Dancing Improves Mental State of Differently-Abled People

City Health International National Top Story

A 10-week experiment conducted by Iris Brauninger from the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, attested to the fact that dancing helped improve the quality of life for people as a whole.

A research compilation by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) about dance and movement therapy proved that dancing has helped overcome depression and anxiety, and increased subjective well-being, positive mood, and fitness.

The ADTA defines dance/movement therapy as, “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process that furthers the emotional, cognitive, social and physical integration of the individual.”

Tejal, a contemporary dance trainer from Payal’s Dance Academy in Bangalore said, “We train a few mentally challenged kids. They learn dance steps and are able to remember it when we practice. Normally, not all mentally challenged kids have high memory power. The talent shown by these kids to be able to remember is proof that dancing helps them.” She added that teaching special trainees would require more patience and skills than usual.

One specific example for mentally challenged people is the persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, ‘autism’ refers to a disorder that shows symptoms like difficulty in communication, repetitive behaviour, and inability to function properly with day-to-day activities.

Here, autism is spoken about as a “spectrum disorder” because there are differences in the type of autism and the severity of the disorder. This has been diminished on a general scale due to the effects of movement therapy on people with autism. Apart from that, it has also been proved that eating disorder was somewhat subdued after dance therapy.

Joan Wittig, a movement therapist, talks about how dance and movement are used for body-focused work as their primary way of therapy to help people who are undergoing depression. They start from the time when the victim is most vulnerable. Initially, the therapists focus on changing the state of mind of the person, by eradicating thoughts of hopelessness, loneliness, confusion, and sometimes even suicide. She added “As soon as one begins to move, one begins to make the transition to aliveness.”

Jessica Young, a therapist who deals with addiction, said that they treat adults who use alcohol and drugs to cope with symptoms of mental illness. She spoke about how bringing attention to one’s movement can create new neural pathways at dramatic rates, which is what they employ to help the alcohol and drug addicts.

According to Tejal, dancing not only helps people with special needs but also enhances the physical and mental stability of any person by ensuring consistency. It invigorates the brain cells and gives the entire body a thorough workout from head to toe. She encouraged everyone to learn how to dance, and revealed that the cliché, “I can’t dance” need not be necessarily true.

“It’s the same as learning how to ride a bicycle. By starting with the basics and enabling constant practice, anyone can dance,” she said. She also compared dancing to meditation, since both of these activities promote physical and mental fitness.

Passion plays a major role in dance. “Majority of the population that is into dancing chooses dancing, not because they aim to be fit, but because they feel passionate about it,” said a hip-hop dance trainer named Joshwa, from Your Day Fitness Academy. The owner of Payal’s Dance Academy, Ms. Payal, said she had started the academy many years ago mainly because she loves dancing and not just to train students in terms of fitness.

Various other measures have been brought into existence to increase the awareness about movement therapy. Indian Magazine of Dance/Movement Therapy mentioned that Christ University in Bangalore has a certified course on dance therapy under the Department of Psychology, and not the dance department.

Movement therapy is growing rapidly all over the globe. An example of this is the increase in the number of people who sign up for Zumba in India. Zumba, which is seen as more of an exercise than a dance form in India, gives a thorough workout for the entire body. Various trainers claim that it’s the women who sign up for Zumba more than the men.

Journeying With Dance claims that Sneha Sasikumar, who is a well-known Kuchipudi dancer, uses a program named “Healing and Growing Through Kuchipudi” to teach Kuchipudi to differently-abled children, to further their emotional, cognitive and social integration.