What is the culture of dance/movement therapy?

Last week was Creative Arts Therapy week and the support for dance/movement therapy (DMT) was outstanding.  The American Dance Therapy Association posted an onslaught of blog posts (one written by yours truly), people changed their Facebook banners to increase DMT visibility and others participated in meaningful online dialogue about various elements of our work.  It’s evident that the DMT online presence is growing and so, in general, the presence of DMT is growing.  While presence and awareness grows, I can’t help looking internally and wonder who we are as a culture?  As we become more exposed to those outside the realm of DMT, how are we interpreted?  When looking through DMT research, you’ll find writings that examine an individual’s culture and how it influences him/her as a dance/movement therapist, but I am wondering about the culture of DMT and dance/movement therapists as a group of people.  If you haven’t noticed by now, I have a proclivity to go against the grain… so naturally as we begin to grow outwardly, I am starting to wonder who we are internally.

I must admit that this question comes from a personal place.  I have often found myself feeling as an outsider of the DMT culture, or that I don’t exactly fit in.  Sure, maybe this is self-inflicted and maybe I prefer to rock the boat.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the DMT culture in hopes of giving it a clearer identity- in hopes of giving myself a clearer identity.  To help me, I reached out to fellow emerging dance/movement therapists asking them to shed light on the DMT culture.  The prompt was, “I am curious about your experience as an emerging dance/movement therapist, whether you are a student or a ‘newer’ DMT professional, and how this relates to your perception of the DMT culture.” Many individuals were too busy to respond, so that clues me in on at least one aspect of our culture.  Below are the answers I did receive and the start of a very important conversation.

1. Pioneering spirit as we are constantly advocating for and educating others about the profession (and seems that can sometimes come across as defensive). 2. A tribe whose primary language is non-verbal.

What a huge question. This year has included a lot of doubt about what DMT actually is, what are the elements leading me to see it one way or another, and whether the culture is one I agree with. I think I have come to the conclusion that dance and movement are awesome, and I love it and I think that other people can enjoy it as well. Are we better than other approaches? What is our real contribution? What’s the line between pride and condescension, being grounded and being stubborn? And what combination of these traits will help further the health and happiness of others….and is that the same combination that will further the growth and development of DMT as a field? These are things I am hoping to figure out in my first few years of work.  I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question, but I think it’s a great one.

One of the more challenging aspects for me of being an emerging dance/movement therapist is entering into the social work field without the community and support of the DMT culture. Even after moving to NYC, where DMT positions and culture exist, I found myself in a demanding clinical position that quite squarely occupies the sphere of social work. While I am grateful to be working, I am faced with the challenge that so many other dance/movement therapists have also found themselves in: How do I bring my unique knowledge and skills (and passion!) to a position in which those are not spelled out in the job description? I find that I celebrate the small ways I can incorporate it and that I have the autonomy in my position to adapt it to a variety of situations…sitting in waiting rooms of social services offices? Let’s connect to our core! But where I have grown the most in this time is to apply DMT principles to myself within my role as a “social worker.” Engaging in such challenging (and somewhat unfamiliar) work has pushed me to apply the fundamental principles to my own life in a way that didn’t happen while in school. When I allow myself to use what I know– most simply to pay attention to my body and what it’s asking for– I am much more equipped to handle the crisis du jour and to be the best hybrid social worker/dance/movement therapist I can be. I hope one day soon to be in a position in which dance/movement therapy enters more concretely into my everyday work. Until then, I have to trust that my DMT emerging-self is still alive, well, and growing while on a path that can feel somewhat undefined even as our profession as whole becomes more defined and recognized.

As I am nearing the end of my DMT & Counseling graduate program, I realize that I am still developing my thoughts regarding the DMT culture. I am aware that the profession is still very new and developing. I sense that my exposure to the vast array of possibilities is limited and I know that there is still much to explore. When I think of DMT culture, a few words that come to mind are eclectic, mysterious, and unconventional. It seems to be a culture that is both embraced and met with apprehension by those outside of it, despite the fact that it seems to be a welcoming culture from my experience. I sense myself shifting and transforming as a developing therapist, which parallels how I see the DMT culture as well.

I have been teaching Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), and creative movement and related arts for 15 years before becoming a DMT. I was familiar with conceiving, promoting, proposing, and securing my own work. My practicum site was at a therapeutic school where I was given full reign to facilitate groups and individual sessions based on what I thought was appropriate and the feedback I got from supervision. My internship was with a DMT working as a clinical interventionist in an inner city school. I was fortunate enough to be able to practice my craft. I was also able to rekindle my relationship with Authentic Movement, which aside from my moving practice deepened my gratitude to be in the witness role. I had some incredible professors that not only disseminated information, but taught me how to be DMT simply by being, seeing, accepting, gently guiding, and expressing gratitude for my process. I connected to the deep healing roots of dance/movement therapy.

“Trusting the process,” all along and recognizing that almost everyone had a job who graduated before me was where I was at when I graduated. Friends began jumping into jobs. I got jumpy. I did not want to do in-home outreach, which seemed to be the job of choice. I also did not want to take a job to quit soon after. I interviewed, I waited, I found my current job. I work in the memory unit with dementia patients in residence, and sometimes run 4-5 groups a day. I love the residents, the population, and all the different kinds of groups I facilitate. However, I can only count 260 hours toward my LMHC license, so I need to hold another job as well. The appropriate title for my current job status is Masters Level Clinician licensed eligible. It is a bit of a tricky job to land. I took a temporary job (a maternity leave) at a charter middle school (3 months) full time in addition to my other job so I could keep looking for a position that I felt was a good fit for me. I am still looking, yet so grateful still for my work with the dementia population. I question and struggle with how much freedom I have to plan and facillitate groups, be in the milieu and build those connections that sometimes break through the brain degeneration. Connection, safety and trust are my building blocks. At the charter school my therapist role was more of a disciplinarian role, but since I didn’t see the students as their behaviors and got to know them well, my interventions were a somewhat off kilter from their system. The Dean of Culture was a bit scared that I was doing things too differently when I was going to be here a short time, but then she began to institute more mindfulness interventions. I learned that I need to make a slower, more quiet entrance into a job and learn the culture before trying to change it!

Sometimes I feel I do not have as much mental health competency as I would like. Other times I trust my life experience, body, intuition, and creativity to lead me. I am trying to make more of my decisions based on joy so they will sustain and nourish me. I am also making a conscious choice not to define myself by a job title. I have many interests and much I would like to offer. I am facillitating Authentic Movement workshops, blogging, lecturing at universities and participating in causes I am passionate about. For example, I am leading an event for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week at a local facility. Plus, while in this lull I am picking up extra hours and actually dancing almost everyday!

So, is this what I imagined life as a DMT to be and does it relate to my perception of the DMT culture? I would have to say that the DMT culture has in part changed my whole perspective on life in so many ways. I am able to sit without judgement, be vulnerable and strong at the same time, comprehend what an honor it is for someone to trust you with their pain, what a privilege it is to witness, and what a gift it is to be able to help someone embody empowerment. I understand and know how to be present and hold space for myself and others, which has enhanced all of my relationships. I have like – minded people in my life. I am knowing what it is and feels like to do the work.

I think my question right now is where does the DMT culture fit into to the overall mental health picture. And not from the DMT point of view, but the mental health world.

About emilyadannunzio

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