Researching dance therapy, from the perspective of a dancer

Anna Süheyla Harms,

My name is Anna and I am a 34 year old professional dancer, originally from Australia. In 2021 I received a state funded artist scholarship, (DIS-TANZ-SOLO) to carry out my own artistic research. I endeavoured to research the field of dance therapy, looking at it as a possible enriching career to my dancing. With this article I would like to illustrate some of the themes that guided my research and the questions I was asking myself and others about dance therapy. In doing so I will integrate parts of the conversations I had with those people who so generously shared their time and expertise with me.

Thanks to the Berufsverband der TanztherapeutInnen Deutschland, I was able to send out a survey to its members which was just invaluable for gathering personal experiences from dance therapists all over Germany. I found people’s responses to my questions so enlightening that I have included some of them here in this article. If it wasn’t already so long I would have loved to include even more!

I am not a professional writer, but I will do my best to organise all of this information into a coherent text which will hopefully be informative for anyone curious about dance therapy!


  1. Introducing myself and my interview partners; Mona, Dirk and Andrew
  2. Theme 1: Am I, as a dancer really ‘in tune’ with my body and what does that mean for becoming a dance therapist?
  3. Theme 2: Laban Movement Analysis
  4. Theme 3: ‘Therapy’ and ‘who am I?’
  5. Theme 4: Is it an advantage to have been a dancer?
  6. Theme 5: What qualities are necessary for being a dance therapist?
  7. Theme 6: Tips for dancers wanting to become therapists
  8. Theme 7: What do you like most about being a dance therapist?
  9. Theme 8: Do you see a positive change in people?
  10. Theme 9: Transitioning/ageing as a dancer
  11. Last little side question and sign off

Introducing myself and my interview partners; Mona, Dirk and Andrew

The past few years were quite tumultuous for me, as for many people. Not only was my livelihood taken away from me for a time as the Corona lockdowns started, but I was already in the midst of rediscovering what kind of artist I was and wanted to be, as I left the security of the company world and transitioned into freelancing during 2018/2019. That self-investigation accompanied me throughout this time of practical and personal research.

As you can imagine, I had many questions going into this research project. Some of them were very concrete. For example, ‘How does one become a ‘dance therapist’? What are the different educational pathways, how much does it cost?’. Attending a couple of ‘open day’ type seminars run by dance therapist training institutions around Cologne answered a lot of those questions. The facts and practical steps were relatively easy to find out and I won’t go into that here. The more personal side of things was definitely a process, one which still continues today!

The most influential part of my research came through reaching out and having inspiring conversations with people who were/are active and integral to the dance therapy scene. These encounters were definite ‘eye-opening’ moments for me, and became catalysts for self-reflection and exploration. Let me shortly introduce Mona Weniger, Dirk Kazmierczak, and Andrew Morrish, who all agreed to share their time and words with me.

I met Mona Weniger through a dance project in Esslingen, where I danced together with her daughter Laura in an inclusive dance ensemble called ‘DieTanzKompanie’. Mona studied her Masters in Dance Therapy in New York in the 70’s/80’s, and was a pioneer in bringing dance therapy as it is now known, to Germany, and in founding the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Tanztherapie (DGT).

Dirk Kazmierczak is a dancer and dance therapist. I met Dirk at the DITAT/Bonn Open Day Seminar where he is a teacher and instructor. I was immediately keen to talk more with Dirk, given his background as a dancer. I knew it would be interesting to speak with someone with the same background as me, who might have spent time thinking about similar things.

Andrew Morrish is an Australian performer and improviser whom I met in Stuttgart when he gave an improvisation workshop. At the time I wasn’t thinking about dance therapy, and only came across his name on the website of the Australian Dance Therapy Association once I began researching this topic.

Their personal stories: how did you get into dance therapy?
I have left these responses in quite some detail as I think they are super interesting stories and help in understanding the perspectives of each person.

DIRK: 'That’s a good question, I think it was like this: at some point I was doing a lot of dance theatre, and I was asking myself, what is an authentic movement? At the same time I was also teaching a lot, not only ballet but also modern dance and improvisation, working with older people, and children. I noticed that when the movement got very personal, it could trigger something, and that people could communicate a lot. It was important to be able to hold them and support them through this process, which can sometimes go very deep. I also noticed how certain dynamics occur within a group, and that made me ask what it is going on there, why does he or she move like that? I was approached to give private lessons, but more like a physical coach. It started out with questions like ‘how to walk?’, but soon developed into something more dance therapeutical. At that time I had a different perspective. Therapy usually means that there is something pathological there, that someone has a condition, or a diagnosis. It also usually means yes, I know what to do, I have a method and I want to heal someone or at least help them improve something. For that you need a method, tools, and certification. At the same time I was asking myself questions regarding my own life. I was leaving the stage feeling empty and without connection to what I was doing. I find that sometimes professional dancers are dissociated from their bodies, it functions, but there is no connection. I started questioning that, and so I think it came from both sides.’

MONA: 'For me there is a difference between my academic and my personal biographies for how I got into dance therapy. I’ll start with the academic one:
I first did an apprenticeship to become a teacher of Expression-gymnastics in the Bode method. I wanted to be useful for people’s health. It was a great foundation, a very intensive and healthy way to improve my perception of body and how I can be useful in life, through movement and through dance. I was lucky that I got a job at a primary school right after graduating, teaching sport and music. After two years I wanted to pursue the dance aspect more intensively, so I reduced my hours at the school to be able to teach in other contexts like giving workshops and courses, and to work with adults. I listened as people, especially the women that I worked with, described improvements in their physical and mental states… ‘it does me so good’, ‘my migraines are better’, ’my depression is less’. It was such honest work, and such an encouragement to continue on this path. Back then there was no ‘dance therapy’ as we know it day, it was all a process of searching and feeling.
When a new psychiatry clinic opened in the community, I submitted an open application and was immediately placed on the closed ward. There I received such a crash course in what dance therapy can and cannot do. The doctors were completely open to my methods, we worked together as equals in this important and pioneering research work. They, from the psychological and medicinal aspect, and me from the movement and dance aspect. This was around the middle/end of the 70’s, when electroshock therapy was still in use in the clinic as well. I found that very disturbing at the time.
I was still reading and studying for myself during that time, and I came to realise that with only my certificate as a gymnastic teacher I wouldn’t be able to get much further. I applied for courses all along the east coast of America, and was accepted at the New York University. There I received my Masters in Dance Therapy. It was a revelation, everything fell into place. Dance therapy was 50 or 60 years ahead over there. I had great professional opportunities presented to me in America. However, I felt the collective trauma and how it was to be a German in America after the second World War, and realising that I could never be happy in America I returned to Germany to bring dance therapy with me. Once back in Germany I was part of the founding of the Deutsches Gesellschaft für Tanztherapie. Rainer Brückmann and I had our own small institute in Cologne and in Essen, from 1983 until 1991 until our daughter Laura was born.

The personal side of the story has a lot to do with my family’s history. I realised very early on that me and my siblings needed therapy. Through attending a group therapy session with my sister, I had the revelation that the body and mind need to unite. There is a healing way through movement and dance and I knew I wanted to follow this path. I had done a lot of gestalt therapy, an intensive personal therapeutical process in order to save myself. One's own story is always the driving force at the beginning to get into this therapeutic work. You have to be good, healthy and conscious, and able to work on your own shadow.’

ANDREW: ‘Well I think the history of dance therapy in Australia, as a concept, and as a reality, it goes back to Hanny Exiner. Hanny was a dancer with Gertrude Bodenwieser dancer in the 1930’s and 40’s. She came to Australia with the Bodenwieser Company from Vienna. I think the company was stranded by the war whilst on tour to South America and Australia. Hanny was Jewish and I think Madame Bodenwieser was also. So the company decided they could not return to Europe. Some chose to stay in Australia, in both Melbourne and Sydney I think. Hanny was one of the young dancers who settled in Melbourne. She had a studio in Collins St for many years, teaching and making choreographies. Her generation were a big influence on bringing the German Expressionist style to Australia. Hanny eventually was taught dance at the Melbourne Kindergarten Teachers College, which was later amalgamated with Melbourne University. In the 1970’s she set up a course called the Graduate Diploma in Movement and Dance, 2 year part time diploma for people who wanted to teach “creative movement“in schools. She also staffed the course with some very extraordinary women, in particular Phil Lloyd, Karen Bond and Linda Leah.
The curriculum was very influenced by Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), encouraging students to develop their teaching from that basis. I enrolled in the course in 1981, by then there were two streams, one in education and one in therapy.
At the time I was a very unhappy primary school teacher. I had discovered dancing for myself in my early twenties, dancing to rock and roll bands in pubs. The education department had a scheme were you could take unpaid leave for up to 2 years to study, so I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma really to get a break from the classroom. I was pretty sure I did not want to return to being a primary school teach so I chose their therapy stream in my second year.
It was very much influenced by LMA as a tool for curriculum development, and taught with a lot of passion and vision by Hanny. Phil Lloyd’s background was the Laban influenced Dance Curriculum in England which was part of the physical education curriculum in the UK and Australia. Karen Bond, from the U.S. was very influenced by her background in U.S. west coast liberal arts. She is a very expansive thinker and now is head of Dance at Temple University. Linda Leah was from Melbourne but had studied LMA in New York and was also working with Joan Skinner in Seattle.
There was no training of technique in the known dance styles. Everything was taught via movement exploration using Laban frameworks and they accepted people with very little conventional dance training (like me).
At that time the therapy stream really looked at teaching people with disabilities, so in effect it was a training in adaptive teaching and how to develop a curriculum for a specific population.
Once I had graduated I ran a program for 10 years for preschool children with a huge variety of disabilities at Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB). I was doing both group work (which I really considered as training for the care workers) and individual sessions with the children.
Before that I had been Karen Bond’s research assistant for her PhD working with Deaf Blind Children at RVIB. During that time I referred to myself as a dance specialist, as I felt that the term dance therapist should be reserved for the time when there was some kind of training and certification.
Also after my graduation I helped to form the “Dance Therapy Development Group” which eventually became the Dance Therapy Association of Australia. That group invited Dr Marcia Leventhal to conduct training workshops in Dance Therapy which she did for many years. Most of this group had completed the Graduate Diploma, and contained another group of formidable women from a variety of professional disciplines including Psychology, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, and Education.
At that time (late 1980’s) we were finding ways in which dance could be used broadly therapeutically, i.e in a generalised “improving well being” approach. I was cautious about calling it dance therapy until the structures for training and certification were in place, which happened in the 1990’s. I pretty much left dance therapy practice around 1994. I feel in retrospect there was a fair bit of burn out involved in this decision, and after that though remaining interested, I turned more to my own improvisation practice.’

Here I would like to include some of the responses from the survey, as people wrote what motivated them to pursue dance therapy.

‘Der Tanz anders zu nutzen als nur für die Bühne in ihrer Perfektion.’ (Mitte 50, 7 Jahre tätig)
‘To use dance in a way other than for its perfection on the stage.’ (Mid 50’s, 7 yrs practice)

‘Ich wollte Tanz, Kreativität und Heilung verbinden.’ (Mitte 30, 2 Jahre tätig)
‘I wanted to combine dance, creativity and healing.’ (Mid 30’s, 2 yrs practice)

‘Nach meiner Karriere als Bühnentänzerin und vielen Jahren als Ballett-/Modern-/Jazztanzlehrerin an privaten Schulen wollte ich mein Interessen an Psychologie und Tanz verbinden und einer anderen, für mich sehr spannenden Bedeutung von Bewegung/Tanz Raum geben.’ (Anfang 60, 13 Jahre tätig)
‘After my career as a dancer and many years of teaching ballet/modern/jazz at private schools I wanted to combine my interest in psychology and dance, and to give space to another meaning for movement and dance, which I find very exciting,.’ (Early 60’s, 13 yrs practice)

‘Die wunderbare Wirkung des Tanzes, die ich selber kenne, auch anderen zugänglich zu machen.’ (Mitte 60, 11 Jahre tätig)
‘To make the wonderful effects of dance, which I myself feel, accessible to others.’ (Mid 60’s, 11 yrs practice)

‘Interesse an der heilenden Kraft des Tanzes.’ (Ende 30, 8 Jahre tätig)
‘An interest in the healing power of dance.’ (Late 30’s, 8 yrs practice)

‘In meinem Grundberuf als Physiotherapeutin stieß ich speziell mit Schmerzpatientinnen an therapeutische Grenzen. Parallel entdeckte ich für mich persönlich den Tanz als schöpferisches Element.’ (Mitte 50, 20 Jahre tätig)
‘In my original profession as physiotherapist, especially with pain patients, I was arriving at therapeutical limits. At the same time, I discovered dance as a creative element for myself.’ (Mid 50’s, 20 yrs practice)

'War Tänzerin und liebe das Tanzen. Ich hatte immer das Gefühl, dass es natürlicher und für die Menschheit heilsamer wäre, wenn nicht einige wenige extreme Tanztechniken betreiben und die anderen zuschauen, sondern wenn viele Menschen tanzen und es für sich auf heilsame Art nutzen können.’ (Anfang 50, 2 Jahre tätig)
‘I was a dancer, and love dance. I always had the feeling that it would be more natural and healing for humanity if there wouldn’t be those extreme dance techniques where some do and others watch, but rather that many people should dance and use the healing effects of dance for themselves. (Early 50’s, 2 yrs practice)

Theme 1: Am I, as a dancer really ‘in tune’ with my body and what does that mean for becoming a dance therapist?

I am going to start with an observation which jumped out at me during my first open day seminar, and which then accompanied me throughout the rest of the time and still does.
The thought was, even though I am a dancer and feel very in tune to my body’s physical needs, it does not mean that my mind/psyche and body are in tune with each other. Whilst being in the position of the client in a therapy session, or participant during the seminars, I found it very difficult to judge whether what my body was doing was ‘true’ or ‘honest’ reflections of my inner state or emotions. I asked myself, did I really just move in that way because it was honestly what I needed to physically express, or was that an ingrained movement quality or pattern just being reproduced? I didn’t trust it, I judged it, which is also typical of a dancer, at least of myself.
This lead me to question what it would mean if I were to pursue the path of a therapist? Should I to try to ‘get rid’ of these movement patterns, if so, how?

I asked Dirk about his perspective on this topic:
DIRK: ’I believe that we are schooled, as professional dancers, to be able to deliver all movement qualities on demand. Of course there are preferences for how someone likes to move, but I think that it is mostly integrated from the outside. You can say, now, do a movement like this, and then with a bit of rehearsal it’s there. But sometimes it’s not coming from the inside, it’s not honest, not really felt. If a dancer would come into a dance therapy session, and you ask them to move, then everything would come from recall and it wouldn’t actually have anything to do with the person… you have to be able to function every day, going to the theatre and dancing 7 or 8 hours a day. You can’t always feel ‘oh here I feel a bit closed’, of course it’s possible but I believe you have to be able to block that in order to function. Sometimes you have to trick yourself and manipulate yourself.’

Andrew also had some insight to share:
ANDREW: ’I would say that in my improvisation workshops, the people that have the hardest time, are the people with the most dance training. I feel they have had models of what dancing is, put into their bodies, and so it is often quite difficult for them to think beyond showing their training to an audience. People who’ve never done any training often have fewer options physically, but they can make choices based on what they enjoy.
I think my job is to help the participants to find the “doors” that give them permission and then the development that occurs from having a good time. Of course technical dance training is great for getting jobs in contemporary dance, and that’s not to be sniffed at, at all.’

Now that I am reflecting on this question several months later down the track, I think I can answer myself, that no, I do not have to try to ‘get rid’ of my training and movement patterns. It wouldn’t be possible anyway, I would not want to get rid of it. I can be very thankful for and proud of my dance training and all that it has brought me in terms of a hugely diverse movement repertoire and a kinaesthetic intelligence. What I do believe though is that the work for me is in becoming acutely aware of my movement patterns. Which leads me very well into the next theme…

Theme 2: Laban Movement Analysis

One very important and basic foundation in dance therapy is the Laban Movement Analysis. I knew about Rudolf Laban, I had probably studied him back in dance history class in high school. But I didn’t realise that he was such a key figure and pioneer in the dance therapy world. His system of movement analysis came up often during my dance therapy research. It is useful to recognise one’s own movement patterns already as a dancer, but as a dance therapist it is crucial and a very important part of the self-therapy aspect of the training.

DIRK: ’In a movement analysis in the style of Laban, we look at what Laban calls ‘Efforts’. Because of the theatre and my work, my preferences were to move fast, indirect and bound. They were the main things. Fast, indirect and bound, zack zack zack. I could also move slowly and also liked moving slowly, it wasn’t that. But I think that we often look for virtuosity in dance, at what’s effective. There’s too much doing, it’s not necessary… and I think that many dancers have integrated an output/performance thing, which of course I also had, it’s about ‘performance’ in dance.’

MONA: ‘Laban and Bartenieff played a large role in my studies in New York. Every week we did a Laban movement analysis. The subtitles are Effort and Shape. This allows you to recognise and confront the preferences you have in your way of moving. For example, how you use strength, and tempo. It gives you a way to reflect about your whole life, a way to view your life and your relationships. Also how you relate to postures… our conversation right now is a continuous pas de deux. My hand movements always have a resonance to your head, your eyes, your posture. It’s not about right or wrong. Every relationships is healing through the exchange of energy. A resonance takes place.’

‘I am someone who is incredibly fast, in thinking, acting, and working. Whereas Laura, because of her disposition is extremely slow. When I, because of my disposition become fast and hectic, and loose the overview, then she becomes slower and slower. And then every now and then there’s an explosion, in the past many times, but now we are conscious of this. Now Laura will make a joke and say ‘cool down Mama’… to be able to accept that, and understand that, can be very helpful for relationships… And for example to notice how you behave in a room. If you are always so narrow and tight, then you can never take your space, or tell the world and people around you ‘hey now stop, I also have my place here.’ To be able to understand one’s basic patterns is very helpful, and that’s what the Bewegungsanalyse (movement analysis) is about.’

ANDREW: ‘I was given the mission of developing something that looked like dance therapy, in my time at RVIB. Once again I must mention another formidable woman, Margaret Bull who ran the Early Childhood Program at RVIB. A visionary driven by an uncompromising desire for the highest quality program for the children.
I was very happy with the fact that we were just getting very good at this adaptive educational technique. Modify the material so that it's of benefit to the individual with 'this or that'. They were exciting times. I had to develop my own analysis tools (using LMA) as part of the assessment of the program. At that time in the Melbourne Dance Therapy community we were very humble, trying to get good at our particular practice with our particular populations . We knew we were not developmentally ready to bring in the psychotherapeutic approach that the US dance therapists had adopted by then. I would never hold people back from that approach, but helping people and their well being through dancing, was the idea we all had.
It was incredibly helpful that we also shared LMA vocabulary from our training with Karen, Hanny, Linda and Phil. Hanny was also very much driven by aesthetics and I think this influenced us a great deal.
I guess we didn’t really talk about enlightenment and all the metaphysics but we could talk about the movement, and I loved that, it felt very concrete and when combined with the aesthetic understanding each dance was something that no one else in a multi-disciplinary team could bring to RVIB.
I think there is a continuum: there’s a thing called dancing, there's a thing called dance teaching, and there's a thing called dance therapy. And there was a sliding along that continuum.’

Theme 3: ‘Therapy’ and ‘who am I?’

I remember being a little surprised when I learnt that a big part of the dance therapy vocational training entailed engaging in therapy oneself. Now that I understand more about dance therapy, I understand why it is so essential if one intends to work as a therapist. Everyone could benefit from investing time and energy on their mental hygiene. Becoming aware of my own themes and working through them will ensure that I can look after myself and my future clients/patients. It’s also about having the experience of being in a therapeutic situation oneself, to understand what it is like. I had never been in any kind of therapy session before. Being in those situations I definitely didn’t feel free! It made be feel quite uncomfortable actually. And there was no resolution of those feelings. I just had to be ok with observing myself like that and content with assuming that once I would dive into the therapy training that I would be fine and able to work through it.
It was reassuring to hear from Dirk how he spoke about his therapy training.
DIRK: ‘I think it was a process. During my vocational training I had to do a ‘Learning Therapy’, with supervision, and also self-therapy, for quite a long time actually, including analysis. I spent a long time getting to know myself better. When I think about how I used to move at the beginning of my therapy, and how I move now, ok I am older too, but I think that I have changed.’

I am a reluctant improviser. I usually have the feeling I have to prove something, impress someone, be creative and virtuosic. Even in the dance therapy sessions I attended, in those moments I was doubting myself if I was really free of self judgements and expectations. And so I always came back to the question of, as a trained dancer will I ever be able to move freely? Even if I’m only improvising for myself, how many of these movement habits still surface?
It was particularly interesting to discuss this topic with Dirk, as he was also a dancer in the state theatre world. He knew exactly the kind of environments I had been in.
DIRK: ’When we are in dance training, so often the mirror is there, or a balletmaster, or someone who acts as a corrective, a choreographer, who says ‘I like that, I don’t like that.’ It’s always about the outside perspective. What is interesting, how do I make myself interesting? When 250 people go to an audition, you ask yourself how do I make myself interesting, what do I have to do to stand out? And clearly, that is such a narcissistic theme, actually it’s horrible that you always have to be liked by someone, and that you are told ‘I like this, I don’t like you.’

Actually it was exactly in an audition situation soon after deciding to become a freelancer, that I was told just to ‘show us who you are…’
Wow that statement somehow hit me hard. I realised that I had no idea what kind of dancer I was, having been in a repertoire company where you fit yourself into every choreographer’s style who comes through. I shared this experience with Dirk:
‘I find that a very touching and interesting question. You also brought that up during the DITAT orientation seminar. You mentioned that actually, you don’t know what makes you you, when you take all that away. Because when you don’t have anyone from outside saying ‘I like that’, then you have to ask yourself, what do I like? Or, how do I want to do things?’

Some years have passed since that audition. I believe that through time and just being active and successful in the freelance scene helped me find peace with ‘being me’. I don’t need to add anything extra, or ‘rediscover’ myself in order to be a freelance artist. I already have so much I just have to be proud of it and use it!

Theme 4: Is it an advantage to have been a dancer?

MONA: ‘I know that during my time, which is quite a long time ago, that both sides were important. The personality and life experience that you bring, the ‘character’ that you always bring is very important. But also your dance experience is important, as they are the tools with which you work.’

DIRK: ’I think that is one of the core discussions in the Dance Therapy scene. Because people come from both sides, from the psycho-pedagogical, or the psychosocial, or the psychotherapeutic side, or from dance and the artistic side. I think that both have advantages and disadvantages. The beautiful thing is that they meet. But that is just my opinion. The roots of dance therapy come from dancers and choreographers. It was the trained dancers and choreographers who said ok, now we are going to go into the psychiatric clinics to dance with people and see what happens. There were no methods to begin with, but people came from their dance background with the idea that it could be beneficial for people. They just learnt by doing, seeing: ok when I do this then that happens, or, that feels really good to me, so why not for someone else?
I believe that dancers have a very broad movement repertoire, they can move in very differentiated ways, that maybe others can’t. Of course I am looking at this from a dancers perspective, but the origin of dance therapy came form Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, Laban, and they are all people who came from modern dance. They are our great grandmothers and great grandfathers, and I am proud of that as a dancer… I believe that in dance therapy, dance must be at the centre, the body must be at the centre, that’s why people want it and do it.’

I was also curious to ask Dirk if sometimes the clients felt intimidated by the fact that he was a professional dancer:
‘…most of the time the clients know that I was a dancer because they have looked at my website. Or they know me from other contexts, from one of my workshops for example. And then because of that they really want to work with me. However sometimes it does happen that they think oh! ‘’now you are watching me and it’s not good enough’’. But I try to create an atmosphere of acceptance in the therapy, and to build a relationship of trust before anything happens, to be clear that it’s not about that at all. It’s not my therapeutical process. I am just a guide, and I look on with empathy/sympathy/goodwill. And interest, just interest, without judgement, what is that there? I am curious and often fascinated, and when you are curious then you think more like ohhhh ok what is that now? And maybe you don’t know! I believe that when you are in a therapeutical process, you have to know a lot, but then you have to forget everything when you come in contact with the client. I let myself get taken along. And I’m thinking ohhh how does that feel right now? And later I reflect on that, or also as I’m going. It is always important in a therapeutic relationship to give resonance. I let myself be invited to resonate.’

Theme 5: What qualities are necessary for being a dance therapist?

This was something that I asked most people I spoke to, and it was also a question in my survey. So I have also included some quotes from that. The responses speak for themselves!

DIRK: ‘Many! I believe that the first thing you need, or what I find important, is a kind of therapeutical humbleness, or humility. And respect for others. But I think humbleness is the most important. To be able to say, I don’t know everything, I have my own problems, I am not finished. I find it good to stay on eye level. A reference to the humanistic perspective. That I find important. But I also find it super important to have empathy. And an openness. And not to be so moral - you’re allowed to do this but not this. I find it needs an openness, and just a lot of curiosity. With curiosity you have a lot of room to play, to just observe what is happening. And then a lot depends on the client, you do need to be able to keep the thread going, and to know methodologically speaking what you are doing, you need good training.’

MONA: ‘Courage, patience. To be able to look away from yourself. Your own ego has to be put in the background. You have to have the humbleness to realise that what you give people now as developmental opportunities might not be taken up until 10 years time, or not at all. It is a gift to be at all present during such a creative development in others. Thankfulness is infinitely important.
You have to have courage to go into dark rooms, into the shadows. Patience, that growth often needs a lot of time and that you won’t always see it. Thankfulness, courage, patience, fascination for the creativity which wants to show itself and for human potential. The ability of oneself to be in the background.
You can’t be lacking for yourself, you need to be able to feed yourself, you have to able to be happy in life yourself. So that you don’t need the healing or development of the patients to fulfil yourself. You put your patients on the stage of life, their Lifestage. The difficult part in therapeutic work is that we can project our shadow on the client, for example when we are jealous of the client because they have achieved something that we haven’t.’

Some more insights from the survey:

‘Ruhe, Offenheit, gut im eigenen Körper zuhause, Wahrnehmungsfähigkeit, eigene Stabilität, Leichtigkeit, Freude, Kreativität, unkonventionelle Ideen.’ (Mitte 50, 16 Jahre tätig)
‘Calmness, openness, feeling at home in one’s own body, perceptiveness, stability, lightness, joy, creativity, unconventional ideas.’ (Mid 50’s, 16 yrs practice)

‘Empathie, hohe Flexibilität in Körper und Geist, sehr gute Kenntnisse des Körperausdrucks, bewegungsanalytisches Verständnis…’ (Mitte 50, 19 Jahre tätig)
‘Empathy, flexibility in body and mind, very good knowledge of physical expression, understanding of movement analysis…’ (Mid 50’s, 19 yrs practice)

Empathiefähigkeit, Belastbarkeit, Wissen über sich selbst, Authentizität, Weiterlernenwollen.’ (Mitte 60, 12 Jahre tätig)
‘Empathy, resilience, self-knowledge, authenticity, desire to learn.’ (Mid 60’s, 12 yrs practice)

‘Empathie, Selbstreflexion, Geduld, Kreativität, Neugier.’ (Mitte 50, 5 Jahre tätig)
‘Empathy, self-reflection, patience, creativity, curiosity.’ (Mid 50’s, 7 yrs practice)

‘Authentizität, Kontaktfähigkeit, Freude an der Arbeit mit Menschen, Wertschätzung für andere, die eigenen Begrenzungen wahrnehmen.’ (Anfang 60, 31 Jahre tätig)
‘Authenticity, an ability to create contact, joy in working with people, appreciation for others, knowing your own limits.’ (Early 60’s, 31 yrs practice)

‘Empathie, Geduld, Herz und Humor.’ (Mitte 50, 20 Jahre tätig)
‘Empathy, patience, heart and humour.’ (Mid 50’s, 20 yrs practice)

‘Den eigenen Körper als Resonanzraum erleben können und das Empfundene in Worte fassen lernen, die man anderen mitteilen kann, sodass ein interdisziplinärer Austausch möglich ist und Patienten einen verstehen können und Zugang zu ihren eigenen Körpern finden lernen.’ (Anfang 60, 17 Jahre tätig)
To be able to experience one’s own body as a space for resonance. To be able to put what one feels into words and then communicate them to others so that an interdisciplinary exchange is possible, as patients can understand you and learn to access their own body.’ (Early 60’s, 17 yrs practice)

‘Empathie, Resonanzfähigkeit, Flexibilität und Neugier.’ (Mitte 50, 7 Jahre tätig)
‘Empathy, ability to give resonance, flexibility, curiosity.’ (Mid 50's, 7 yrs practice)

So… lot’s of empathy!

Theme 6: Tips for dancers wanting to become therapists

I think I only asked Dirk this question, so here is his answer:
DIRK: I believe that it is important in the job as dancer to be able to take care of oneself, to be able to see what do I need right now? It is super important to know with whom one is dancing, what kind of people are they? Is it a nice place? For what am I making myself available? I think if you want to get into dance therapy you just need to take the step, to just start, and say, I want to understand myself in a new way, and to broaden my knowledge. I think that often happens through pedagogical work, that’s how it happened for me. I wanted to understand better, I felt that something was missing, I had an idea of it, but I was missing a method and a sense of security, I didn’t want to just poke around.
I think it is good to bring the body into psychotherapeutical situations. Even when you eventually decide to work therapeutically, you can do it sitting, or lying down, or back and forth, but I believe that when you have been accompanied by dance your whole life, it would be strange to throw it all away.
Something that you could do as a dancer, is to observe each other improvising. To notice what are the different qualities? The classic therapeutical question is, what does that do to me? You have to change your perspective from ‘do I like that?’ to ‘what does that do to me?’.

Something that Mona mentioned I find valuable to add here:
MONA: ‘For me it’s very important that dance therapy is seen as part of a larger platter of therapeutical possibilities. Art, music, ergo-therapy. For some people dance is enticing, for others it’s writing, or music. That is very important, I have to respect that. Healing always needs personal motivation to really be able to heal. And part of that is the free choice of the therapeutical method.’

Theme 7: What do you like most about being a dance therapist?

MONA: ‘Because dance in itself is movement, an exchange of energy, it’s the primal potion, with which we are incarnated. Even from the moment the sperm meet the egg, even that is in movement, and everything is dance. If you look in the biology, in the atomic research, everything is dance. Since I was small there was always a strong allurement, a fascination, to want to comprehend, understand and penetrate that. It’s such a mystery…
I am focused on life, not on ‘pathology’ which is the conventional medical approach. I give space and tools, and opportunities so that you can discover your core essence, that you discover your potential. And I look on with thankfulness and joy at how life unfolds. A more beautiful creative work I cannot imagine. ‘

DIRK: ‘I find it exciting to be allowed to accompany people through their personal process of growth. There are so many ways to live life, and it’s fun to be able to accompany this, hopefully I do it well! It’s not always easy but it is very fulfilling.’

From the survey:
‘Dass es um das 'Wirkliche' geht! Der Tanz und die Bewegung - für die, die sich auf das Abenteuer Tanztherapie eingelassen haben - erlaubt den unmittelbaren Zugang zur Seele des Menschen. Zitat "Der Körper lügt nicht". Mit Gesprächstherapie kann sich jeder 'rausreden', ausweichen, mit Worten. Alles kann so lange dauern, bis die Pat. auf ihre Themen kommen, Antworten finden, weiterkommen. Über die Bewegung geht das so viel schneller. Es ist unglaublich befriedigend, sie dabei zu begleiten und das Wunder der eigenen Intuition dabei zu erleben.’ (Mitte 60, 12 Jahre tätig)
‘That it is all about ‘the essential’. Dance and movement, for those who have agreed to embark on the dance therapy adventure, allows direct access to the human soul. Quote: “the body does not lie”. In talk therapy anyone can ‘dodge the topic’, avoid it, with words. It can take a long time until patients identify their themes, find answers, make progress. Through movement this process goes so much faster. It is unbelievably satisfying to guide patients and to witness the wonder of one’s own intuition.’ (Mid 60’s, 12 yrs practice)

‘Kreativität - Tanztherapie eröffnet Tiefen, die Worte nicht erreichen - bringt Inneres nach Außen, macht sichtbar, was spürbar ist - diesen Prozess mitzuerleben berührt ungemein.’ (Mitte 30, 7 Jahre tätig)
‘Creativity - Dance Therapy opens depths, which words can’t reach - it brings the inside to the outside and makes it visible, which is palpable - witnessing this process is immensely touching.’ (Mid 30’s, 7 yrs practice)

‘Die permanente Kreativität, die Nähe zu den Patientinnen, sie auf diese Art und Weise unterstützen zu können, die Freude, Emotionen über Tanz und Bewegung auszudrücken…’ (Mitte 50, 19 Jahre tätig)
‘The permanent creativity, the closeness to the patients, being able to support them in this way, the joy of expressing emotions through dance and movement…’ (Mid 50’s, 19 yrs practice)

‘Das Feedback meiner Klienten, mit Lebensfreude und Lebendigkeit immer wieder in Kontakt zu kommen, die Abwechslung, der Tanz und die Bewegung, Menschen zu berühren.’ (Ende 40, 10 Jahre tätig)
‘The feedback from my clients, getting in touch with vitality and liveliness again and again, the variety, the dance and the movement, touching people.’ (Late 40’s, 10 yrs practice)

…and so many more inspiring answers, as usual it was so hard to choose!

Theme 8: Do you see a positive change in people?

I was curious to hear from people if they witnessed improvement or any kind of ‘miraculous’ healing experiences through their work. I think I just wanted to hear real-life accounts of the positive benefits of dance therapy. Because in theory it may sound amazing and make sense in my mind but in practice that might be a very different thing! But not so, as Dirk and Mona, and other participants from the survey outline, positive change is a sure thing, no matter how small!

DIRK: ‘I see a lot of change, always. I often come out of a session entirely impressed. I am so touched by the processes, it requires a lot of courage. It’s amazing to see the movement repertoire in someone slowly grow. It might become freer, bigger, or smaller, just different. In dance therapy we base our work on the understanding that the mind and the body are in constant exchange. When there is a change in the way someone moves their body then things change in other areas, that’s the essence of this work.’
MONA: ‘We always had teachers, theologians, doctors etc coming to us who said that without dance therapy once a week, they would have quit their job a long time ago. Any profession which gives, with which you work with people in an emotional, social and pedagogical context, for them it’s ‘psychic-hygiene’. They can be in body and mind completely for themselves, they can cleanse themselves. For them it is deeply cleansing and healing. You can learn so much about yourself when you study the way you are in the world once a week, through movement and dance you can experience so much.’

From the survey:
‘Im klinischen Alltag erlebt man selten "große" Veränderungen und praktisch nie das Ende der Geschichte, daher folgt hier vielleicht nicht das, was sie meinen, aber das, was mir zu ihrer Frage einfällt: - eine traumatisierte Patientin, die nach Jahren ambulanter Begleitung in Gruppen-Tanztherapie ihr Leben bewältigen kann und auch in Krisen sich selbst regulieren kann…Senioren, die den ganzen Tag stumm und verwirrt am Tisch sitzen und dann in einer gemeinsamen Stunde sich am Springen eines Balles erfreuen und sich zur Musik wiegen ein bißchen mitsingen, wenn ein paar Worte zurückfinden und dann sogar zu unwahrscheinlichen Sätzen fähig sind, wie : "so glücklich war ich schon lange nicht mehr - Ich danke Ihnen sehr, wann kommen sie wieder?” (Anfang 60, 17 Jahre tätig)
‘In clinical everyday life one rarely experiences "big" changes and you practically never see the end of the story. So what I’ll describe here is maybe not what you mean, but what comes to my mind in answer to your question: - a traumatised patient who after years of outpatient guidance in group dance therapy is able to cope with her life and regulate herself even in crises… Elderly people who sit at the table all day mute and confused, then during a session enjoy bouncing a ball and swaying to the music, singing along a little, when a few words find their way back and then they are even capable of sentences like: "I haven't been this happy in a long time - thank you very much, when will you come back?” (Early 60’s, 17 yrs practice)

‘… wenn Sie jetzt das Lächeln auf meinem Gesicht sähen, würden Sie sehen, dass ich mich an manche Fälle ganz besonders gern erinnere, weil die Veränderungen so krass waren und manchmal durch ganz einfache Interventionen ausgelöst wurden!’ (Mitte 60, 12 Jahre tätig)
‘… if you saw the smile on my face now, you would see that I remember some cases particularly fondly, because the changes were so stark and sometimes triggered by very simple interventions!’ (Mid 60’s, 12 yrs practice)

‘Ich arbeite in einem Bereich mit schwer psychisch erkrankten Erwachsenen, in dem es selten "große positive Veränderungen" gibt. Die Tatsache, dass meine Klienten regelmäßig gekommen sind, den Kontakt mit anderen ausgehalten haben und es gelungen ist, eigene Ängste und Beziehungen zu anderen TN zu thematisieren, dass sie im Tanzen für andere sichtbar geworden sind ist bereits als großer Erfolg zu werten.’ (Mitte 30, 6 Jahre tätig)
I work in an area with severely mentally ill adults where there are rarely "big positive changes". The fact that my clients came regularly, endured the contact with others, succeeded in addressing their own fears and relationships with other participants, and that they became visible to others through dancing, can already be considered a great success.’ (Mid 30’s, 6 yrs practice)

‘Selbst in kurzer Zeit verändern sich einige menschen sehr, werden offener, lassen los. Das hat nicht nur mit der TT zu tun, sondern mit dem gesamten "Paket" in der Reha.’ (Mitte 50, 5 Jahre tätig)
‘Even within a short time some people change a lot, become more open, letting go. This has not only to do with dance therapy, but with the “package" in rehab. (Mid 50’s, 5 yrs practice).

Theme 9: Transitioning/ageing as a dancer

In talking with Andrew we also spoke about the very relevant topic of ageing as a dancer. He shared an interesting perspective which I found really inspiring. I have always had the aspiration to stay in dance and theatre as long as possible, as a performer, and he made me reflect back on that desire which had maybe been put away, and give it some more credit.

ANDREW: ‘I think one of the problems that professional contemporary dance has is that so much of it remains adolescent, and the “you get to your 30's then you stop” model.
In my 50's I said to myself, ‘’if I heard that there was someone, 70 years old, somewhere in the world who'd been improvising for 40 years, who was doing long solo improvisations in cellars and attics, I’d go anywhere in the world to see them.’’
And I realised I could be that guy!
The field needs the idea that you can still do it when you're 70. And it shouldn't look like it looked like when you were 33. Most of the older dancers I see, keep dancing because they can hold on to what they used to do 10 years ago. People love it and say things like they are so “good for their age”. I think they should be dancing like a 45 year old, when they are 45. But every 45 year old you see performing is pretending they're 35!
I sometimes talk about that when I perform, saying,” I'm moving like this not because I think this is a great way to move, I’m moving in because this is the way a 70 year old man dances. You need to know that, the world needs to know, this is what a 70 yr old men look like when they dance, because all the other 70 yr old men you see dancing, in this kind of context; they’re all pretending they're 15 years younger.”
Of course it's wonderful to watch really virtuosic dancing by young people, it's really gorgeous. However it has meant that the perception of what dance is has stayed in an adolescent model. How high, how fast, how long, you know all of those kind of questions, and these are irrelevant questions to people in their 60s. These things simply don’t matter anymore, and that's good I think.
The real question is how dance can mature and the answer can be found very simply by mature people maintaining amateur and sustainable practice.
We lose generation upon generation of young dancers because they can't find a way to grow inside the field. Dancers are trained in a way to be passive and to be told what to do, or to be given guidance about when they can do it, and how they can do it, and then if you're the least bit good people will start giving you advice about what you have to do to get more success, get more funding, so you get shaped by that whole process, all of that's completely great I think, but you just don’t let that be the whole story or the end of the story. Dance needs to be bigger and more robust than that.’

Last little side question and sign off

When I asked Mona how she integrates dance therapy into her life, this is what she said:
MONA: ‘A very interesting question… It runs like a matrix, like a computer program, always on in the background. I grasped very early on, that life, the wisdom of life, is actually understood through the body. My dance and movement therapy work, and my gymnastic training, have guided me throughout life’s conflicts. But especially the way in which I have accompanied Laura, and through all my pioneering political work for children with disabilities. I have always tried to analyse and understand myself through movement methods. In confronting political situations, with this physical and mental resistance, I could protect myself, and process things… the program was always running. Without this background, without the power of dance, Laura would certainly be living in a special institution.’

So there you have it…
After all this research I am an even stronger believer in the healing potential of dance, and even more attracted to understanding it deeper. Right now though, being a dancer is still what I love and live. Having had the time and means to conduct this research I have gained invaluable insights into this exciting field, which I am happy to be able to share here with you!