My path to dance/movement therapy.

dance picture circa 1994

dance picture circa 1994

This is going to sound a bit cheesy, so please bear with me,  but one of the many great things about dance/movement therapists is the vast backgrounds they come from.  It’s true.  Some of us come from traditional dance training via dance studios and undergraduate dance programs.  Others studied theater.  Some of us come from social work backgrounds and may have completed the Alternate Route training to practice dance/movement therapy.  Others come from backgrounds in psychology and are American Psychology Association (APA) ninjas.  I’m sure I’m missing a million other backgrounds because, frankly, I don’t know them all- that’s how many there are.

We all have our own individual path to dance/movement therapy.  Here is mine.

me and a childhood friend.

me and a childhood friend.

I grew up in a Detroit suburb where cookie-cutter houses and blue collars were rampant.  Upon dancing around in my living room, and more than likely annoying my parents, they decided to put me in formal dance lessons at the neighborhood dance studio.  My love for dance was born and recital time became my favorite time of the year.  I continued my dance studies in high school by auditioning for a creative arts program that integrated dance classes into high school curriculum.  Here is where I first heard of dance/movement therapy.  During my junior year of high school, each dance student had to present on a dance related topic.  Guess what topic I pulled out of the bag (we literally pulled out pieces of paper with different topics written on them)?  Ding, ding, ding… dance/movement therapy (DMT)!  I created a presentation on DMT explaining to my dance peers that DMT was NOT therapy for dancers, but rather using movement as therapy for all types of people.  Little did I know this would be the first  of many times that I would explain what DMT was.

After high school, I attended a medium-sized college declaring a political science major intending on becoming a lawyer (ha!).  At this point in my life I hadn’t taken a dance class in over a year.  So, I decided to take a jazz class to fulfill a general education credit.  My love for dance was rekindled and at this time I knew I had to integrate dance into my future career- I knew I had to dance the rest of my life.  My high school dance/movement therapy presentation came back to me and I began to research it further.  It just so happened that my college had a pre-dance/movement therapy track as part of their dance program.  What this meant was that I would declare a major in dance and then take courses to gear up for applying to a dance/movement therapy graduate program.  It was serendipitous really.

dance photo from a college dance concert

dance photo from a college dance concert

dance improvisation on college campus

dance improvisation on college campus

While in my pre-dance therapy track  I studied psychology, social work, movement, and I certainly danced my butt off performing a few times a year.  I was also able to complete a short internship at a day program for children with visual impairment and other disabilities (most common was an intellectual disability or cerebral palsy).  My short internship was with a dance/movement therapist too!  How I found one of the five dance/movement therapists in Michigan beats me, but it was certainly a valuable experience.  I wrote my senior project paper on my internship and how this related to research (think literature review) I did on DMT.

After graduating college with a major in dance and two minors, one in social work and and one in psychology, I took a year off.  I wish I could say I took a day off to rest and recuperate, but instead I took on three jobs: teaching dance, hostessing at a restaurant, and working as a rehabilitation assistant for folks with a traumatic brain injury.  This was all to spruce up my graduate school applications.  I ended up applying to four of the six accredited DMT programs.  I traveled to Chicago, Boston and New York to feel out the programs there and do research on the cities.  During my decision process I received great advice from one of the school’s faculty members.  It went something like this, “You are going to get a great education no matter where you go, so decide on where you want to live.”  I ended up choosing Columbia College Chicago (CCC) for an array of reasons, then packed up my Michigan apartment and moved to Chicago.

photo credit: Bill Frederking

photo credit: Bill Frederking

The dance/movement therapy program at CCC was grueling.  I loved it, then hated it, and then I loved it again.  Throughout the program, I learned so much about DMT, counseling and about movement in general.  More importantly, though, I learned a lot about who I was.  In my second year of the program, I completed a practicum at a home for previously incarcerated women.  I also completed a full internship at a day rehabilitation center for individuals with developmental disabilities (DD), which is now where I work as a full-time dance/movement therapist.

After two intense years of graduate school, I “graduated.”  I put this in quotations because I still had to conduct research and write a thesis about said research.  After graduation I stuck my nose to the ground and got to it, diligently working on my research and thesis writing.  My research was about my experience of using performance as an intervention for adults with DD (I won’t say too much about it since I’ll be speaking more about it at the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) Conference).    With a lot of assistance from the CCC Writing Center and my thesis advisor, I completed my thesis in one year.



After I completed my master’s degree I did in fact take some time for myself.  During this time I did not look for a dance/movement therapy job, but instead continued to work as a bartender and traveled a bit.  Shortly thereafter I applied and started working where I currently work.  Now I am a dance/movement therapist doing dance/movement therapy with adults with DD.  Sometimes it’s crazy to think that all my hard work paid off and I reached my goal- a goal that was often in question by myself and by others.  Trust me, it’s not easy to declare a goal such as “becoming a dance/movement therapist.”

And that’s that.  That is my path to dance/movement therapy.  Sometimes it’s hard to discern whether I chose dance/movement therapy or if it chose me.  What I do know is that all along my love for dance and movement guided me.  As I reflect on my own journey to this point in my life, I wonder about other dance/movement therapists’ journeys.  How did they get to become a dance/movement therapist and how does this shape their lens as a therapist?

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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4 Responses to My path to dance/movement therapy.

  1. Audrey Albert King says:

    I definitely agree with you Emily concerning the vast path approach and resonate with your pictures. The studio I grew up with is celebrating 50 yrs. June 1st. and has been posting treasured history. I remember its humble beginnings in the basement of a small house. I was enamored of the older girls, the costumes, and I remember the smell of the acro-mats and hving to roll them out. Once a month the shade would go up so the moms could watch. In fifteen years the stusio moved, grew and became succussful. Hundreds of people seem to have come out of the woodwork. I have posted my 3 year old picture.
    I am officially an alum of Lesley U as of last night 9:30 pm. I will say when I chose to go to grad school the first time around, (dark ages) DMT was an option and I chose Dance Ed. because I loved to teach and thought that was a great thing to be able to do in a university. I especially liked the idea of having dancers to create movement for and to be able to perform outside of work. DMT was suggested by my mom and, well, sometimes when a parent really wants something for you (me) it can backfire. But, twenty-six years later, a possible path of defiance, and a quarter of a century of experience that had to be lived in order for me to make space to become who am now could have only have only happened the way it did. The stars must align to light the way…

  2. Pingback: Reflecting on the unclear path to dance/movement therapy. | Dance.Movement.Therapy.

  3. Emily says:

    Hi! I’m a sophomore in high school in the Detroit area. I’ve loved dancing and have for as long as I can remember. I’m very interested in pursuing a career in dance or music therapy, and was wondering if you had any tips on making choices now that will help later?! Also, thank you for this inspiring page!

    • Hi Emily, thank you for reading and commentating on my blog. Great to know that a fellow Michigander/Metro-Detroiter is reading as I grew up in the area. Since you are in high school you’ve got a lot of time before you pursue a career in music or dance/movement therapy. One thing I will say though, is to keep following your passion in both music and dance as long as it makes you happy. If you want to e-mail me ( with specific questions I would be happy to answer them.

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