It is not uncommon to see the word “therapeutic” associated with dance, but in most cases, it describes a sense of wellness, or feeling better. It is important to point out that “dance therapy” is not a phrase but an actual profession – Dance Movement Psychotherapy – which is regulated by a governing body and code of ethical practice. Both create meaningful engagement and enhance quality of life for participants but it is important to understand the difference. Community dance – where dance artists work outside an academic or education setting, usually with an inclusive or integrated population – shares many values and practices with dance therapy too, but there are also some important differences.
Facilitation v instruction
A facilitator leads a discussion or process while an instructor teaches something. DMP is led by a master’s level certified therapist, using movement to process emotional or behavioral health whereas therapeutic dance usually involve teaching steps or focusing on movement goals and community dance usually has an artistic aim.
Psychotherapy v recreation
DMP is a form of psychotherapy that relies on the relationship between client and therapist, using movement to express and validate emotions as they emerge in the therapeutic relationship. Therapeutic and Communty Dance are usually done for leisure or pleasure, even if they provide a mental health benefit.
Process v product
In DMP the focus is on the process and finding symbolism through movement as it emerges in each session. While therapeutic dance is not just about a product, it is likely that dance skills or techniques are taught and certain movements may be used to enhance balance, coordination or to improve neural activity. Community dance often has a performative or artistic element.
Theoretical Framework v Dance Style
DMP may include dance forms, but is guided by the therapist’s theoretical framework the movement usually coming from the client, and the therapist is mirroring or joining the client in his/her movement. Therapeutic dance often focuses on a specific dance style or form or may be designed around a particular condition.
Private v Public
DMP is confidential in nature and is bound by ethical codes in order to protect client information. When entering into dance therapy, clients are often required to fill out paperwork outlining confidentiality and treatment practices. Confidentiality is not a required aspect of therapeutic dance or community dance.
There is a lot of overlap between community dance, therapeutic dance and dance therapy. Dance therapy, although commonly used to describe therapeutic dance, is actually a profession and quite different from dance used as therapy. It is not more important than or more legitimate by any means. It is merely different, and it is necessary for people to understand the various services that can enhance quality of life and improve functioning.