Dance and Healing Practices

Although dance is primarily regarded as an aesthetic art form, there is a long tradition in the healing arts and spiritual practices to include it. For example, ancient shaman practices incorporated dance as a means to communicate with spirits and to activate transformative energy necessary to excise unwanted spirits. Formal spiritual practices frequently require specific physical postures to be assumed during meditation or prayer, the same postures that are repeatedly found in dance forms around the world. Many ancient healing traditions such as yoga and chi kung have clearly prescribed sequences of dance-like movements that are practiced in a state of mindful awareness. Since around 3000 BCE until today, these ancient movement arts offer relief to human suffering by activating physiological and psychological energetic release, and by providing hope to those seeking enlightenment and wisdom. As Western medicine began to depart from these ancient practices, dance and movement were devalued and gradually disappeared from medical treatment. However, in the United States in 1940, dance therapy became a distinct profession and in 1966 the American Dance Therapy Association was founded. Not surprisingly, dance therapists in the West reintroduced practices similar to those of the shamanistic, tribal, and Eastern traditions. They asserted that the body and mind were interrelated and that psychotherapy could use movement to further emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the individual. With increased Western cultural awareness of ancient healing traditions, native tribal rituals were once again given credence and in some communities these healing practices were reinstituted. For example, the Northern Canadian Inuit communities are now treating their depressed and addicted members with ancient healing practices; practices that incorporate movement and dance. Many treatment centers that offer an integration of Western and Alternative medicines prescribe some form of dance or movement therapy such as in the rehabilitation of patients suffering strokes, neurological disorders, or heart disease. Dance as a healing art continues to be incorporated into programs that treat babies, children, adolescents, adults, and geriatric populations. Many experienced dancers are actively working in the healing arts and conducting research in this field of study.

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