The use of dance as a therapeutic tool is founded in the idea that body and mind are completely integrated. While the relationship between the mind and body is constantly being explored, theorised and discussed, the whole area certainly highlights the ingenuity of the creation and masterpiece in the human being.

The theory underlying dance therapy is that body movement reflects the inner state of the human, and that by moving the body within a guided therapeutic setting, a healing process begins. Emerging inner conflicts and issues from the unconscious to the consciousness of the person are addressed on all levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Seeking the full integration of mind and body, and bringing harmony between all the aforementioned levels of the human being is what dance therapy is all about.

Dance Therapy has its roots in modern dance, from pioneers including Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey (1920 onwards). Their work gave the foundation for expressive dance where spontaneity, creativity and individuality were allowed. Many dancers who were members of these pioneers’ companies began to understand the far-reaching benefits of dance as a form of personal expression. In addition, the work of Rudolf Laban was prominent in the area of movement analysis and movement expression for both the artist and everyday worker in industrial settings, respectively. Laban worked specifically with artists, enabling them to understand how their body worked to express the inner state. He likewise worked with industrial workers during the war to enhance work capacity and efficiency.

During this time (around World War II), the work of pioneers in psychoanalytic philosophy and thinking was also popular – in particular, Sigmund Freud and his followers, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and Wilhelm Reich. Their work had a major influence on the understanding of the mind and emotions, and the different levels of consciousness in which these exist.

These three areas modern dance, movement analysis and psychoanalytic theory – formed the foundations for dance therapy processes.

The field of Dance Therapy has since developed in its theories, models and approaches, and is practised all over the world. Becoming a dance therapist requires postgraduate training in the area, with already established qualifications and experience in the dance and social sciences. There are many courses from which to choose to embark on such training, especially in the United States. In other countries, such as Australia, where the profession is still new, opportunities for study are limited but available. Institutions such as Wesley Institute for Ministry and the Arts, where courses cover theoretical and practical studies in psychological theories, dance and movement studies, dance therapy approaches as defined by the pioneers and current practitioners, and dance therapy for a variety of client groups. Students are involved in weekly placements supervised by the faculty within a psychiatric placement, a disability placement and another placement of their choice. Students are trained intensively in how to operate as a professional, learning guidelines and protocol in meetings and client reviews, report writing, program design, implementation, assessment and evaluation, and issues of accountability and confidentiality.

Although the profession is still growing and gaining community awareness in each country, there are opportunities for work. As organizations become aware of the benefits of dance therapy, ways are being created to open doors to graduates for employment.

All Dance Therapy graduates are employed in the field, either full-time or part-time. Some have been given permanent positions in client service organizations (disabilities, mental health), while others have chosen to work in private practice gaining contract work with individual clients and/or large organizations such as educational facilities, community centres and corporate businesses.

The community at large is becoming aware of alternative means towards good health and wellbeing, and dance therapy makes a valuable contribution to people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. Dance has a place in everyone’s life, and for it to be utilised as a promotion for good health is indeed a worthwhile venture.

A career in dance therapy is gratifying to the therapist, as they watch with expectation a positive change in the people who are receiving it. A dancer’s career does not have to end at 25 or 30 years of age. The knowledge one has gained through dance training, dance performance and dance teaching all contribute to a wealthy foundation towards the pursuit of an even more challenging and rewarding career in dance therapy.