Disenchanted with the culture of dance/movement therapy.

When I started my blogging “career” (if you will), I felt this strong sense of dissonance with my passion for dance/movement therapy (DMT) and it’s relevance on the internet.  When attempting to find information about DMT, I found information that was most likely dated for 2002.  I’ve worked diligently on doing my part in changing our antiquated presence by blogging about and plugging DMT.  The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) has also made a vast amount of changes in this department too (now offering Webinars and an official blog).  Yet, as I forge on in my DMT journey I’m beginning to wonder if my original dissonant feelings have less to do with DMT in social media and more about the actual culture of DMT.  I’m currently feeling a bit disenchanted with the DMT culture.

I realize I am about to embark on a very touchy subject, one that is deeply subjective, but this blog topic has been a long time coming.  If I were to do a theme analysis of my earlier blog posts I think I’d discover that despite whatever was the supposed topic, there was always an underlying theme of challenging the current DMT culture.  There has been an increase in the DMT exposure on the internet via various blogs, online journals, Twitter accounts, and Facebook accounts.  So, in a sense, I’ve gotten what I had originally hoped for and yet I still feel sense of discomfort and alienation from a culture I subscribe too.  What seems upsetting about the DMT culture (at least the American DMT culture) is how the work is being represented and how our culture defines DMT.   Yes, this is true of the social media representation, but also in my personal interactions with dance/movement therapists at events like the ADTA conference.

What is most confusing to me about our culture is the apparent vigilantism in making DMT a “known” psychotherapy and yet we adhere to stuffy and dated rules of defining it by emphasizing it’s history.  Dance/movement therapy is done THIS way and we must NOT forgot our founders.  Over the internet, dance/movement therapists are encouraged to read and comment on online articles like, “Why dancing is good for the brain,” or “Why dancing makes us smart,” to promote and explain DMT in a way of raising our skinny fists.  Yet this is contrasted by the vast amounts of stuff posted on the ADTA Facebook group and other social media outlets that contains memes of overly-expressive dancers or an article about how some famous person backs the idea that dance is therapeutic.  Sure, these things are great to read and watch, but how do they relate to DMT?  More importantly, how do either of these phenomenons, both vigilance of our past and the over-exposure of everything therapeutic dance, help when promoting DMT?  It’s overly inclusive and exclusive at the same time.  You can see how this is confusing.

I’ve also experienced this vigilantism on a personal level with my work with adults with developmental disabilities (DD).  I’ve been told two times in my life by two different individuals, in a roundabout way, that my work was not DMT.  As in, I was not doing DMT with my clients despite my knowledge, training and experience as a dance/movement therapist.  Although I can see where they are coming from because I am surely not doing the traditional approach, the essence of my work is still informed and guided by my DMT education.  Despite my empathetic understanding of said individuals, you could see how these words would be devastating.  They also make me wonder why it is that as a practicing dance/movement therapist (although “greener”) I am seemingly not allowed to mold my own understanding of DMT to fit my own personal style and more importantly, the needs of my clients and their abilities.   When will I FINALLY have the expertise to do DMT in a way I see fit that may or may not be the way that our culture defines it?  Why the hell did I spend all that money in graduate school?

My frustration with the DMT culture might also speak to the distance I feel from other professionals in our work, specifically the more esteemed professionals. I feel like there is a divide in emerging dance/movement therapists and those who have been doing the work a long time, those who also have the power and voice of our association and published research.  And usually, when it’s anything related to DMT, it is the same five esteemed individuals presenting about or representing DMT.  I’m strictly speaking to my own personal distancing experience, yet I know deep down there has to be other emerging dance/movement therapists who feel this way too.  Sure, I could try to become more involved in the ADTA.  I absolutely could, but there always seems to be a specific mold to adhere to when participating.  I envy my fellow DMT friends who have more effortlessly streamlined in becoming involved in our professional organization.

This might be a good moment to honor the fact that I’m part of the social media image of DMT due to my choice in blogging.  Yet, what I hope is different about my blog posts is that I have transparency and ownership.  When I write about DMT in my blog, I blog about my experience as a dance/movement therapist or about my personal thoughts on DMT theory.  Yes, I’m putting myself out there, but I hope to do so in a mindful way.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much Irvin D. Yalom, who stresses the importance of therapist transparency and that transparency models self-disclosure for our clients.  Transparency makes us human.

My thoughts about DMT culture, the culture of the ADTA, and transparency reminded me of Dr. Lenore Hervey’s Marian Chace Foundation Lecture, Bindings, Boundaries and Pathways: Dancing on the Edge, at the 2014 ADTA conference.  At the end of her lecture Hervey asks,

“Regarding professional transparency: Are you able to be sufficiently transparent to allow your students and patients to see through you to the greater truths they need to see?

Regarding transparency and the ADTA: Is the ADTA transparent enough for its membership to see and hear the true nature [of] its mission and goals? Is it transparent enough for its membership to be seen and heard?”

I guess I’ve been wondering the same thing.  Although I have out-rightly called for visibility of DMT in social media, I guess I should have been more specific.  We need to be mindful of the way we present DMT on social media, and how this differs from our published journals.  Maybe transparency as dance/movement therapists is a way to do this.  As in, we speak to our own daily experiences as dance/movement therapists.  We need to be transparent on the internet as dance/movement therapists and with each other as human beings in a similar profession.   I also truly hope that as a culture that we shift from our rigid definitions of DMT, with the knowledge that flexibility in our definition does not in any way discredit our founders or our appreciation of them.  I have such hopes so I can personally find the enchantment I once had with DMT and it’s culture.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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7 Responses to Disenchanted with the culture of dance/movement therapy.

  1. Connor Kelly says:

    I love your blog and your thoughts! I too have worked with DD adults and when you practice with a population who is not able to develop imagery work due to cognitive deficits it is still DMT because you hold the possibilities and an overall view in your work that is deep and vast about how dance can transform. As Susie Imus says sometimes our sessions look like movement, sometimes dance sometimes therapy. You are always in touch with those possibilities within yourself no matter what you session looks like!

    • I love the image you create as the holder of possibilities. We do hold the possibilities, the knowledge of DMT, and if we present it mindfully to our clients hopefully we will help facilitate transformation. Thanks for reading, commenting and supporting.

      • Connor Kelly says:

        Absolutely it is my pleasure, since I have lived overseas for 2 decades, currently in New Zealand I am a bit of an outsider although did board work in the 80s and early 90s it was quite a celebration and historical moment for me, even thought I was not physical present to witness was when Robin Cruz became the first ADTA president of a new generation. Prior to that, they all had been either Marion Chace’s students or someone in that generation. So we continue to raise the questions and create the discussion, Bravo!

  2. Jamie says:

    Love the opening of this discussion! i have been stressing with my students recently the distinction between the method and the model; i.e., the method being the broader underlying values and techniques, and the model being the particular approach of any individual.
    The older DMTs who have published, etc. are presenting their approach ~
    all power to you as you continue to define and expand your own work!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting Jamie. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about methodologies and models of DMT, trying to navigate my own personal DMT style. I’ve also been thinking about the theory of DMT. Do we have DMT theory? Or, is DMT literature just a collection of various methodologies? It’s a blog post in the making.

  3. Sheryl B. Hipps says:

    I think the issues are even so much greater. The expressive/creative arts therapies/psychotherapies truly need to free their shackles! They have grown into the magnificent professional organizations they are and the stellar university programs they offer because they could reach possibilities within individuals otherwise seemingly unreachable by other means. All of our professional organizations and university programs have rich histories and the best way we can honor them is to open our minds, bodies and spirits to the vastness of what is yet to be learned and explored. We need to learn to embrace and celebrate our diversity and not just teach tolerance. We need to open our gates to continue to build upon our foundations and we need to share our discoveries unabashedly.

    • Thank you for reading and commentating, Sheryl. I agree, we need to honor our founders by keeping the trail blazing- to embrace diversity and to continue wondering/questioning/researching is a way to do this.

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