An Approach to Dance Movement Therapy (DMT)
The Dance Movement Therapy process
Clinical mental health services are generally characterized by an exclusive focus on mental illness. This tends to reduce the individual to a diagnosis, with treatment being directed entirely by professionals.(1) By contrast, alternative approaches to MH tend to be aimed at the wellbeing of the individual as a whole.(2) Clients’ self-expression is recognized as crucial, because they are the experts when it comes to their own lives and contexts. Such a focus on the client may be found in the Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) process.
DMT is defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as ‘the psychotherapeutic use of dance and movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being’.(3) The field of DMT acknowledges that body and mind are inextricably linked, and that creative, body-based, and nonverbal methods of expression are powerful means of self-articulation and exploration4 – as well as inclusive, moving as they do beyond specificities of language.
The Sampoornata approach
The Sampoornata (fulfilment) approach to DMT was established by Kolkata Sanved, an NGO working for the healing, empowerment and wellbeing of marginalized communities (with a strong emphasis on gender justice). Sampoornata evolved through Dr Sohini Chakraborty’s work in the area of trauma healing for genderbased violence survivors through the medium of dance and movement. Five survivors were trained as DMT practitioners and, in 2004, Kolkata Sanved was founded by Dr Chakraborty along with the survivorpractitioners.(5,6)
Sampoornata draws on principles of global DMT practice, adapting them to the social development sector in India. It incorporates elements of Indian dance and movement (for instance, folk dance circles, meditation, and the classical navarasa or nine emotions).(7) Its recognition of contextual causes of distress, group-based sessions, and low resource requirements make it suited to social development work, especially with marginalized communities.
Kolkata Sanved implements Sampoornata in collaboration with partner organizations (other NGOs as well as governmental agencies) in Child Care Institutions and community settings. DMT sessions, each facilitated by two DMT practitioners, are conducted with groups of 10-20 participants, in weekly two- hour slots or monthly full-day workshops.(8)
“While clinical practice often sets up a power hierarchy between expert and patient, the DMT practitioner-participant relationship moves beyond this”
A body-based holistic process
The body is the seat of the core self; it is through the body that we perceive, act, and interact with the world.(9) Our ways of holding our bodies are shaped by social norms.(!0) DMT uses body awareness and movement exploration as starting points to understand and build wellbeing of all aspects of the self.(11)
The Sampoornata approach to DMT enables holistic engagement through an integration of the five selves: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual.(12) The central part of the DMT session is movementbased activity, in which participants have the space to move as they want without being judged. This enables a connection with physical sensations in the body, as well as with emotions.
Group-based activities help connect to the social self. Afterwards, participants provide verbal feedback about their movement experiences, thereby integrating the intellectual self.(!3)
A DMT session in the Sampoornata curriculum consists of eight stages: opening ritual; warm-up; needbased DMT activity; relaxation; healing touch; group discussion and feedback through a reflection circle; debrief; and closing ritual.(!4) The earlier stages help to create awareness and peace within the body, laying the foundation for deeper, process-based work. The opening ritual is meant to make participants feel grounded in the present and with the group. The warm-up enables them to recover energy, so that they can dive into the deeper process of using movements to explore, and go on a journey with, the self. The relaxation and healing touch stages are designed to calm the body and mind. Reflection and feedback help participants to think and speak about their experience, thus enhancing the body-mind connection – and also providing the facilitator with indicators for next steps to be taken. The underlying focus on wellbeing is reinforced through a strong emphasis on participants’ existing strengths and resources. A sense of feeling positive and strong also emerges; through the sharing circle, and activities built around peer bonding, DMT groups may evolve into support systems.(15) The synergy between all these aspects helps to build a deeper sense of interconnectedness, thereby integrating the spiritual self.(!6)
Freedom from restrictive norms
Social determinants such as income, gender, social exclusion, and social support (besides others) are instrumental in shaping mental health.(17) Recognizing this, Sampoornata locates the source of the problems not in the individual but in social experiences of oppression and marginalization. Oppressive norms may have affected participants both through internalization and external pressure. For example, it is observed that many female participants are initially hesitant to move freely because they have internalized patriarchal norms that tell them to restrict their movements – norms that have been reinforced externally, through community pressure. The role of DMT, here, is to enable participants to deconstruct such internalized norms: the sessions create a safe space in which participants explore different kinds of movement and get in touch with their own preferences and choices, without feeling the pressure of social norms.(18) This becomes a first step towards empowerment. For instance, one trafficking survivor said that DMT gave her the physical and emotional confidence to assert her right to speak in court;(19) another DMT trainee, who was assigned male but identifies as female, found the space to express and define her gender.
The goal of Sampoornata is the emancipation of the participants.(20) Apart from deconstructing oppressive norms, it enables participants to acquire confidence, enhancing their creativity and selfexpression. It encourages them to negotiate their way through current oppressive realities to choose their own paths.(21) They also have access to social support from their peers in the sessions, and from the DMT practitioners whose nonjudgemental, empathetic relationship with participants is essential to the process.(22) DMT practitioners are also able to link participants to other supportive resources and networks (such as NGOs that offer vocational training).
Centering the participant’s lived experience
While clinical practice often sets up a power hierarchy between expert and patient, the DMT practitionerparticipant relationship moves beyond this. The therapeutic space is co-created by both, and the role of the practitioner is to enable the participant’s self-expression. The participant is at the centre of the process, and directs the progress of the sessions. The facilitator shapes activities according to these directions by practicing body-based empathy.(23)
The Sampoornata approach(24) focuses on training DMT practitioners from marginalized communities. Through the DMT Leadership Academy of Kolkata Sanved, individuals with experiences of marginalization are trained as DMT practitioners and change-leaders. Therefore, Sampoornata is shaped not just by academic knowledge but also by lived experience, which deeply enriches the model. Practitioners can draw experiences from their own milieus to demonstrate how to navigate oppressive contexts.
For example, after an incident of rape in an institution, practitioners facilitated residents’ exploration of ways to protect oneself when feeling defenceless.(25) conclusion Sampoornata is a relatively new approach within global DMT and mental health praxis. It creates a new pedagogy for healing and wellbeing: a body-based approach embedded in a community-focused, rights-based perspective. Since the major resource required is the body, and the process can be done in groups, Sampoornata can be made available in lowresource settings, thereby increasing access to mental healthcare for marginalized communities. ¤