Dance Movement Therapy: curiosities and applications

Culture and society

Dance Movement Therapy: curiosities and applications

10 Feb, 2021

Some time ago, the moving video of Marta C. González, former prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet went viral, who, notwithstanding having Alzheimer, remembered perfectly well the choreography of The Death of the Swan by Čajkovskij danced many years before.

Music therapy was able to help bring back memories, although memory had been compromised by the disease. An article in our blog looked at this.  

However, this can be applied not only to music: in rehabilitation, dance and movement are also useful to maintain memory and relationship faculties. We have asked Dr. Arianna Rota, a rehabilitation therapist at the Rehabilitation Unit of Mood Disorders at the Hospital San Raffaele Turro to explain further.

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Dance Movement Therapy

Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is a discipline within the broader spectrum of the Art Therapies (Italian Law 4/2013 and the NORM UNI n.11592:2015) and can be applied to several fields and contexts. They have also been defined as Expressive Therapies as they make use of methods that come from the arts and whose aim is to develop the creative processes to promote health and well-being of the individual and of the group.

This therapy stimulates the creative process through dance and movement and allows people to relate to others within an operative field that is the group, which is made up of individuals who interact, integrate, and relate to one another [1, 2].

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Music works as the container of experience; it has a strong evocative power; it stimulates imagination and allows to channel emotions. Furthermore, rhythm carries out a powerful role as biological, psychological, and relational organiser [3].

It is a space where we can look after ourselves, where the creative potentials of each one is stimulated through the expressive-relational communication of the body. It is a space that is far from the technical and aesthetic objectives typical of performance dance or professional dance or dance in sport; it takes place in a safe environment that is well defined and non-judgemental.

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The beginnings and developments of this therapy

Dance Movement Therapy was born in the 1940s in the United States [4], and later spread to Europe and Italy at the beginning of the 1970s. Since the 1990s scientific literature [5] has formulated a possible application of this type of intervention for the main psychological pathologies, as well as for dementia [6]. Examples of its application associated to the treatment of psychotic disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, pathological addictions, and mood disorders have all been reported. 

Dance Movement Therapy has also been used in other areas of medicine, as in cardiology, and oncology and in women before and after birth.

Dance Movement Therapy has been widely used in the education sector, in the development of communities, in the processes of transculturation, in the growth of relational competences and in team building. Finally, we should not overlook that the artistic world, the origin of Dance Movement Therapy, then becomes its beneficiary in its application in the training of actors and dancers, or as support in the teaching of music.

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Photo credit: Mauro Consilvio

Our experience at the San Raffaele Turro Hospital

Dance Movement Therapy is a type of expressive therapy that can be applied to groups of patients of all ages and is indicated as one of the rehabilitation interventions that are useful in Mood Disorders together with music therapy, and relaxation techniques whose aim is to contribute to the improvement of one’s perception of the self, of one’s body image, of psychomotor functions and interpersonal relations of the patients [7, 8].

For some years now, Dance Movement Therapy has been used as a rehabilitation activity in the integrated treatment of patients hospitalised for moderate depressive episodes at the Operative Unit of Rehabilitation of Mood Disorders of the San Raffaele Turro Hospital. The patients take part in 3 laboratories a week of 45 minutes each in a specific space and our experience agrees with what has already emerged in Literature with regards to the beneficial effects of Dance Movement Therapy on the anxious-depressive symptoms, and overall, on the quality of life perceived by the patients [9].

In the light of all these observations, the regular realisation of Dance Movement Therapy laboratories in the Rehabilitation Wards could be an added resource for the healthcare system.  

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Photo credit: Mauro Consilvio



Manfredi C., et al. (2020). Pillole in musica. Il benessere del paziente fragile. Voglino Editrice, Torino

[1] Bellia V., (2020). A Body Among Other Bodies. Relational Expressive Dance Movement Therapy. Ed. A&G/Cuecm , Catania

[2] Bellia V., (2007). Se la cura è una danza, la metodologia espressivo-relazionale nella danzaterapia. Ed. Franco Angeli, Milano

[3] Bellia V. (2016), Crescere è una danza, la danzaterapia nei processi evolutivi. Ed. Alpes Italia srl, Roma

[4] Chace, M. (1945/1975). Rhythm in movement as used in St. Elizabeths Hospital. In H. Chaiklin (Ed.), Marian Chace: Her papers (pp. 52–54). Columbia, MD: American Dance Therapy Association. (Reprinted from Group Psychotherapy: A Symposium, pp. 243-–45, J. L Moreno (Ed.), New York, NY: Beacon House).

[5] Stubbs B. et al.  EPA guidance on physical activity as a treatment for severe mental illness: a meta-review of the evidence and Position Statement from the European Psychiatric Association (EPA) supported by the International Organization of Physical Therapists in Mental Health. European Psychiatry 2018. Oct; 54:124-144

[6] Karkou V, Meekumb B (2017) Dance-Movement therapy for dementia. Cochrane Data Base Syst Rev Feb 3; 2 (2)

[7] Dirmaier, J., et al, (2010). Evidence-based treatments in the rehabilitation of patients with depression a literature review. Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol.. 60,3-4, 83-97.

[8] Koch, S. C., et al., (2014). Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: a meta-analysis. Art. Psychother. 41, 46–64

[9] Franchini L., Rota A., Tonet L., Colombo C., La Danza Movimento Terapia nel trattamento integrato dell’episodio depressivo maggiore nei pazienti ricoverati: esperienza presso U. O. Riabilitzione Disturbi dell’Umore dell’Ospedale San Raffaele Turro di Milano, L’Altro, rivista semestrale SIFIP. (2018) anno XXI, n 2, 40-47

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UniSR Communication Team
UniSR Communication Team

Thanks to the contribution of the various team members, the UniSR Marketing and Communications Service deals with the multiple communication areas of the University: news scouting, creation of news, audio and video, event organization, website management and institutional social media, drafting and publication of newsletters, support for institutional relations. The Service interacts with all the main stakeholders (students, teachers, technical and administrative staff, research community, territory) in order to support and potential communication (internal and external) of the initiatives related to teaching, research and public engagement.

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