Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class in ‘Heart Song’.
In the aftermath of the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon or the horrific tornado disaster in Oklahoma, our minds and bodies are left reeling in emotional pain, anxiety, fear, confusion and questioning. Even those of us who are not direct victims or physically present at these events, collectively, are still affected by watching these traumas unfold on TV or online. Our bodies take in these experiences and absorb the tension and suffering of such events. Trauma exists in many forms.
According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “a traumatic event is something life-threatening or very scary that you see or that happens to you…. Trauma also includes witnessing someone being killed or injured.“ News broadcasts showing footage over and over of traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the Oklahoma disaster victims become not only mental images but also become body memories that for some, can be extremely difficult to process and make sense of.
These experiences need to be processed through the body. Research advances have emphasized the importance of including the body in treatment of any type of trauma. According to dance/movement therapist Claire Moore, ‘‘the sensations and actions that have become stuck in and after a traumatic event need to be integrated in the treatment process, so that the person can regain a sense of familiarity and efficacy in the body.”
This knowledge broadens the options for how people can receive support in order to move forward from common patterns of immobilization that often is experienced by victims of or witnesses to traumatic events. This means, rather than turning inward or self-soothing via means that disengage ourselves from our bodies (drinking, drugs, excessive eating, zoning out in front of the TV), our body can be an expressive vehicle utilized as an active resource to processing feelings.
Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets. In a study at the University of London, researchers assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four settings: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Only the dance class significantly reduced anxiety.
Why Do You Dance?
Why dance, in particular? Why should you dance? Why would dance be a vehicle to cope with daily stress or even horrific tragedies such as the Oklahoma tornado, the Boston Marathon explosions, or the Newtown School shootings? Perhaps this is based on the specific distinction that dance in itself is innately an expressive art form, not just a physical release of body tension alone.
Dance/movement therapists have long known the expressive nature of dance dating back to the effects of post traumatic stress victims from World War II. Dance/movement therapy pioneer, Marian Chace, discovered back in the 1940s that her patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were able to use dance therapy as a form of communication that assisted in the decrease of tension held in the body and minimized isolation. Dance/movement therapy, according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is based on the core belief that there is a fundamental interconnection between mind and body and what happens to the body can effectively influence the mind and vice versa. Dance/movement therapists are trained clinicians specializing in the interconnection between mind and body. The core premise lies within the therapeutic relationship where movement is the primary mode of connection, assessment and intervention.
Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in ‘Heart Song’.
In Heart Song, our current production at the Fountain Theatre, the main character Rochelle is battling a life crisis. Grieving the loss of her mother, she is lost and emotionally paralyzed. Her friend Tina, declaring “the mind, body and spirit are all connected”, drags Rochelle to a flamenco class. It is there, through the powerful dance movement and self-expression of flamenco, that Rochelle begins to open up and release some of the long suppressed trauma of her barren relationship with her mother. Dance is the vehicle through which Rochelle finds freedom and release.