Rising Beauty
(from the performance piece "Beautiful," by Leif Tellmann, April 2001)

I went to see a performance some time ago, and was struck by the beauty of
the dancers skin as they moved their naked bodies within a large moving
It was a bit like watching clouds, and a higher compliment would be hard to
I thought,
which I don’t always think,
what beautiful animals humans are
with their smooth skin and long graceful limbs.
And how odd it is that ore of us don’t just set up chairs by the lake and
watch the mezmerizing spektacle of clouds, and water, and wind among trees. . .

and the strange human animals soaking up the sunshine
drinking it in
just like the daisies with their smooth skin and rising spines.
I wanted to make a dance
and I was afraid to make a dance
so I decided to do it.
I was afraid it wouldn’t be good enough
that I wouldn’t be good enough
for an audience of people who have seen dance
and know what dance is.
And what do I really want to say anyway?
What is this really about?

And so I thought of various things

Of the difficult decision to move to a new home
and of what it feels like to be a nomadic spirit
and a body
that longs for roots.

and maybe you’ve felt that way too.

Or possibly I could bring wisdom into my dance.
To express a burgeoning spirituality
which I have seen glimpses of in tree branches
and splashing water and
screaming lilacs.
And perhaps you would find meaning and applaud my wisdom.

Or I could tell you
of the original forgotten people
the humans with whom I work
who have so much to say
so much that needs to be moved

The short man with large
deeply creviced rings
around his eyes
convinced and irate that we were
shrinking him
making him smaller
and, perhaps, even less significant
in the eyes of other humans.

Or the 230 pound woman who began to shake and proceeded to destroy the room,
smashing the stereo on the floor
hard plastic and metal reduced to trash
and of my trying to stop her
with my arms that could not reach around her body
and had no way of containing her rage
or softening her anger.
Had she wanted to destroy the beauty of the music
unable to recognize her own melody
and its striking sound?

I once went to the park at twilight and climbed up into the limbs of a tree
and sat there
watching purple softness envelop the world
and the cars with their tiny lights on lake shore drive.
I sat for an hour in that tree
and thought for some time about Sandra
a patient who had survived
trauma at the hands of men

The wonder of this story is that it was Sandra
the very next day
who brought into our session the image of climbing trees
and the memory
of a large tree behind her childhood home.
She had found safety and comfort there.

I asked her to write all she could remember
of climbing her tree
to use her writing hand to
of beauty
to give her hand a break
from writing her other

And what does one do with all the
in lives
whose very foundations
seem loosely built
by bricks of fear
Lives held together by the mortar of
systems filled with holes?
The support threatening to crumble
as it hits fresh air?

These are moments
when I too feel like I am
smaller, less, imploding
wondering what it would be like
to allow rage
to fill my cells
and destroy an entire room
smashing machines to the floor
people fleeing
until some could come and hold me still
and remind me of my body

of my humanness
of my beauty.

and would I believe them
if they did?

So what is this work about?
Is it about expression

I know it involves soul
and body
and that it connects with
what you and I have both seen
in tree branches
and splashing water
and screaming lilacs.

Us and the daisies
all with our smooth skin
and rising spines.

Dance/Movement Therapy:
a Brief History and it's Potential for Ecopsychology

By Leif Tellmann, MA, ADTR

Throughout the ages, human beings have always used movement and dance to foster a sense of community, healing, expression, and spirituality. Native cultures have incorporated dance into their rituals and celebrations. In moving to the rhythms of culturally shared songs and music, dancers have celebrated togetherness, expressed joy or pain, and embodied the spiritual dimensions of our natural world. Water flowed, air swept, earth shook, and animal spirits took form in movement.

Communities of people came together, moving with a shared rhythm, a shared purpose, and a sense of belonging. Dance served as a way to express the unexplainable. It was a way to connect with the infinite and the universal. In dance and rhythm this connection didn’t need explanation because it was felt in the very muscles and bones and sinew of both dancer and witness to the dance.

As Western European culture evolved, dance became increasingly separated from daily life. Here, folk dances still played an important role in creating a sense of community and connection to others, and were used in celebrations and festivals. However, dance became relegated to a somewhat frivolous activity. "Civilized" Europeans, as they immigrated to the Americas, saw themselves as different from the "savage" native peoples that inhabited the land. They covered their bodies, built buildings to separate themselves from the forces of nature, and tried to tame the wilderness. Dance became separated from everyday life, and as time went by, dance was often seen as an activity or profession in which only certain highly trained people took part.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a movement began to emerge in the United States that questioned some of the ways that mainstream America viewed and used dance. In the performance dance world, styles of dance began to develop that strayed from the classical forms. These styles were the roots of what would later become known as modern dance. The pioneers of this form of dance used movement in ways that fostered emotional expression, authenticity of feeling, and awareness of movement impulses. An interest in the use of dance in "primitive" societies formed, leading to a regeneration of seeing dance as more than merely a frivolous pastime or a formal art form requiring training to be appreciated. Dance was, once again, being seen as a form of spiritual and emotional expression, a chance to connect with the divine.

Choreographers began to experiment with the use of improvisation in both the creation of their work and in the training of their dancers to truly feel the movement impulses in their bodies. As modern dance continued to emerge, some dancers and choreographers began to discover (or perhaps rediscover) the possibility of dance as a healing tool and as a way to better understand, not only how we move, but also how we feel and who we are as people.

At the same time, currents within psychology were also beginning to explore ways in which the body and its non verbal expression could be used in a psychotherapeutic context. An example is the work of Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian born psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who, in the 1920’s discovered that the body developed defenses, or "armoring," in response to stress, anxiety, and repressed feelings. In the 1940’s Reich was regularly using muscular manipulation in order to release ‘bound’ness in his clients’ bodies, thereby also releasing repressed feeling or thought. This use of the body in psychotherapy was later expanded and popularized by Alexander Lowen’s "Bioenergetics" in the 1960’s.

While Reich was developing his use of muscular manipulation in therapy, a woman by the name of Marion Chace was developing her use of dance as therapy with psychiatric patients. Chace, often referred to as the "Grand Dame" of dance therapy, came to the field from the world of dance. After many years of dancing and choreographing, Chace began working as a volunteer with the chronically mentally ill at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a psychiatric institution near Washington D.C. This was the first time dance had been used as a tool to reach this population.

Chace’s work was groundbreaking. In leading dance groups in the hospital, Chace was able to communicate in a new way with patients who otherwise felt painfully disconnected from the society in which they lived. Chace made the assumption that dance was a basic form of communication and a natural form of emotional expression in which all people could take part. Rather than focus on the pathology of a patient, Chace approached each person as an individual capable of interaction and communication. The large dance groups that Chace led became a chance for patients to experience the beauty of being part of a group and to connect with those around them. Through the use of symbolism, shared group rhythm, the sheer act of movement and the therapeutic relationship that developed between Chace and the patients, the dance groups took on a healing quality. The field of dance therapy was born.

As the field developed, dance/movement therapists expanded their work to all types of populations and to work with both groups and individuals. In 1966 the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) was formed, defining dance/movement therapy as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual." With its emphasis on the body and movement, d/mt is also naturally suited to an ecopsychological approach to therapy. Our bodies are the most concretely ‘natural’ aspect of our being, and it is through the body and its senses that we are able to ‘take in’ the world around us.

We are in a constant reciprocal relationship with the environment as we physically take in the elements through our noses, mouths and skin, and release back into the world through respiration, perspiration and elimination. As we begin to look at this constant give and take, the basic assumptions regarding what is "me" and what is "not me" begin to break down. Is breath "me" or "not me"? Food? Our cells? We are indeed an integral part of the world around us, and it is us. Looking around in nature, we see the continual movement that takes place in the wind and water, the clouds, trees and animals. We live in a world which, like the human body with its tides of breath and blood, is in constant flow. Through awareness of this flow within us and outside of us, and through conscious participation through our own movements and rhythms, we enter the dance of life.

Psychotherapy from an ecopsychological perspective has been described as "therapy as if the whole Earth mattered." Dance/movement therapy from this perspective reminds us of our bodies as parts of the Earth, and gives us the opportunity to express ourselves in several of the many languages of nature: creativity, movement, and rhythm.


For more information on dance/movement therapy, please refer to the ADTA web site at www.adta.org

For information on creative arts therapies, including dance/movement therapy, art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, psychodrama and poetry therapy, please refer the the NCATA (National Coalition of Arts Therapies Association) website at www.ncata.com

You can also contact Rachel Brynes, editor of an Australian Dance Therapy publication that will be on-line in a few months, at: