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Sprung from dance: Dance Movement Therapy

as a Form of Creative Therapy

Rosemarie Samaritter

In this text I would like to present my views on the domain
of dance and movement as a means for creative therapy, as
developed within my professional involvement with children
and juveniles. First I will give an overview of the various
aspects of the domain of dance and movement as a medium, and
I will focus on some issues that in my opinion are closely
linked to theories of creative processes. Next I will
elaborate the creative process in movement processes. Some
vignettes from practice will be used for the sake of
illustration of the text. They will certainly not offer a
complete image of the therapeutic situation, nor of the
treatment course, nor of the therapeutic guidance.
Many aspects of the work will not be dealt with in this text.
Some subjects such as 'therapeutic relationship', 'treatment
program and treatment methodology' of creative dance and
movement therapy will be elaborated elsewhere.

The domain of dance and movement as a medium.

Dance affords the development of expression and formation.
Within dance and movement people may express their
experiences, emotions, images, memories etc. Whenever a
movement is given to a feeling or to an image, a connection
is being created between inner world and outer world.
Outwardly, towards others, this movement conveys something
about my experiences and become a symbol out of my internal
world. But simultaneously while moving it reflects back upon
myself, perhaps engendering a change of my inner world. Thus,
my experience of space may change by the movement performed;
or my affective tension may change: had I expected that a
rocking movement would soothe me, the performance of this
movement may trigger my need to break out of the recurrent
rocking pattern and to enter into purposive patterns of
propulsive walking. Everyone will recognize the big
difference that it makes for me to fantasize about an act or
to actually perform it.
So the expression of movement can restore or stimulate the
connection between the inner and outer worlds, between which
a lively exchange may be found back. Internal and external
processes have then come to a correlation.

Dance allows us to2 give form to images, ideas, themes etc. I

consider formation as a mode of taking an effective
influence upon the course of matters. The protagonist
determines what the dance will look like, in which
This article was first published in “Tijdschrift voor creatieve
therapie”, 4/90. The author is a creative dance and movement
therapist and is affiliated to a non-residential mental health
institution, working with both children, juveniles and their
I use the english 'formation' for the german 'Gestaltung',
as in Gadamer's usage of 'dichterische Gestaltung' which is
translated as 'poetic formation' (TM, p. 105)

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 1

environment its plot will unfold. In other words, the
protagonist has an active role in determinating the sense and
meaning in the movement situation.

Apart from the relation between client and therapist I

consider the two described aspects, viz. 'giving expression'
and 'formation' of experiences, emotions, images, memories
etc. as the most effective elements within creative therapy.
In many clients a lively dialogue between inner and outer
world has been lost. Due to events in the lived world that
were painful or grieving to an extent that they had been
isolated for the sake of survival. Many have fully lost their
sense of influence upon their personal situation or they
don't know any longer how to exert it; they can only
experience themselves as the objects of other persons'
performances. Their experiences with conflicts have developed
into rigid patterns of action, which they also take to other
contexts. In other words, these patterns are no longer
adapted to the conditions of the situation at hand. A similar
phenomenon can be observed in the movement patterns; in this
respect the posture and movement patterns are reflections of
having become like this. Creative therapy affords the contact
with an medium of art in which people can be addressed with
respect to their own capacities of obtaining a more active
mode of dealing with their situation. Within the language of
the medium they can express what is moving them, and
throughout a dialogue with the therapist they can learn how
to put into words the event of their being moved.

In creative dance and movement therapy clients are addressed

at the level of body and movement. This is to say that the
therapist attunes to the movement impulses as received from
the client. The therapist will try to enter into a moving
dialogue with the client, and give a 'movement answer' such
as to have its structure and contents match the client's
expressed movements. In order to be able to do this the
therapist will have to analyze the client's posture and
movement patterns. Two auxiliary questions can be useful
here: how does this person move? and: what moves this person?
With respect to the 'what', i.e. the contents of the
movement, the therapist will have to turn to the client.
Together they can explore the themes that are relevant for
this client. In order to investigate how a person finds his
expression in movements, how he articulates himself, the
therapist may use a variety of tools. Personally I prefer
here the Laban movement analysis. This method is described
broadly in the literature on dance therapy, and I would like
to refer the reader to the bibliography. into it here.
The creative dance and movement therapist uses his medium
within a frame of reference that is derived from the art of
dance and the movement game.

These fields of movement each have their own characteristic

identity, and I will discuss these with the scheme to be
given below. But they also have some similarities. Thus, in
both fields of movement I distinguish codified and personal
movement forms. I will mean by 'codified movement forms' all
types of performance practice that are already established
and commonly known; these are all forms and styles that
already exist, developed collectively or coming into
existence in a particular period. These forms can be passed
down and learned. Conversely, by 'personal movement forms' I
mean all patterns that are not imitated. These movements
usually arise spontaneously. In improvisations the material

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 2

we encounter often is of this personal kind.

1. Dance
a. Codified forms (e.g. ballet, ballroom, folk dance,
breakdance, etc.)
b. Personal forms (e.g. own, non-imitated dance movement)

2. Movement games
a. Codified forms (e.g. established ball games, children's
games, green games, etc.)
b. Personal forms (e.g. self-designed games)

ad 1a. Codified forms of dance

Established dances usually display codified forms of
expression. Communication takes place in a common shared
movement language by means of symbols. A symbol represents
the essence of a shared experience. The used symbols may be
very concrete, consisting of acts that are in close
resemblance to reality. But they may also be more abstract
and be more remote from our everyday world of movements. We
encounter such patterns in classical ballet, where the
movements used will no longer reveal their symbolism to the
average observer. Thus is it significant that in the 'ballet
forms' a clear separation has grown between dancers and
observers. This is unlike the development in the 'ballroom
dances', where ordinary men and women can be found on the
dance floor, in spite of highly specialized competition
dancers. Here the dance experience and the dance performance
are still in close connection, in other words, no special
training is needed, while dancing the waltz, for experiencing
its rocking and constraining to and fro movements in three-
four time.

Where dance experience and dance performance are so close,

the performance of a dance, or its learning, may permit the
entrance into a particular experiential world. For instance:
the stamping movement patterns in the vertical axis that we
can find in African dance often have a vitalizing impact upon
its performers.

ad 1b. Personal forms of dance.

In non-imitated dance movements the dancer's personal

expression is revealed. As described before we also find here
the difference between the more concrete portrayal and the
more abstract interpretation of impressions, images,
experiences etc.

With respect to the creation of a person's own dance we may

use the term symbol development. The dancer is looking for
signs that exteriorize his imagination or his inner world.
But these movements do not become symbols or language until
they are being used for communicating with another person.
Signs or themes from an inner world may thus enter into the
focus of attention, without necessarily also becoming the
objects of a rational analysis.

But the performance of the dance also constitutes a new

experience. The moment of dance is of an immediate
involvement; the dance reverberates upon the dancer and makes
up a new experiential quality.

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 3

An example from practice: the cat dance.
This example is from a therapy with a 9 year old girl. In
preceding sessions there has been a focus on the issue of
'pestering' and 'teasing'. The girl often feels attacked by
others. She finds herself in the role of victim. The client
(C) indicates that for today there is nothing to discuss, as
the teasers stayed at a distance. When asked by the therapist
(T) how she managed that, C tacitly assumes a 'defensible
judo posture'.

Then C starts to assume various 'strong' postures, without

speaking. This dialogue develops from movements on the spot
into locomotion. T's attitude is one of following and

After a while T introduces some appropriate music to provide

some background and framework. Now C's movement patterns
shift from judo-like into cat-like patterns, sneaking and
lurking. The dancers more and more obtain a counter position.
C's movements are addressed more and more towards T. By which
T is led into a role of antagonist. T takes this as an
opportunity for working at alternating spatial levels, now
appearing smaller than C, then larger, and sometimes
appearing at the same level as C. At times C giggles and
drops her role, but keeps the dance going on. T understands
this as a lack of experienced safety and she proposes to use
masks (which had been made by C and T in a previous session).
C immediately agrees. The mask is being adjusted for this
dance (decorated and painted).
Before the dance will be resumed T proposes to demarcate a
location for each 'cat dancer', a place for oneself to
recover. Eventually the dance of the 'wild cats' is
performed. The music determines its beginning and its end.
C's movement patterns are energetic and smooth. They evolve
into more and more catlike sneaking, her arms moving with
enormous swings towards her antagonist. T adopts similar
patterns but she limits her involvement to an attitude of
'competition', while C's attitude is 'attack'. The
differences of attitude become apparent in their mutual
adjustment of timing, space and energy.
Then C also introduces her voice, accompanying her movements
with ''''''' sounds. C appears to grow with every moment.
When the dance stops the masks are put down - the refuges are
released - the space resumes its neutral qualities. In the
ensuing conversation attention can be paid to C's experiences
during this dance, with special focus upon what elements of
it were new to her or already known. My intention in these
conversations is to have C provide her own explanations and
legends. My interventions are primarily aimed at
facilitating/stimulating her to give words to her experiences
and movements. This happens for instance by asking questions,
and at times by formulating my own impressions as an
interaction partner. I try to guide the client in his/her own
search for the meanings of the symbols encountered in the
dance, and for that reason I prefer not to give
interpretations of what happened in the dance.

ad 2a. Codified forms of games

Established movement games usually offer codified forms of
social conduct. The player's relationship with the materials

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 4

and with the other is demarcated by the rules of the game.
These offer a kind of rules of conduct. Thus I may for
instance attack, defend and shield, all according to the
function I am having in the game. I may experience that
aggression is not always destructive, and that, instead, an
attacking attitude may be very useful within the structure of
a particular game.

With respect to the questions 'how to deal with the

and 'how to deal with each other?' a lot of safety and
legitimating can be provided by the structure of games. A
game easily hosts the emotional involvement that comes with
these themes, as well as its functionality. This amounts to
the 'authorization' of these emotions, which as a result
obtain a positive label.

The clients choose their role in the game according to their

own needs. They may change role patterns. For instance in the
course of therapy the role pattern may shift from 'game
partner' to 'adversary', or vice versa.

ad 2b. Personal forms of games

As soon as a client starts to change established game

structures or to design his own game structures, a process is
emerging in which he is the one who determines how to deal
with materials, with partners or opponents. By means of these
structures he demarcates his relation to the materials and to
the other. The experiments with various game options, the
choice and selection as well as the final determination of
the game's contents and rules are vital elements of this

Whereas the personal forms of dance were characterized by an

emphasis upon the symbolism of movements, hence their
linguistic quality, the personal forms of games often have
their emphasis on the structure, i.e. the framework in which
the language is being used.

An example from practice: 'conquering the ball'

This example is from a therapy with a 12 years old boy.
Client (C) starts rolling the ball hesitatingly. No movement
impulse or movement theme is yet apparent. Now C starts to
'manipulate' the ball. He roles it along the periphery of the
room, making sudden turns or crossing suudenly the room. C
demonstrates his ball skills. His attitude is one of 'showing
When the therapist (T) approaches, C pretends to run away and
expel the ball. T formulates her impression of being invited
to conquer the ball. C confirms this through words and
movements. He starts driving the ball and shields it with his
body against T. A running game develops, in which one of the
players possesses the ball - the other one is supposed to
conquer it. At some moments both are holding the ball with
their hands. The contact between C and T takes place through
touching the ball and through T's words as she describes the
game activity. C's physical involvement slowly increases. C
proposes a 'centerpoint' around which the game is supposed to
revolve, as well as two refuges that serve as a no-attack
zone whenever one is in possession of the ball. Now the game
is 'ready'. it has a fixed form and clear rules. During the

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 5

last performance it is significant that C's movement rhythm
has become much more smooth and fluent. There is developed a
dance-like qualitiy. T remarks afterwards that a new personal
game structure has been made by C and she asks how this game
should be named in order to continue it easily on a later
occasion. The game is named after C.

The creative process of dance and movement

There are many theories on creativity and on the course of
creative processes. I will present now in brief and
elementary terms G. Wollschläger's ideas on these issues, in
which I recognize much of what has been described above as
'expression' and 'formation'. What keeps interesting me
within this context is that he describes the artistic
expression on the background of personal experience. Learned
techniques operate as tools. These tools are appropriated by
the performer by experimenting with their application
opportunities. During this process he will discover his
possibilities and his limitations with respect to the medium,
i.c. dance and movement. By playing together with others or
with the therapist the performer can develop a reflexive
involvement; he comes to recognize how he moves and what
moves him. The sensitivity for personal possibilities and
limits in dealing with the medium, as well as the reflexive
involvement prepare the ground for his formation in the
medium or with the medium. This ground enables him to make a
deliberate choice of what he would like to demonstrate and
how. Wollschläger describes how this process unfolds in three

Stage of sensitization:
-here the experimentation takes place of one's own
possibilities with respect to dance
-the client is faced with material and social problems
-possibilities and limits in dealing with dance are
recognized with respect to both oneself and others
-the client develops a sensitivity for new, forgotten or lost
opportunities of expression, communication and information.

Stage of reflection:
-here the client becomes aware and starts to appreciate his
own possibilities within dance qua medium, as found in stage

Stage of synthesis:
-the opportunities as encountered in free play and dance are
further processed and formed;
-the client articulates by 'dancing language'
-a new balance is found in the praxis and formation as
performed by the client; this balance is between the pre-
existing possibilities and the influence of development and
environment on the one hand, and on the other hand the newly
found opportunities in dealing with the medium;
-during formation one's own situation becomes more

The development between these three stages according to

Wollschläger makes up a dialectical process. The thesis
consists of the pre-existing influences and problems from the
life world; the antithesis consists of the new opportunities
as found in playing with the medium; the synthesis consists
of the development of strategies for action, such that old
and new experiences are brought together as to make up a new

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 6


Wollschläger's ideas have been a valuable support for me in

guiding creative movement processes. Accordingly, in the
scheme to be given below the impact of his theories can be
recognized. There is a substantial concordance with respect
to the general lines. However, I prefer some intermediate
stages that he does not mention. Also I relate the moment of
reflection not only to the formation but to the entire
movement process. This arrangement may be strongly coloured
by therapeutic application.

Below we find an outline of the steps in the creative

movement process, as I often find them to recur in
therapeutic praxis. Let me add to this that no pair of
processes take similar courses. Every creative situation
develops into its own unicity; time and again a client grows
and unfolds into his own variations. The present scheme is
helpful for me to find my own orientation in these matters.

a. Directing attention to the body/the movement

- this happens for instance during the changing of
clothes, but also during the warm up, through the
therapist's attitude, the verbalization of movement
- the space and the location have a supporting effect.

b. Engaging into movement impulses

- this can be done verbally when the therapist guides the
client with words
- this happens nonverbally by attuning to the client's
movements, as in mirror and shadow games.
- in more complex forms this may happen by offering
movement situations in which the client's movement needs
and movement patterns are the starting point for

c. Developing movement themes

- in improvisations or in games there are accents that may
emerge: the therapist will encourage the client to pay
attention to those elements that are recurrent
- music or materials may be helpful here; they can offer a
frame, or they may direct and structure the movements

d. Formation of the movement material

- the theme as emerged from improvisation is elaborated;
this may result in the creation of a game or a dance;
the movement material found is further processed within
relevant structures, e.g. direction, pace, shape, but
also plot, course, environment, role assignments, rules
of the game....
e. Reflecting on the movement process
- the movement theme and the way it is dealt with are put
into focus and discussed with respect to their relevance
and impact for the personal process

- links are made to other situations, if possible, by

investigating whether the movement situation resembles
other situations
f. Transition to everyday life
- farewell to the therapeutic situation and attuning to
what comes next

Rosemarie Samaritter: Sprung from Dance 7

With respect to all these items we are looking for the
client's needs, their expression is facilitated. Thus the
client is getting involved in the exploration into the
origins of his 'being thus' (''''technische term,opzoeken in
heidegger-vertalingen!). Vital and positive motives might
come up, as well as negative motives, or those that hinder
personal development. The connection between needs and need
fulfillment is discussed with the client. It is investigated
which context is needed for the client to be able to manage
his own needs.
During this explorative journey the therapist operates as a
guide or a coach, sometimes as a partner on the road. He will
need a thorough equipment next to his creative therapy tools,
in order to be able to analyze the movement situations and
use them for an adequate proposal to the client.
Thus far these general notes on dance and movement as a
medium domain within creative therapy. The potentialities of
this young discipline will have to be elaborated further,
thus making a moved contribution to the field of creative

This article presents some notions that are basic to creative
dance and movement therapy. Both dance and movement are
subdivided into personal and codified patterns. Examples from
practice are given as illustrations. Subsequently an outline
is given of the development of movement processes as
encountered in the therapeutic practice. The ideas presented
are based upon the author's work with children and
adolescents in a mental health centre.

Chaiklin, S. "Dance therapy", in: S. Arieti (ed.), American
handbook of psychiatry, vol. 5. Basic Books, New York,
Feder, E., B. Feder, The expressive arts therapies. Prentice-
Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1981.
Grabau, E., H. Visser, Creatieve therapie. Van Loghum
Slaterus, Deventer, 1987.
Haselbach, B., Improvisation - Tanz - Bewegung. Stuttgart,
Klett, 1976
Michaelis, H. U. Treess, "Lernbereich, Bewegungsspiel und
Sport", Beltz, Weinheim, 1974.
NVAGG, "Kreatieve therapie/kreatief therapeut". Utrecht, AG 821942 cp/kv/vt, 1982.
Wollschläger, G., Kreativität und Gesellschaft. Fischer TB,
Frankfurt, 1972.

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