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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Healing moves

Dance movement therapy is making its way here to help children and adults manage anxiety and stress as well as improve their physical and emotional well-being
The Straits Times - August 23, 2012
By: Lea Wee
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Healing moves The children in the photographs above learn how the movement and stance of the body can reflect one’s emotions in PuddleWorld, a recent free class on dance movement therapy. -- PHOTOS: PUDDLEWORLD

It was not like any class they were used to, but the children took to it with gusto.

Asked to demonstrate how they felt just before school examinations, all 18 put their heads in their hands in an expression of fear.

Asked how they felt afterwards, every head lifted in relief.

The children were taking part in a recent free class on dance movement therapy called PuddleWorld, organised by InHerShoes Art & Music Against Cancer and the School of Positive Psychology.

InHerShoes is a volunteer arts group which normally runs art and music programmes to help cancer patients cope with their illness. The School of Positive Psychology is a private education centre.

During the session, the children learnt how the movement and stance of the body can reflect one's emotions.

They learnt how to tell when the body is tense and how to release the tension, for instance, by taking 10 deep breaths.

Body and mind are inseparable, making for the premise of dance movement therapy, said MsAgnes Law, a programme director for PuddleWorld and a registered dance movement psychotherapist.

Dance movement therapy is a form of psychological therapy that has been used in countries such as the United States and Britain in recent years to complement conventional psychological therapy.

Conventional psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, focuses on changing patients' unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviour, using logic and reasoning, for instance.

In Singapore, in addition to InHerShoes Art & Music Against Cancer, the Parkinson's Disease Society Singapore, day-care and activity centres for the elderly, and some counsellors and social workers here have been using dance and other types of movement therapy to help their patients.

A handful of Singaporeans, who have been trained overseas as dance movement therapists, also offer classes here.

One practitioner, Australia-based Singaporean Lillian Thio-Kaplan, returns to Singapore a couple of times a year to run personal development classes and training workshops, largely for people who work with adults with dementia or children with special needs.

Another Singaporean, Ms Elizabeth Rutten-Ng, who is based in the Netherlands, also returns to Singapore occasionally to offer classes.

BODY-MIND LINK

Ms Law, who is registered with the Association of Dance Movement Psychotherapy in Britain, said: "A person's body and his way of moving not only reflect his current inner thoughts and emotions, but also give an insight into his past experiences. The body never lies."

For instance, anxiety and stress over an unresolved emotional issue may show up in the body as shallow breathing or tension in the shoulders.

In the long run, these can lead to physical problems, such as chronic pain.

In dance movement therapy, participants are taught to recognise how the body behaves when it is stressed, find ways to release the tension and learn how to move to bring about better emotional health, said Ms Law. For example, throwing the arms wide open and standing tall will make one feel better emotionally.

While dance movement therapy for children may be more directed, for adults, it is more spontaneous.

They are asked to move freely on their own or with one another to music, said Ms Law.

Even clients who may be more inhibited can learn to relax their bodies through music.

In the US and Britain, dance movement therapy is often offered in hospitals and medical clinics as part of psychotherapy, alongside music and art therapy.

In Singapore, however, dance movement therapy is not offered in public hospitals - such as KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital - where complementary therapies such as art and music therapy are available.

This could be due to the limited number of high-quality studies on its efficacy across a range of psychological and physical illnesses.

A 2011 review on the physical and psychological effects of dance movement therapy in cancer patients was inconclusive because of the few studies available.

The review by the Cochrane Collaboration, an expert group which systematically reviews high-quality studies, found just two such studies, with a total of 68 participants, which examined the effects of dance movement therapy on women with breast cancer.

The studies found that dance movement therapy did not appear to have an effect on the body image and self-esteem of cancer patients.

BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE

But there may be benefits from the physical exercise itself, with one study suggesting it could have a beneficial effect on cancer patients' quality of life.

Associate Professor Louis Tan, a senior consultant neurologist at the National Neuroscience Institute, said that while it is difficult to conduct randomised, controlled studies on dance therapy the same way as they are conducted on medication therapy, there is no doubt that movement therapy such as dance therapy is useful in patients with Parkinson's disease.

He cited a study published in the New England Journal Of Medicine in February which showed that practising taiji reduces balance impairments in patients with mild to moderate Parkinson's disease. It also improved their daily function and reduced their risk of falls.

Some social workers and counsellors, who have taken dance movement therapy workshops, find it useful in their work.

Ms Abby Chew, a counsellor who uses some techniques with clients, said: "Most of my clients are women suffering from trauma and other emotional issues.

"Dance movement therapy helps them to be more aware of where the tension in their body is and how to relieve it.

"Sometimes, they find it easier to say what they are feeling after they have expressed that feeling in their movements."

For one 27-year-old worker in the social service sector, weekly sessions of dance movement therapy conducted during her counselling sessions over 18months at a family service centre helped her to resolve emotional issues she had at work and at home.

She said: "I tried talking about the problems with the therapist, but it didn't work. With words, it is easy to fabricate.

"But when I was asked to express my anger in movement, it was difficult to lie about how I felt. I started to do chopping actions and throwing the 'things' I chopped into the air. It felt good to release that tension in my body."

A person’s body and his way of moving not only reflect his current inner thoughts and emotions, but also give an insight into his past experiences. The body never lies.

MS AGNES LAW, programme director for PuddleWorld and a registered dance movement psychotherapist

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