Category Archives: Dance Movement Therapy

Transformation of the Ordinary

Dance/movement therapy (DMT) can be an avenue for creating a symbolic transformation of individual, or community experience. DMT can use the same characteristics of weight, balance, and dynamics as do everyday actions such as walking, working, playing, or communication. Out of our everyday and ordinary motor activities, DMT can select, heighten or subdue, gestures/postures and body movement to achieve something which transcends the ordinary.

For instance as a teen I learned a West African Maize Dance from the Arthur Hall African American Dance company. This dance uses the movements of planting, tending, and harvesting of maize as the core elements of the dance. Taking these agrarian movements and enacting them outside of their usual context begins the process of symbolic transformation. As the movements are performed an element of artistic quality begins to emerge and becomes evident in the transitional movements that occur between planting, tending, and harvesting. This Maize Dance combines the ordinary with the extra ordinary; taking the everyday actions and ritualizing them in a way that expresses and celebrates an important aspect of West African culture.

Symbolic transformation can take place on an individual level as well. Once, working with a client an opportunity arose to explore the bodily expression of sadness; i.e. what are you doing/feeling physically when you are sad. The client took the ordinary movements/gestures/postures of their sadness and made them bigger and smaller, connecting, un-connecting and reconnecting them as they slowly evolved into a pattern. As this client continued with their exploration a transformation occurred and new movements, suggestive of another feeling emerged. Asking the client to add words to their exploration of the new movements provided a clearer understanding of sadness.

Enacting movements/postures/gestures outside of their usual context allows the possibility of experiencing in way that can be more; objective and subjective. Making bigger and smaller, connecting and reconnecting, movement and feelings emerge uncensored, allowing a different understanding of the original feeling and all that surrounds it. The therapeutic process of dance movement therapy can guide the mover as they explore, uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary.

A tree as metaphor

Before I ever got to graduate school to study dance movement therapy I practiced, studied and assisted in a movement based creative arts modality for 20 some years. This modality, called Motional Processing is based on the (Anna) Halprin Method and uses therapy techniques from movement, art, writing, drama and group. When I work with groups and individuals today these techniques are an essential part of my practice.

One of these techniques is working in the enviroment with metaphors. In 1991 while assisting with a Motional Processing group I had an opportunity to jump into the experience as a participant. This particular group was a ten-day residency of adults who came together to learn and expand their self understanding through a creative arts group process. On this day we went to a park and the group was instructed  to find a tree that spoke to some aspect of where they were in their lives and once they found the tree they were to explore their thoughts and feelings through writing, drawing and moving.

The tree I chose was an oak that was quite massive and spoke to me of solidness and tradition with deep roots. My exploration of this tree included creative movement around the mighty oak as well as a poem and drawing which I share below.

Blessing Tree
The words I hear come from
The voice of De Danna & the sound of
The wings of the Red Tail
In procession we walk/ side by side-proud like horses
The rows sway with each hoof beat
Together our voices raise the cry
A sweet song of ancient harmonies
Which dance on our
Lips –hands-feet-hearts
We are the tribe that carries the talking feather
Come let us bless this tree
And weave a circle round
And celebrate the birth of a new spring.


In the creative arts process the symbols that one creates in writing/drawing and movement contain valuable messages which speak to the circumstances of life. The unique aspect of the creative arts is that it often taps into the subconcious parts of ourselves and literally uses a differnt part of the brain to express than what is used to verbalize. This tree, for me, was a symbol of strength, endurance and family: the strength of roots and the endurance to maintain under pressure, and family, as a great uncle or perhaps a grandfather.

I embrace trees in my life as symbols and more. Trees have been friends, play mates and companions in my life. They have been a place to hide, to cry, to feel comforted, and to play. Trees have provided food, shade, color and scent. They have and continue to be a blessing in my life.