For as long as I can remember, I have danced; for as long as I can recall, few things in life have brought me greater joy. My journey through movement began at age three, studying the Western styles of jazz, tap, and ballet. In the high school years I explored modern dance and my passion for creating an emotional picture inspired by the canvas of enchanting music. Years later, I found myself in New Orleans, steeped in the rituals of African dance and the primitive beat of the drum. I also joined a samba troupe and danced down St. Charles Avenue during Mardi Gras. After an adventure in India, yoga became an integral part of my daily life. Presently, the intoxicating rhythms of flamenco feed my soul and spirit every day.
Dance and movement have, from an early age, served as powerful tools in my development and sense of self. They have provided me with means to explore various cultures, traditions, and rituals that I may have not otherwise have come to understand. They have helped maintain my physical health and are among my most beloved means of spiritual practice, thereby enhancing my overall mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. Whether a seasoned dancer or not, every one of us can benefit immensely from various forms of dance and movement. May the following information inspire you to further explore the great joys of your body as a vehicle for self-expression and fulfillment.
Dance scholar Margaret N. H’Doubler, author of Dance: A Creative Art Experience, once said, “If all children in every school from their entrance until their graduation were given the opportunity to experience dance as a creative art, and if their dancing kept pace with their developing physical, mental, and spiritual needs, the enrichment of their adult life might reach beyond any results we can now contemplate.”
Dance is an extremely potent tool in the development of self. Suzi Tortora, a dance therapist in Cold Spring, observes, “From the beginning, each baby develops his or her own personal communicative dance to express how he or she perceives and experiences his or her surroundings.” In the early years of one’s self-development, it is through movement that the world is discovered. It is also through movement that young children communicate with their surroundings and let the world know how they feel. Dance therapists can get a feel for a child’s experience by observing his or her nonverbal communication. In time, a therapist helps a child discover more varied movement, which eventually enhances and expands his or her repertoire. This, in turn, expands a child’s ability for self-expression in the world and enables greater interaction with others. This approach can be highly beneficial for any child, regardless of their stage of emotional, mental, and physical development.
For adults, too, dance therapy is a powerful vehicle for mental, emotional, and physical healing. Based on the principle that body and mind are interrelated, dance movement psychotherapy is defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional and physical integration of the individual.” According to dance therapy, the qualities of movement and postural structure of an individual are a reflection of a person’s emotional expression.
Tortora says, “For me, the word dance has come to symbolize all nonverbal expression which has the potential to be communicative. The goal of my work—from individual psychotherapy sessions to parent-child counseling to teaching creative dance—is to help the participants learn how their nonverbal actions accompany and add meaning to their verbalizations. Understanding the role that movements and gestures play in our interactions facilitates greater awareness of self and others.”
Tortora is the founder of Dancing Dialogue Healing and Expressive Art Center in Cold Spring. She is a key contributor to Drea’s Dream, having developed and now directing this dance therapy and expressive movement program for children and young adults with cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. That program was established by the Andrea Rizzo Foundation, created in honor of Andrea (Drea) Rizzo, a young woman who survived childhood cancer and adored dance. The foundation has an outreach program that brings dance therapy to hundreds of special needs children throughout New England and New York.
Health and movement
Trish Doherty, a modern dancer and dance therapist based in New York City, explains how dance has enriched her life in boundless ways. “Dance became a way for my deep inner self to speak and thus helped me establish my identity, a sense that I am someone, and this helped me transcend mental illness.” For 40 years dance has played a center-stage role in her life, and continues to each day. On a physical level, Doherty notes that it has given her a strong body and a much straighter spine, as it dramatically improved her scoliosis to a point where it was no longer a major problem. “Dance gave me good posture and a beautiful body—previously I had a very weak spine and was top heavy, not in proportion. It has helped me have a strong and healthy body as I approach my elder years.”