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So You Think You Can Dance to Process Trauma? Here's Why It Helps.

“If you can’t say it, you sing it, and if you can’t sing it, you dance it.” -Anonymous

On the season premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” last week, dancer Maci Montes openly discussed how dance helped her come out of a dark place, and how because of her experience with a suicide attempt, she is now a vocal advocate for mental health. Her words and powerful piece resonated deeply within me. As a ballet dancer turned modern dancer in college, I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile everything I was feeling in relationship to my childhood trauma, eating disorder history, and ongoing issues with depression and anxiety. While I often had no language for how I felt, dance was the one place where I could connect the dots between what was going on in my heart and my head and allow it to flow out of my body.

The connection between mind and body has become widely accepted, and many therapists are incorporating body-focused modalities into their treatment protocols, ranging from somatic experiencing to polyvagal theory to trauma-focused yoga. As Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score,” puts it, “I think some of the best therapy one can do is therapy that is very largely non-verbal where the main task of the therapist is to help people to feel what they feel — to notice what they notice, to see how things flow within themselves, and to re-establish their sense of time inside.” It makes sense, therefore that using dance as a tool would be a highly effective form of emotional integration.

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (yes, that’s a thing and I’m feeling like I missed my calling), “Dance/movement therapists focus on helping their clients improve self-esteem and body image, develop

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Bessel Van-Der

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