Therapeutic Moves


by Susan Cunningham

Therapy is one of those words in the English language that is often misused. People talk light-heartedly of going for “retail therapy” and at the other end of the scale we often hear of people going in to therapy to treat drug or alcohol addiction.

The actual definition of therapy lies somewhere in-between; “a healing treatment serving to improve or maintain health”.

Methods of treatment for psychological as well as physical illnesses have made incredible advancements over the last century mainly due to science.
However, as drugs are more widely used, equally people are looking to alternative therapies.

Dance therapy is the youngest of the arts therapies disciplines. Despite being used in psychiatry as far back as the 1940s, it was not until 1982 that it became a professional grouping and only accepted by the Health Professionals Council in 2004.

Yet dance, of all the arts, surely has the widest scope for helping people as it engages not only the mind but the body. It is also unique as it requires no materials, except the one you were born with.

Dance therapy can be used to aid serious psychological illnesses such as schizophrenia or people with social problems. Recently it has been used in the treatment of eating difficulties. An interesting development as the dance profession is often accused of causing eating disorders. However, exploring movement within a safe environment can build confidence in our bodies and improve self image.

It also has benefits at a very basic level. Everyone knows that exercise improves fitness, reduces the risk of obesity and other health problems and releases endorphins (the feel good hormone) into the brain, promoting good mental health.

We do not have to look too deeply into why dance works to help psychological well being; it is an important part of life – as long as man has lived, he has danced. When we hear music, our body tunes in to the rhythm and we have an urge to move.

Dance is also used as a means of communication or a method of finding a mate. (Just observe any nightclub, wedding or celebration as men and women perform for each other!) Simply put – dancing makes us feel good.

I am surprised and frustrated, therefore, that dance and in particular dance therapy is not more widely used in schools, hospitals, day centres and care homes and it seems somewhere in the grey corridors of parliament someone was thinking the same thing.

Last week the government announced that dance classes are to be provided by the NHS as a way of tackling our nation ‘s plummeting fitness levels. The new scheme, costing £2.5million with a pilot project in England and Wales, will see more sedentary patients being prescribed exercise in the form of tango or salsa.

In a similar move, the Scottish Executive has initiated plans for a £1.2million dance programme in schools. The National Dance Agency, Ydance, will run the scheme to encourage young people to get fit in a more enjoyable way.

They hope to attract females in particular, as their activity levels are known to drop more significantly than males from the age of 11. Hopefully as many boys will see the benefits too, as traditional sports do not suit everyone.

Dancing produces positive effects on individuals almost immediately and in the long term, the NHS will see that increased fitness by early intervention does save money.

So, a step or “pas de basque” in the right direction- watch this space.

[ Y Dance ]