I am a dance/movement therapist and an artist too.

Photo credit: Steffanie M. Tulk

Photo credit: Steffanie M. Tulk

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve had some time lately to step aside from dance/movement therapy and my graduate school experience, and reflect on the past three years of my life.  The past three years of my life have mostly consisted of my graduate studies and working in hope to alleviate loan debt.  If I wasn’t slinging beers at the bar, my head was definitely stuffed in a book or I was meticulously working on a paper.  It was only once and awhile I got to express myself as a dancer by taking a technique class or performing amidst my busy schedule.

The past three years of my life has been oddly different from the years prior, where I was constantly dancing.  Like many dance/movement therapists, I grew up taking an array of dance classes at the local dance studio.  In my undergraduate days at Eastern Michigan University, I was dancing nearly every day and performing if not twice, definitely once during the semester.  Needless to say, I was immersed in dancing.  I would say I was immersed in dance during my graduate days too, but maybe in a different way.  Columbia College’s Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling program certainly worked hard in integrating movement in the classroom (we moved in almost all of the classes), but there was just no way to avoid the reading and writing that had to be done to understand dance therapy theory.

With all the reading and writing, I kind of lost my artistic and dancer self.  She came up a few times throughout my graduate career, during the Dance/movement Therapy & Counseling Annual Student/faculty Dance Concert, or my involvement in Manifest, Columbia College’s Urban Art Fair.  Only until recently I have managed to regain some of my artistic self.

photo credit: Justin Botz

Photo credit: Justin Botz

My involvement in one project in particular has brought a lot of these thoughts to the forefront.  During the past Winter and Spring I have been working alongside a member of my cohort (and a close personal friend), Courtney St. Claire, in her thesis process.  Courtney is conducting an Artistic Inquiry, exploring the topics of trauma, art making, dance/movement therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  I have been involved in the artistic process and creation portion of the her thesis project.   Courtney received the Weisman Award through Columbia College, and decided to create a short dance film consisting of the movement we explored during our meetings together (six movers in total).

We filmed the two various movement pieces at site-specific locations, the Palos Forest Preserve and the Wilson Beach pier.  The filming process was a bit grueling as we had to be at the pier at 3 a.m. to be ready to shoot at dawn, and then perform a ten minute contact improv piece over and over at dusk later the same day.  Regardless, my involvement in “Tides of a Broken Moon” (the title of the dance film) was an amazing artistic experience.  There is nothing like dancing on a pier amongst talented artists/movers while the sun rises over Lake Michigan.


Participating in “Tides of a Broken Moon” certainly helped me regain my dancer and artistic self, especially after such a long bout on not being able to express myself in this way.  Further, it reminded me as to why integrating these parts of myself are important to my identity as a dance/movement therapist.  I have always had a strong passion for dance, but more specifically a strong passion for performing.  One of the reasons I wanted to become a dance/movement therapist was to be able to give people with varying abilities an opportunity to perform.

My passion for dance performance is strong and is what guided my own thesis project, which explored using performance when working with adults with Developmental disabilities in a dance/movement therapy setting.  I know this is a tricky subject, especially with the rise of artists working within the Healthcare system.  As I point out in my thesis, performance is an intervention in which a dance/movement therapist can use.  Performance is not something aside from dance/movement therapy (as some may like to argue) but rather another tool in a dance/movement therapist’s intervention tool box.  That is, of course, if the process of choreographing, rehearsing, and performing are related to the therapy goals of the clients involved.

Personally, I think it is important to validate the artist in all of the clients I work with as a dance/movement therapist.  Although there will certainly be therapy goals to attend to, first and foremost, I believe that they are artists because creativity and artistic expression is what makes us human.  There seems to be an overall trend in the dance/movement therapy community of coming back to the artist self and the simple enjoyment of moving, which may or may not involve performing.  Or maybe this is a personal belief I am projecting onto the community?

Photo credit: Steffanie Tulk

Photo credit: Steffanie M. Tulk

Regardless, expressing my own self by performing is a nice reminder as to why I started down this path in the first place, as well as a reminder of the type of dance/movement therapist I want to be.  If nothing else, it’s a good way to keep creativly healthy and part of my own self-care as a therapist.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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