As I stood in the room filled with the scent of aromatic candles and watched the participants move to music, a feeling of calm swept over me. It was my first dance movement therapy (DMT) session in Mumbai. DMT encourages individuals to focus on being in the present, thus improving their health and well-being. The 2-hour session that I attended, organized by the medical wellness centre Vedary, had 12 participants, among them nine women, ranging in age from the early 20s to the late 50s.
The focus during the session was on a form of DMT called five rhythms. “During this, we go through a wave that consists of five different rhythms of music that allow us to experience healing," said Irma Bättig, the session facilitator. “It is empowering, as you heal yourself with movement and music without any external help. It is fun, meditative and a great workout."
Each participant was there for a different reason, be it stress or a desire to reconnect with their inner selves. Some of them had tried other therapies. Shailendra (who uses one name), Vedary’s medical director, explained: “DMT is a medium through which a lot of suppressed emotions can be released. We are in this age where we are not able to be ourselves and DMT gives you an opportunity to be yourself. People from different age groups and diverse backgrounds register for these therapy sessions and that is what makes it beautiful." The sessions usually take place in small groups, though there are individual classes as well. “I was moved by the session. At some point, I was in tears, as it brought back some really sharp memories of my childhood. I realized today how easy it is to connect to oneself," said Reshma Jain, a 41-year-old writer who hoped the session would put her in the right frame of mind for creative work.
Arushi, 28, a Mumbai-based yoga trainer who was attending her first DMT session and did not want to disclose her last name, said: “I felt so relieved, and so free while I was dancing and moving around. It worked like magic in terms of relieving my month-long work stress. I am going to come here more often."
This form of dance therapy was pioneered in the early 1990s by Delhi-based Tripura Kashyap, who has documented her experiences and vision in her book My Body, My Wisdom: A Handbook Of Creative Dance Therapy (2005). DMT, which has become part of professional counselling programmes, emerged after other art therapies but is now used even in prisons, schools and child development centres.
The need has perhaps never been greater. A survey by Cigna TTK Health Insurance, a health insurance firm, in 2018 revealed that 89% of Indians suffer from stress. The survey also revealed that 75% of the respondents did not feel comfortable talking to a medical professional about it. Sneha Janaki, a Mumbai-based counselling psychologist and DMT practitioner, said: “Dance Movement Therapy is seen as an alternate space to general talk therapy. But it is a holistic practice in itself. People find dance and movement a more comfortable and non-threatening medium of expression."
There continue to be a few misconceptions about it—that it is only for those with physical coordination difficulties, that one needs to be a dancer, or that it is just a form of physiotherapy. But it can be used by anybody to heal, explore themselves and navigate trauma, according to Dance Movement Therapy: Theory And Practice, edited by Helen Payne. The 1992 book was the first to document DMT in a variety of settings.
When the session at Vedary ended, there was a pleasant silence—and a sense of emotional safety. I left with feelings of joy, and, perhaps most importantly, serenity.