Dance / Movement Therapy

Contributed by: Susan Kleinman, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, CEDS

“Inherent in all living creatures through the ages, rhythmic movement has pulsated through the core of our beings, outwardly manifested, it magically transforms into dance.” Cynthia Berrol, 2016

Chace with patient doing Dance Movement Therapy

Marian Chace and patient (Courtesy the Marian Chace Foundation)

Marian Chace, recognized as the mother of dance/movement therapy (DMT), built upon her life-long experiences, first as a professional dancer and then as a dance teacher, when she stepped onto the grounds of St.Elizabeths hospital in 1942.

Because of World War II, there was a shortage of clinicians, so Chace was asked to provide what she referred to as “basic dance” classes to un-medicated psychotic patients (Chace, 1993, p. 257).

As the story goes, she defied the beliefs of the psychiatric establishment who thought that these patients could not benefit from group therapy. Often working with as many as 75 patients in a group, Chace engaged and mobilized them through her evolving dance process.

Reflecting on Chace’s’ contribution to the development of DMT, Chaiklin, Sandel, and Lohn write “She opened new paths for communication and self-expression among isolated patients, all of whom she treated with respect and compassion” (1993, p. xv). Of her belief in the power of her DMT work, Chace said, “Dance Therapy is an exciting discipline that offers many satisfactions. Not the least of these is seeing eyes light up when a person who has shown little interest in what is going on suddenly becomes an interested person involved with others.” (Chace,1993, p. 256).

In the nearly twenty-seven years she was at St. Elizabeth’s, she touched the lives of thousands of patients. Excerpts from a poem, written in her memory by one patient, expresses the deep feeling elicited by her offerings:

“[…] The woman smiles -The girl smiled back—
Day after day this silent communication was
Until finally to some simple song,
Girl, woman and music built a dance—
Eithne Tabor, 1993

In addition to Marian Chace, six other dancers are recognized as pioneers of DMT. Several emigrated from Europe, while others emerged from the east and west coasts of the United States. Each developed their own unique approach with dance as their base.

These pioneers are:

  • Irmgard Bartenieff
  • Liljan Espenak
  • Blanche Evan
  • Alma Hawkins
  • Trudy Schoop
  • Mary Whitehouse

A full description regarding each of these first generation dance/movement therapists can be found in the text entitled, “Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art”, edited by Fran Levy. As Dr. Levy states, “This text is an attempt to trace, codify and synthesize the evolution of dance therapy from its inception to its current scope and direction” (2005, p.v).

Specifically, Levy provides historical references which include a thorough description of early DMT pioneers, a survey that delineates the evolution of the profession through a “heritage tree” and information about the development of unique variations in the approaches used in working with special populations.

In 1966, the development of the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) marked the beginning of dance/movement therapy as a profession. Initially, first and second generation dance/movement therapists met to define standards and ethics as well as professional goals for the organization.

The definition that was agreed upon (with a few modifications) is still in use today, “Dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the individual.” (American Dance Therapy Association, n. d.)

Susan Kleinman & group learning Dance Movement Therapy

Susan Kleinman & Group – The Renfrew Center of Florida (Courtesy David Alvarado, Structure Films)

Methods of training future DMTs first occurred through mentoring experiences and soon evolved into academic and alternate route programs (American Dance Therapy Association, n. d.; Levy, 2005). The ADTA also addresses the building of a body of knowledge through research and scholarly writing and many dance/movement therapists from the United States have contributed to the development of this profession by teaching globally.

Today DMT is practiced with individuals of all ages in a variety of treatment settings, addressing a broad range of mental health issues and disabilities.

Articles on Dance Movement Therapy

  • Dance Movement Therapy in the treatment of eating disorders can involve reclaiming an authentic connection with oneself.  Renowned dance therapist:  Susan Kleinman MA, DMT – BC, NCC CEDS addressed the healing components offered through dance movement therapy.
  • Communicating feelings can be challenging. A therapist trying to have a patient discuss past traumas can be more so. The belief that communication comes only from a person’s voice is incorrect because a great deal of communication comes from body language as it is our most basic means of expressing ourselves. For those struggling with a severe trauma, words often are not sufficient enough to break through the barriers and pain. Dance Movement Therapy can help a person reconnect their mind and body in a most unique way because they can say things through their body that cannot be said verbally.

American Dance Therapy Association ( n.d.) . Brochure.Retrieved July 1 2017.from
American Dance Therapy Association ( n.d.) . How to become a dance/movement therapist.Retrieved, July 1, 2017.
Berrol, C. ( 2016) In S. Kleinman, J. W. Cathcart, A. Lohn, & S. Chaiklin, S. (Eds). Movement Reflections.P. 46.Columbia, MD. Marian Chace Foundation.
Sandel, S.,Chaiklin, S., Lohn, A. (EDs) Preface inS. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, A. Lohn (EDs).Foundations of dance/movement therapy. The life and Work of Marian Chace .(p. xv)Columbia, MD. Marian Chace Fund of the American Dance Therapy Association.
Chace, M. (1993). Dance therapy for adults. In S. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, A. Lohn (EDs) Foundations of dance/movement therapy. The life and Work of Marian Chace .(pp. 256-260)Columbia, MD. Marian Chace Fund of the American Dance Therapy Association.
Levy, F. (2005). Dance movement therapy: A healing art. Reston, VA. National Dance Association, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
Tabor, E. (1993).In Memoriam: Marian Chace. In S. Sandel, S. Chaiklin, A. Lohn (EDs) Foundations of dance/movement therapy. The life and Work of Marian Chace .( p. 119) Columbia, MD. Marian Chace Fund of the American Dance Therapy Association.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 2, 2017
Page last updated: August 2, 2017 
Published on, Online Information on Eating Disorders