dance therapist, Goldsmith College offers both an introductory, DMT Foundation Course, as well as a Masters of Arts (MA) in DMT after which students can become registered practitioners with the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy (ADMP UK).

Practitioners can thereafter go on to practice in various sectors including in education, forensics, the NHS or in private practices. For more information and course details, please visit


3 thoughts on “Can dance be therapy?

  • November 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    You are amazing!!…

  • November 7, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Great article! Dance and movement is a naturally healing.

  • December 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Brilliant read!!
    “Anyone who can breathe” can be the subject of Dance Therapy.
    Thank you Caroline !


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