We laugh out loud when amused; we stamp our feet when angered. We express our feelings by moving our bodies. But can we use the movements of our body the other way around, to influence our emotions? Dance therapists would say yes. And a group of such dance therapists recently brought their teachings to Chengdu.
Inspirees International, in corporation with West China Psychiatric Association (WCPA), held Chengdu's first-ever dance-therapy on October 5 at the Longjiang Lu Elementary School (龙江路小学). Joan Wittig, a member of American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) and the program director of a movement-therapy training institute in the United States, taught the class.
Dance therapy, or dance movement therapy (DMT), is the use of choreographed or extemporized body movements to improve trainees' emotional, cognitive, social, and physical state.
"As a form of expressive therapy, DMT is founded on the basis that movement and emotion are directly related," said Inspirees Dance Therapy program director and Chengdu native Tony Zhou said in an e-mail interview with GoChengdoo. "The ultimate purpose of DMT is to find a healthy balance and sense of wholeness."
The class in Chengdu had three parts, which aimed at building trust among trainees via body contact. "We don't need language," explained Wittig. "Dance serves as communication."
During the first part, dancers were paired off, and one in each pair was blindfolded. The non-blindfolded partner would give verbal cues to navigate his or her partner safely around the room. Next, the sighted partner took the blindfolded partner by the hand and led him or her around the room. The lesson learned? Physical contact was more reliable than verbal guidance.
In the second part, trainees practiced mirroring technique, imitating one another's movements. "By mirroring and being mirrored [by their] partner in the class, our students are able to slow down, observe better, and interact more effectively with others by non-verbal communication," explained Zhou.
Finally, the trainees and Wittig danced to fast-paced music. Their improvised movements included floating, trembling, hopping, swinging, etc. Some lay on the ground acting childishly, some tried out their folk-dance moves, and others even used Tai Chi movements. "It's a kind of creative dancing," said a female trainee.
"We found Chinese people have a lack of sense of trust and security, so the first day it is difficult to make them move and share," Zhou remarked, about this initial class. "But once we create a safe place for them, they can be as expressive and emotional as their western counterparts."
Zhou Ruying, the vice president of WCPA, said that the initial class encourages students to express their feelings through body movements and nurtures trust in each other. Soon, the trainees will start courses in subjects such as "Dance Movement" and "Intimacy Sharing" with the aim of eventually becoming dance therapists themselves. "It takes at least three years to train a competent dance therapist," said Zhou.
Two types of people attended the DMT classes: the general public, who wished to obtain new life experience and alleviate mental depression; and dance or medical professionals, who hope to incorporate DTM in their work or become dance therapists.
Yunnan native Ouyang Jialan is a dance major in her third year at university. She signed up for the professional class because she's interested in becoming dance therapist.
Chengdu resident Luo Li, who signed up for the class, once attended music-therapy classes, in which the therapist used music to improve and maintain the students' health. "Dance therapy has been used to improve the psychological conditions of victims who suffered from natural or manmade disasters," said Luo. "I'm quite interested in this area, and I hope it can make me stronger."
"We already have students from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Philippines in our training program," said Zhou. There's "even a South American lady who is studying in Beijing!"
In general, the students praised the course. "The improvised dance breaks free from rational thinking," said a trainee. "I feel carefree and naïve. I'm happier than before."
Wang Bin, the professor of Acting at the Art College of Sichuan University, participated in the training as well. Wang said he has used similar games and movements in his classes as those Wittig used in her movement therapy sessions. "The best acting calls for the actor's interaction of his physical movement and his heart," said Wang. "This is also the tenet of dance therapy."
Wittig has 20 years'clinical experience in dance therapy. After World War II, Wittig said, many citizens were depressed, and a big demand for counseling arose. It was around this time that the public and health professionals began to accept dance therapy as having psychological benefits for patients, and its use became increasingly popular in Western nations. DMT was put into practice after the September 11 attacks, and many trainees were able to work through their mourning while dancing. Currently, six universities in the U.S. offer dance-therapy-training programs.
For Inspirees International, the goal is to train international-level dance therapists in China. According to Zhou, no ADTA proved DMT programs are offered in China, or even the rest of Asia. "Dance therapy is a great way to cheer them [depressed trainees] up," he added. "Just like hotpot!"
Zhou Ruying (no relation to Tony Zhou) formerly worked at the Mental Health Center of West China Hospital. She has been using movement therapy to cure depression after 2006. Although the patients did not spend much time in treatment, she observed significant improvements to their emotional well-being. "After WCPA successfully trains some dance therapists," she said, "we will put the treatment into clinical use."
Tan Gangqiang, director of the International Institute for Applied Psychological Research China, said that mentality is cognitive adjustment, and behaviors are action adjustments, so the most effective psychotherapy involves the interaction of both heart and body. While patients are dancing, they can release pressure, appreciate the beauty of performing art, and exercise in unifying their cognition, behaviors and perception. Thus, dance therapy should be effective in alleviating patients' depression.
Image via Sohu