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The Healing Powers of Dance

Dancing is more than fun — it's therapeutic

Dance as a curative exercise isn't a new phenomenon. The dance therapy movement was born decades ago when Marian Chace first introduced dance to psychiatric patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC in the 1940s. She taught a class called "Dance for Communication" to World War II vets, offering them a way to convey feelings that – especially for psychologically traumatized patients — can be difficult to verbalize. Chace eventually helped found the American Dance Therapy Association in 1966. Dance/movement therapy focuses on dancing's psychological benefits and its ability to encourage emotional connections. Today, dance is used in treatments for everything from eating disorders to autism to depression.

Christina Devereaux, spokesperson for the American Dance Therapy Association, explains, "We really believe in the body/mind connection, and dance is a way for people to use what's happening inside them and express it in an external, expansive way." She compares it to talk therapy, where patients use discussion to explore feelings and alleviate psychological discomfort or pain. But in addition to using words, Devereaux says, dance therapists “help people develop a physical vocabulary” to do much the same thing.

Perdue, the Sjögren’s patient, says she believes firmly in dance as way of "connecting ourselves to our bodies in elemental ways," which leads to improved body alignment, enhanced mood, boosted confidence, and many more physical- and mental-health benefits. She continues to dance at least twice a week, favoring modern, tap or ballet. She still has a chronic condition, but says she has less fatigue, and much more strength and she's positive it's because of dance. Now, Perdue says, "I have to dance. I crave it."

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