Coping with grief and loss through movement is as old as humankind; Psalm 30:11 in the King James Bible begins thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing.
As a graduate of the dance/movement therapy and counseling program at Columbia College Chicago, I refer to the definition of dance movement therapy to explain my own personal journey with dancing through loss and grief. Dance movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of individuals. The power of dance and movement as a creative and expressive way to access deep-seated feelings is profound. Evidence for the effectiveness of dance movement therapy, although based on a relatively small number of studies, has demonstrated treatment effects that are comparable to other psychotherapies.
For me, the integration of my own mind, body and spirit through dance is real and life-changing. Utilizing dance and movement is an empowering intervention that allows people to connect with and express emotions and tell their own stories. Dance has allowed me to understand and explore my own grief journey non-verbally. I learned first hand of the need and efficacy of this intervention nearly ten years ago.
Words could not describe the sense of loss I felt after the death of my mother. In late 2001, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away in early 2003. I watched helplessly as cancer ravaged her physical body, dulled her mind, and extinguished the light that was her spirit. As a social worker, spoken and written words were the tools with which I tackled problems. Verbal therapy helped me process my thoughts, but I often felt that words failed me in exorcising my pain. I could not verbalize the gut-wrenching, visceral responses my body was having in reaction to loss.
When my mother died, it felt like the best parts of me died too. The essence of me that used to be warm, lively, colorful, and creative turned cold and numb. I identified with a song declaring “there’s an emptiness inside her and she’d do anything to fill it in but all the colors mix together–to grey and it breaks her heart”. I had a broken heart, and other physical ailments including debilitating migraines. For me, there was no color in the surrounding world and everything was grey.
The statement, “the body says what words cannot,” is attributed to American modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. In the years following my mother’s death, I reconnected with dance and movement after a long hiatus. It provided me with another outlet to explore my experiences of loss, grief and promote healing. With assistance from a dance teacher who shaped an environment encouraging emotional safety, exploration, and self-acceptance, I expressed the sadness, anger, and even happiness bottlenecked inside of me.
The shifts happening inside my body from dancing impacted my mind and spirit. Slowly, life looked more colorful and my body felt awake. The migraines disappeared. I remembered that blue and green were my favorite colors and I could see and appreciate them everywhere I went. I even came to the realization that although cancer had taken my mother’s body and mind from us too soon, her spirit, her light, was not extinguished.
I knew then that my repertoire as a social worker, packed with spoken words and phrases for journaling must be expanded. I enrolled in the dance/movement therapy program at Columbia College Chicago to codify what I already knew anecdotally. Through dancing, my mother’s light radiates brightly inside of me and by being a dance movement therapist, I can spark that light in others.
Thank you to our guest blogger and friend of Erika’s Lighthouse, Jessica Sittig!
Jessica Sittig, LCSW, is a Therapist at Family Service of Glencoe. As an avid dancer and yogi, Jessica believes that movement offers a unique and transformative approach in the healing process. Jessica is currently accepting new clients, both dancers and non-dancers alike! To contact Jessica, visit www.familyserviceofglencoe.org.
American Dance Therapy Association. (2009). What is dance/movement therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.adta.org.
Cruz, R.F., & Sabers, D.L. (1998). Dance/movement therapy is more effective than previously reported. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 25, 101-104.
Matthews, D.J. (2002). Grey Street [Recorded by Dave Matthews Band]. On Busted Stuff [CD]. Sausalito, CA: RCA.