As I continue on my journey as a dance/movement therapist I’m becoming more and more aware of the way that I personally define dance/movement therapy (DMT). The more you do the work, the more you reflect on how you do the work (with the help of good supervision, of course). In my experience, defining DMT has been a touchy subject and a tricky thing to do. Sure, the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) has an official definition, but I have also learned is that it is so very important to contextualize DMT to fit the needs of the individuals I work with daily. This often leaves me in a tough spot when explaining my work to people outside of the DMT community. When describing DMT, I wonder if I should I rattle off the “official” definition to be a good and true ambassador of the field, or if I should I explain it in the way I see fit hoping the DMT experts trust me with our sacred history. I have been in this moment with strangers and while I’m battling, oftentimes the person I’m talking to rattles off a guess definition of DMT that is so true, simple and pure I am blown away. Why is it that sometimes outsiders get DMT better than insiders do?
While out shopping the other day I had my ADTA bag slumped over my shoulder. As I was standing in the check-out line the gentleman in front of me, after reading the bag I’m guessing, turned to me and asked, “What’s dance/movement therapy?” If you’ve been a part of the DMT community for awhile you’ll know that this question often stirs up mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was excited that someone asked about my work and that there was (small) opportunity to give DMT exposure. On the other hand, I felt slightly anxious because DMT is a complex topic and it is difficult to explain to a stranger who seemingly has no context for the work.
In this moment I tried my best to explain DMT to the stranger, “It’s an arts based counseling… It’s founded in the idea that the mind and body are connected… Have you heard of music therapy? It’s kind of like that.” While I was fumbling over my words, attempting to find a way to explain what the heck it is I do for a living the gentleman said,
“Hm, I think I get it. I appreciate anything that helps create a space where people can be themselves.”
I stopped, looked at the gentleman, exhaled and said, “Yes, that’s what I try to do every day with my clients.”
I was deeply impacted by the profound simplicity of how this stranger defined DMT. I was stunned by his ability to distill DMT down to its central core of offering individuals an opportunity to explore and be themselves through movement and dance. Reflecting on this moment on the train ride home, I wondered why it was that a stranger was so easily able to define DMT and I wasn’t. Not only that, but why there is a phenomenon of apprehension when defining DMT in our very own culture as dance/movement therapists? We have a rigid definition of our work that’s so vast and specific at the same time that it is confusing to insiders and outsiders a like. Why is it that we’re afraid to admit that we individually define DMT differently and that that’s okay?
I don’t necessarily have the answer to those questions, although I do have some personal ideas. What I will say is that I have had profound discussions about DMT with strangers and friends outside of the culture. These conversations have been very meaningful and they have brought me clarity about what DMT actually is. Sometimes my conversations with outsiders have left me asking, “Why is it that you understand my work better than other professional dance/movement therapists?” As a profession, we’ve worked diligently to expose and prove DMT to the world, providing evidenced based definitions, but maybe somewhere along the way we’ve lost the simple and profound truth of what DMT actually is. While it is certainly important to define our work universally, we also have to create a culture where it is okay for dance/movement therapists to define and do the work as we see fit for our clients. Dance/movement therapy should be specific and it should be vast, but what it really should be is a way to create a space where individuals can be themselves.