Thirty-something Naina Wal suffered from chronic depression. On her therapist’s suggestion, she joined Creative Movement Therapy Association of India (CMTAI) in Delhi and opted for Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). Wal has claims to have never felt happier. “Nobody wants to be the first one on the dance floor, and this is doubly true if you’re feeling down or don’t know anyone. But DMT has changed things drastically for me. If you’re feeling sad, it’s more important than ever to embrace your inner danseuse. Dance therapy is real and it is powerful,” she says.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology examines the effects of DMT for those who suffer from depression. Across the board it was shown that DMT decreased levels of mental wellness in those who got moving. It encourages individuals to focus on being in the present, thus improving their health and well-being. From gyms and wellness chains such as Cult Fit and Fitternity—every fitness centre offers dance therapy not only as part of weight loss sessions but also for a wholesome wellness programme.
A typical session, as organised by Delhi-based medical wellness centre Vedary, lasts for two hours and includes 12 participants from their early 20s to the late 50s. The focus at Vedary is on a form of DMT called five rhythms. “During this, we go through a wave that consists of five different rhythms of music that allow us to experience healing. It is empowering, as you heal yourself with movement and music without any external help. It is fun, meditative and a great workout,” says Irma Bättig, the session facilitator.
DMT is deemed as a legitimate form of psychotherapy by the American Dance Therapy Association. It is considered a “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being.” One needs certain credentials to become a dance therapist, usually a specialised master’s degree. But there are no hard and fast rules about which dances will improve your well-being. The methodology is that dance itself is therapeutic. Physical movement to promote mental wellness is the crux of DMT. This formula can be used with any kind of dance form. One can do pole-dancing or even club-inspired dance workouts at a local zumba class to get out of a bad spell.
Participants usually come for different reasons, be it stress or a desire to reconnect with their inner selves. Vedary’s medical director Shailendra Jha says, “DMT is a medium through which a lot of suppressed emotions can be released. We are in this age where we are not able to be ourselves and DMT gives you an opportunity to be yourself. People from different age groups and diverse backgrounds register for these therapy sessions and that is what makes it beautiful.” The sessions usually take place in small groups, though there are individual classes as well.
Says Delhi-based psychologist, Sreeja De, “DMT has not only become part of professional counselling programmes but it is even used now in prisons, schools and child development centres.”The need has perhaps never been greater. “With the change in our lifestyles and the increase of stress, we need an outlet. But not many are comfortable talking to a medical professional about it. DMT is useful in such cases,” points out Dr De. Renelle Snelleksz, a Pune-based DMT practitioner, says, “The therapy is seen as an alternate space to general talk therapy. But it is a holistic practice in itself. People find dance and movement a more comfortable and nonthreatening medium of expression.”
However, there are many misconceptions around DMT—that it is only for those with physical coordination difficulties, that one needs to be a dancer, or that it is just a form of physiotherapy. “It can be used by anybody to heal, explore themselves and navigate trauma,” concludes Dr De.
According to an ongoing new study conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware, United States, dance movement therapy (using yoga and music) can help children with autism improve their brain as well as personal connections.