Episode recap: Dance, Movement and Well-being with Erica Hornthal

On the 10th episode of the Joy Superpowers series, we had the honor of hosting Erica Hornthal– known as the therapist who moves you and is a board-certified dance/movement therapist and licensed clinical professional counsellor. Erica is also the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy and creator of the Dance Therapy Advocates Summit.

Since a young age, Erica has always been interested in dance but never aimed to become a professional dancer, choreographer, or dance educator. She started to think what was it about dance that she didn´t want to let go of- it was how it made her feel (the joy, expression, freedom in the body) which had nothing to do with performing. After becoming a dance therapist, she now understands that the body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, and that life is experienced through movement. Her approach allows each client to express their feelings, experiences, and ideas, with their whole body. Here are some key messages from the interesting episode regarding dance therapy.

Dance Movement Therapy: What is it?

In general, it is referred to as psychotherapy that uses movement to facilitate emotional, cognitive, social, physical, spiritual integration and it is about connecting mind and body. But for Erica, it’s really all about using movement as a way to observe, assess and even intervene in the therapeutic relationship between the person and therapist. Often, we can say things, but they’re not congruent with what we’re showing in our body and thus Erica through setting a mirror, she helps clients to become self-aware, and all through movement.

„I can just ask someone: notice what you just said, where do you feel that? How does that come up? What does that look like? And if not aware of it, I ask if I may I reflect on what I saw. It’s not really about dance, it’s dance as a catalyst or kind of container of movement.”

Whom is DMT suitable for?

DMT is suitable for anyone, especially people who feel like they are stuck or are having a hard time verbalizing their feelings or emotions, then, the body is a way to go. „The body is housing everything, we just need to be able to access it.” DMT can be also very beneficial for people coping with various disorders or people who are trying to overcome any fear, depression, or anxiety. Erica says it is because of so many things that are going on in our heads that we just really need to feel our way through.

In addition, age is also not an issue.

MYTH: You have to be a dancer to participate in dance movement therapy.

A lot of people assume they lack the talent for dancing, are afraid of it, or refer to it as embarrassing torture. According to Erica´s experience, people who expressed such feelings towards dancing, it was often because of judgment that was placed on them. Somebody literally told them that they are terrible dancers, they internalized those words and keep telling themselves that narrative. Helping people overcome this stigma of that phrase, so that they can then actually start the deepest, most impactful level of healing, is one of the difficulties of being a dance therapist.

DMT might feel weird to a lot of people because they’re so disconnected from the sensations in their bodies, but once they do it, they realize how powerful even one session can be.

MYTH: You can’t teach old dog new tricks. DMT is not suitable for older people.

Erica works with a lot of older people who have some type of cognitive deficit or memory impairment or sometimes a mixture of inhibition. In fact, DMT can have a lot of positive health impacts, such as improved strength, blood pressure, balance, and flexibility.

Connection of Music and Dance

Erica is not a music therapist but from her personal experience, it´s like a Chicken and Egg type of situation- both are about rhythm. Music therapists use a lot of movement hand in hand and dance therapists use lot of music.

„Music is universally processed in the brain which supports a lot of movement therapy. Bringing in the element of music allows the person to already be in the flow of movement after which has better ability to access their expressions and feelings through movement. Oppositely, when we are moving, sometimes we can then bring in music to help support the rhythm of the movement itself. So, music has become almost like a catalyst- stepping stone if you are to create some movement in body, or it can act later in the process.”

NOTE: Erica has to be really careful about the music she brings in as the lyrics, the mood that comes in because of the music can end up influencing the person’s expression. Emotional connection is not a bad thing but in terms of therapy, Erica wants to make sure that the words, feelings, and expressions are coming from inside the person and not because of any outside influence.

Connection of Mental Health and Body

„How we move influences who we are.”

If we want to change something about ourselves, especially mentally, or our behavior, we really have to look at how we show up in our bodies, because one thing is to change the mind, but if we are not changing the body that houses all of those thoughts and feelings and emotions, we may very well find ourselves in a trap-back in those similar patterns.

Have you been familiar with DMT before?

Share your comments down below or on social media using the hashtag #joysuperpowers. In case you missed the episode, you can go listen to it here.

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