Creative Movement as a Stress-Reduction Intervention for Caregivers: Inclusive Dance Is Not Only for Persons with Disabilities-It's for Those Who Care for Them as Well

By Vetter, Rheba E.; Myllykangas, Susan A. et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Creative Movement as a Stress-Reduction Intervention for Caregivers: Inclusive Dance Is Not Only for Persons with Disabilities-It's for Those Who Care for Them as Well


Vetter, Rheba E., Myllykangas, Susan A., Donorfio, Laura K. M., Foose, Alice K., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Experience and observation throughout the years has revealed the healing power of creative movement improvisations. For example, Evelyn de la Tour, a modern dance teacher in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., in the mid-1900s, used improvisation activities and concepts to help students develop a kinesthetic understanding of the body and its ability to move. Students learned how to express ideas and emotions through movement. It was during these expressive journeys that one of the students first became aware of the healing power of creative movement or dance improvisation. Students who entered dance class tense typically left with a sense of freedom due to the release of physical and mental energy after a dance technique class that ended with 10 to 20 minutes of improvisation. In the advanced modern dance class, teenagers experienced dancing with adults. This was a very nurturing experience. Throughout class these adults encouraged younger students' dance abilities, and during improvisation they had a vast array of ideas to explore--everything from science to current events.

One day a new adult student came to class. As with all the new students, when the improvisation part of class started, this person began to shut down physically, emotionally, and cognitively. After observing this particular student's behavior for a couple of classes, Evelyn quietly asked a student to coax this woman into improvising. The method of coaxing was more a use of movement as communication to ask and encourage this woman to dance and explore; she responded to the "mirror and reflection" activity by acting as the follower. Within a few more classes, a catharsis occurred and a more confident and exploring person emerged.

Researcher Van Manen (1990) stated, "... phenomenological reflection is not introspective but retrospective and [it] is the systematic attempt to uncover and describe ... lived experience" (p. 10). In other words, creative movement can be used as a process of uncovering and describing one's lived experience through motion. Motions of the body provide a medium for the individual to connect with life in a personally meaningful manner. A creative-movement process uses abstract reasoning involving kinesthetic perception and other sensorial memories. As a means of expression, creative movement enables transcendence of one's inner being to an "other world." This "other world" of deeply stored perceptions meets the immediate kinesthetic responses of movement. Such contemporaneous experiences move one beyond oneself into a cathartic moment (Brooks & Stark, 1989; Chodorow, 2000; Picard, 2000; Sandel, 1994). Catharsis is defined as "the relief of tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness" (Costello, 1993, p. 221).

Remembering the tension release during dance classes with Evelyn de la Tour led to the idea of using creative movement as a means of releasing the tension of others. Specifically, just as improvisation helped the students in Evelyn's class to relieve stress, the authors believe that the use of creative movement explorations can benefit the increasing population of caregivers who are affected by stress. Movement may be one of the oldest forms of human communication, so it is nothing new. Creative movement, or dance improvisation, is not new either, nor is its use in dance therapy. However, the use of creative movement to aid the health of the caregiver population is relatively new.

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Characteristics of Caregiving

A caregiver is anyone who provides services for another person with a physical disability or long-term illness (Thomas, 1993). Caregiving may be formal, such as through a home care company, or it may be informal, as performed by family members or close friends. The day-to-day responsibilities take a heavy physical, emotional, and intellectual toll. Such responsibilities may include feeding, bathing, dressing, and providing transportation, in addition to numerous other daily tasks. …

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