Marian Chace: the lady, the legend.

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First and foremost, let me say this… I am NOT trying to start dance/movement therapy riot by posting this blog entry.

With that said, let’s talk about Marian Chace.

If there is one thing to know about dance/movement therapy (other than the actual definition) it’s who Marian Chace is.  The short answer is that she is the pioneer/founder of dance/movement therapy, or as some people like to say, “the grand dame of dance therapy.” (Levy, 1988, p. 21)  Without her, and of course other pioneers at the time, dance/movement therapy may not exist today.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic but you know what I mean.

As you can imagine, as the pioneer of dance/movement therapy, Marian Chace is a very important figure in our community.  Graduate Students learn about her and her methodology in dance/movement therapy 101, her name is all over the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) website (rightfully so, she was a charter member), and scholarships of all kinds are named after her.  What is most salient about her work is how her method of dance/movement therapy has been codified.  Codifying her method in a three step process (1. Warm-up 2. Theme Development  3. Closure) is especially important when you are trying to teach the individuals how “to do” dance/movement therapy.  In capturing and codifying the essence of Chace’s work we are able to teach, write, and research her methodologies.  This is also especially important when you are trying argue and showcase why dance/movement therapy works and explain why it’s legitimate to possible employers at a time when the mental health community hadn’t quite opened it’s door to our modality of healing.

However, what happens when Chace’s methodology becomes a prescription or becomes a rigid structure that is imposed on a dance/movement therapy group?  A one size fits all?  What happens when the Chacian Approach becomes synonymous with dance/movement therapy?  Personally, there have been times in my dance/movement therapy journey that I have felt that Chace’s method was in fact synonymous with dance therapy in general, as if her three step process was the ONLY way to do dance therapy.  Anything that went astray of her approach was not dance therapy, or not purely anyway.

But wait!  How can I say that when there are other pioneers of dance/movement therapy?  How can I say that when there is an array of existing methodologies a dance/movement therapist can use?  I say that because her name IS all over the ADTA website, and her importance lingers in the air at the ADTA conference (I am reminded that her name is spelled Marian and NOT Marion).  Supervisors remind interns the importance of following her structure at their internships.  It’s as if the structure of what Chace did in group is more important than the actual essence of what she did (e.g. attuning to each client before each group started and being present with clients).  As a graduate student it was hard for me to be present with my clients since I had to worry about hitting all of the steps in the Chacian approach.  Because doing so was an expectation and not an option.

Of course I understand the importance of codifying Chace’s work, as well as the importance of teaching an easily digestible structure to dance/movement therapy students who may lack the skill set to provide therapy in other ways.  I know I sure lacked such skills when I first started out.  But what bothers me, even more than the emphasis of superimposing the Chace structure into a therapy group (you know, even if it doesn’t seem to fit for the population), is how this structure sometimes seems to contrast Chace’s actual approach to dance/movement therapy.  After all, it was the dance/movement therapists after her who named her methods, and not Chace herself- she was just doing her thing.  Reading through Chace’s writings in “Foundations of Dance/Movement Therapy: The Life and Work of Marian Chace” one begins to see just how progressive Chace was.  She met clients where they were at, even if that meant going off the beaten path of methodologies and trying out new things.  This is especially salient in Chace’s work with clients in creating, “Hotel St. Elizabeth” a performance piece where clients creatively showcased what life was like living at a hospital.  Although performance was not necessarily a method Chace (1955/1993) used (she even said, “It was quite a departure in therapeutic methods.” p. 278), she realized (as evidenced in her writings) that her clients were engaged creatively and processed topics they coped with while living in the hospital.  Sounds like therapy to me.

Chace did not deny the initiation and innovation of her clients and their creative wish to create a performance.  She did not say “Nah! Forget it.  Let’s do rhythmic activity instead,” at which point I imagine she took a huge drag of the cigarette she held with her red painted fingernails.  Simplification, maybe.  Yet, I honestly wonder how Chace would respond to the way her work is being interpreted by dance/movement therapists today.

And sure. I am describing an age-old idea: how do we examine passed down knowledge so that it stays relevant/current?  Where is the limit of the stretching and manipulation of the founding structure and when does that process create something entirely new?  After processing this with dance/movement therapy friends, we wondered if maybe this “Chace phenomenon” indicated a generational gap between seasoned and more recent dance/movement therapists .  A gap between those who knew Chace/those who knew those who knew her, and those of us just starting out reading about Chace in a book (confusing, I know).  Is the emphasis on Chace an attempt to preserve her legacy and not give way to new knowledge and dance/movement therapy approaches?  The idea of a generation gap in our community may be a blog topic in of itself, and definitely deserves an in-depth examination.

So with all that being said, let me make sure I’m clear… I am grateful for Marian Chace and I understand the importance of learning/understanding her approach to dance/movement therapy.  However, her approach is NOT a dogma, it’s not the only way to practice dance/movement therapy.  And I know that seasoned dance/movement therapists would agree with me on that at face value, but underpinnings of our culture indicate otherwise.  What I also think is that Chace was forward thinking and she was intuitive.  She was present and receptive.  She was constantly in the now.  And frankly, she was one rad lady whose work founded us and whose attitude screams progressiveness.

Below is a reference list if you want to read up on Marian Chace:

Chace, M. (1993). “Hotel St. Elizabeth”: A unique experiment in therapy. In S. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, & A. Lohn (Eds.). Foundations of dance/movement therapy: The life and work of Marian Chace (pp. 277-284). Columbia, MD: American Dance Therapy Association. (Original work published 1955).

Levy, F. J. (1988). Dance movement therapy: A healing art. Reston, VA: National Dance Association

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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One Response to Marian Chace: the lady, the legend.

  1. Pingback: 8 characteristics of a dance/movement therapist. | Dance.Movement.Therapy.

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