Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients

In this modern age, cancer is the most deadly and chronic disease faced by a human being in every alternate day. Therefore, scientists are researching for years to find out a proper cure or any preventive methods to stop the further progression of this disease. Other than alternate medicine and preventive measures, dance movement therapy as a form of complimentary therapy is quite gaining popularity these days as a way of treating cancer in both hospitals and comprehensive cancer care centers. Dance therapy enhances the production of a neurotransmitter called endorphin which thereby increases the function of different systems in the body. This therapy is also used for treating health problems like traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, asthma, bulimia nervosa, cancer, arthritis, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, anorexia, and many other illnesses.

Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients

What is Dance Movement Therapy?

Dance movement therapy is actually the therapeutic or psychotherapeutic use of various dance steps or movements mainly used for the treatment related to emotion, physical, reasoning, intelligent, and social adjustment of an individual along with the interconnection between his spirit, body, and mind with the provisionally supported propositions.

In Australia and the USA, this therapy is known as Dance Movement Therapy and in the UK, it is known by the term Dance Movement Psychotherapy or DMP. This type of expressive therapy helps to correlate between emotion and movement by involving mainly four stages, such as planning, maturation, enlightenment, and assessment.

Different organizations usually maintain certain standards under the professional courtesy combined with standard levels of education related to this field of therapy. Dance movement therapy is generally practiced in several clinical situations for the purpose of physical or psychotherapy.

Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients

Researchers have revealed that along with proper balanced diet, control of calorie intake, regulating body weight and regular physical activity including dance will prevent as well as decrease the risk of getting certain types of cancers, such as breast (mostly after menopause), colon, esophagus, kidney, gall bladder, endometrium, or pancreas. It should always be remembered that dance movement therapy is not a substitute or replacement for conventional therapy to treat cancer like radiation, chemo or surgery. Rather dance therapy or dance movement therapy generates better and positive self or body image; stimulates self-esteem or self-expression; encourages different exercises and sense of well-being; makes a cancer patient laugh; reduces mental tension and chronic body pain; removes the feeling of isolation; strengthen self-confidence; and decreases depression, stress, or anxiety. Thus all these are common issues which a cancer patient fights regularly and dance movement therapy helps in removing them off.

Study findings have shown that Dance movement therapy in breast cancer patients has helped to recover their moods and bodily motions by lowering fear of recurrence, pain, or fatigue. In other cancer patients, Dance movement therapy also shows a beneficial effect on quality of life; distressed perception of bodily dysfunctions or somatizations; and keeps them fit and healthy both physically and mentally.

How Does Dance Movement Therapy Help Cancer Patients in Healing?

Cancer is a life-threatening disease that leads to physical, social, or emotional suffering. Nowadays different creative therapies like dance movement therapy have developed to incorporate psychosocial interferences to reduce the sufferings and advances towards the quality of life.

Dance movement therapy is mainly done on the basis of the interrelation between mind and body. It also helps people including cancer patients to improvise their self-esteem as well as body images. The creative expressions of this therapy also help to boost communication skills in cancer patients and inspire them to maintain a dynamic relationship with others. According to the dance therapists, the various bodily movements alter both feelings and attitudes positively or negatively and also strengthen the body’s immune system using physical actions and muscular processes. It is very important to improve a cancer patient’s immunity as lower immune levels make them prone to various infections or other health conditions. Mild to moderate dancing conditions also helps a cancer patient to eradicate chronic fatigue, tension, or other disabling situations due to stress and the side effects of cancer and its treatment.

As per the report of the Cancer Society, physical activity including body movement or dance actually increases the level of endorphins in the brain, which induces the feeling of comfort and security. Dancing or moving your body in a rhythmic way excites the other systems of the body and helps in keeping oneself stay healthy and fit. Some other benefits that Dance movement therapy reflects in the healing process of cancer include the following:

  • Developing suitable body tone, image, and self-acceptance in cancer patients.
  • Dance movement therapy helps to develop confidence and self-awareness of cancer patients.
  • Cancer patients learn to express and control their feelings with the help of Dance movement therapy.
  • They learn to sort out problems and take proper decisions.
  • Dance movement therapy helps in dealing with various challenges of life in cancer patient.
  • Resuming and personification just after any traumatic experiences.
  • Learn to face challenges in relationships like sexuality or intimacy while dealing with cancer.
  • Learn to cope up with relationship skills.
  • Dance movement therapy when conducted in group sessions also helps in combatting the feelings of “why me?”.

Stages of Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients

Dance movement therapy comprises of four stages:

  • Preparation Stage of Dance Movement Therapy: First is planning stage involving warm-up exercises that provide enough comfort and prepares the body to move. It also gives the cancer patient and therapist an understanding of the different difficulties faced by the patient on that day.
  • Incubation Stage of Dance Movement Therapy: This stage involves open-ended imagination and sub-consciousness that aids the cancer patient to focus on relaxation and mindfulness and use symbolic movements to express the various bodily observations. The process of mindfulness and relaxation practiced in this session helps the cancer patient to calm down, take control of the stress and anxiety experienced as a result of the disorder and finally heal.
  • Illumination Stage of Dance Movement Therapy: The third stage is the enlightenment stage, where the cancer patients develop self-reflection by recovering subconscious motivations and learn about its positive or negative effects. This stage also helps cancer patients in regaining the mental and physical strength to fight through the disease and also re-experience the zeal to live and fight cancer.
  • Evaluation Stage of Dance Movement Therapy: The last stage is the assessment stage which emphasizes on the significance of the therapy and prepares the mind of the cancer patient to end the session. It also involves sharing of experiences that they experienced during a session.

Different Methods Used in Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients

The dance therapist usually helps to increase communication skills and creating pathways for both nonverbal and verbal communication among cancer patients. In a dance movement therapy session, props and music are often used to enhance self-expression, the extension of movement, and socialization skills of cancer patients. Other approaches or movement styles that are implicated to attain interaction and authentic expression include creative dance, interactive games, relaxation techniques, expressive movement, improvisation, and role-playing.

Some intercession examples may include:

  • In order to illustrate empathy for a fellow group member, dance therapy group session for cancer patients utilizes replicating the group members’ movement.
  • Incorporation of jumping rhythms within a dance therapy session for a group of people with depression helps in reducing depression as research has revealed that patients suffering from depression have a low vertical level movements compared to people who never suffered from depression and increasing vertical movement can help reduce depression. It is generally seen that people suffering from cancer often experience symptoms of depression; hence, jumping and vertical movements for cancer patients can help in reducing these symptoms.
  • Usage of a movement metaphor by involving physical demonstration helps a person to recover from various challenges experienced while suffering from cancer in a non-verbal way. Verbalization could sometimes be difficult for cancer patients to explain different physical symptoms and condition and also emotional contents experienced during this phase; non-verbal communication serves better in these situations and dance movement therapy is the best way to express bodily and emotional contents in a safe way.

A variety of techniques or dance styles are used in Dance movement therapy depending on the requirement of the cancer patients. These include modern dance, Turkish folk dance, authentic movement, ballroom dance, waltz, tango, aerobic dance, foxtrot, body psychotherapy and line dancing. Various techniques like mirroring, touch therapy, shadowing, guided imagery along with movements, etc. are used in sessions to help foster healing in cancer patients.

What is the Group Size for Dance Movement Therapy for Cancer Patients?

Dance therapy sessions can be non-directive or well-organized and thus generally conducted in groups of more or less 10 people. The therapy can also be done on a single individual depending on the severity of his or her illness of cancer. A dance therapy session group could be homogenous consisting of cancer patients suffering from the same ailment, or it could be heterogeneous having a mixed group of people suffering from cancer of different body organs or tissues. A therapist usually follows certain key principles as stated below:

  • Diagnose, prevent, and treat different health issues that are causing trouble with healthy functioning of the body in a cancer patient.
  • Evaluate and set up appropriate treatment goals for cancer patients.
  • Evolve, assess and regulate the treatment process continuously to fulfill the needs of each cancer patient.
  • Patients are encouraged to do authentic movements where the attention is directed towards the inner self and bodily processes. These movements are either symbolic or represent unconscious processes in a cancer patients.
  • Constant improvisation or experimentation of the movements is carried out to develop further ways of well-being of a cancer patient.

How Long Does a Dance Movement Therapy Program for Cancer Patient Last?

The exact duration of the Dance Movement Therapy is still not properly reported, but it can go from anywhere between a 45 minutes to one or 1.5 hour session. Studies have shown that a one hour and 30 minutes session for 2-3 times in a week has shown a remarkable effect in post-surgery breast cancer patients. However, this is also decided based on the patients’ health status and tolerance of the therapy. Dance movement therapy sessions should be continued for 5-9 weeks as per the progression of the disease. The result in around 80% of breast cancer patients has exposed the fact that these patients have spontaneous improvements in quality of life and are also able to eliminate their depression and anxiety by becoming self-worthy.


The dance movement therapy is yet to get the much needed recognition, till now no adverse effect is noticed in patients during the therapeutic session. More trials are still going on and probably the beneficial effect of Dance movement therapy will be recognized soon as a form of cancer-treatment therapy.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 9, 2018

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