Tele-CMT (Creative Movement Therapy)
Published in the book ‘Artability - Creative Arts and disabilities’ edited by Ramamoorthy & Supraja Parushuram, April 2021
This lays emphasis on how CMT was adapted to the online medium in the prolonged, recurring lockdowns of the COVID-19 Pandemic to contribute positively to the well-being of children and adolescents with special needs. Creative movement therapy is the “Psychotherapeutic framework that works with the mind-body connection to use personal movement language and dance for health and wellness of an individual’s physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral aspects” (CMTAI, 2018).
A typical CMT session is facilitated by a trained therapist/practitioner either with an individual client or within a group setting in a studio space or private clinic over a few months to a year or more. Movement activities for each session are planned beforehand or spontaneously created with the client(s) based on the therapeutic needs of a group or an individual.
Participants undergoing CMT are encouraged to discover and connect to their own personal movement vocabulary as well as explore specific movement ideas and elements from dance and other physical traditions in India (Kashyap, 2005). These movements are in turn channelized to help them acknowledge, confront, express and release pent up feelings or thoughts interspersed with verbal reflection.
Sessions are normally divided into 5 parts - a verbal or movement check-in with participants is followed by a warm up, theme development, verbal reflection and a movement relaxation (cool down). Movement therapists work with a wide spectrum of children, adolescents, adults and the elderly in different socio-cultural contexts, across linguistic and/or urban-rural divides making this discipline a highly adaptable and broad-based therapy. Natural movement patterns are encouraged to enhance one’s self-awareness, improve body coordination, spatial awareness and increase social skills among several other therapeutic objectives.
Individuals with hearing and visual impairment or those with down syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia or learning disabilities and physical challenges among many other populations have undergone this therapy successfully since movement is said to be an innate means of communication (Boris, 2001; Koff, 2000, as cited in Scharoun, Reinders, Bryden and Fletcher, 2014).
I have been working with individuals with special needs since 1990 and have experienced how movement therapy helps them build self-confidence, increase their attention span reduce their hyperactivity and passivity as well. Being movement based, these sessions provide a nonverbal means of expression for those who have difficulties in communicating verbally (Freundlich, Pike, & Schwartz, 1989, as cited in Scharoun, Reinders, Bryden and Fletcher, 2014).
Movement therapy sessions aid participants to build their coping skills and enhance self-regulation capacity while strengthening their ability to form relationships within and outside the family circle. A well laid foundation of movement experiences in the early years allows to pave a way for an effective childhood development and increases children’s chances of staying physically active throughout their lives. Movement therapy actively engages the brain via the body, through various movement and verbal processes that in turn influences the physical and psychological functions (Berrol, 2006; Homann, 2010; Thobaben, 2004, as cited in Scharoun, Reinders, Bryden and Fletcher, 2014) – which further implies that the mind and body are interlinked in more ways than one.
While movement therapy sessions are usually held in an indoor studio space with human engagement, an online working space has been in existence for more than two decades. However, many dance movement therapists that I spoke to had resisted using the online medium unless it was to work with clients and students in another city, country or continent. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, this transition to the online space became a necessity and most dance movement therapists transitioned to leading full-time online professional lives.
This shift to the virtual world has caused therapists to re-think and re-imagine the medium of movement therapy, its form, content and purpose in this surreal context (Christopher, Kashyap 2020) and many therapists have re-constructed and adapted individual/group-based approaches, tools and techniques of CMT to online portals for the new normal era.
Along with the constant re-ideating, therapists have also attempted to make the virtual space retain qualities of therapist-client(s) interactions such as kinesthetic empathy and warmth that unfold in a physical space. I too adapted movement therapy sessions to the online mode to cater to a wide range of groups and individuals seeking training and personal development.
During this time, with all educational institutions closed, a parent of a child with Autism reached out to me and shared that her son was depressed and refused to get out of bed each morning. He had nothing to look forward to and hated her because he was home-bound with her for days together. As we spoke, we realized there must be others with special needs in their homes, feeling frustrated, de-energized and unmotivated to participate in any activity. From this conversation was born the idea of facilitating online movement therapy sessions for children and adolescents with special needs accompanied by a parent and/or sibling.
When the fliers of the upcoming movement therapy sessions via zoom were created and shared on various social media platforms, many parents responded positively. Finally, a group of 13 families with children and adolescents with special needs between the ages 6 to 18 years signed up for the sessions. Some of them had Down Syndrome, some were on the autism spectrum with low muscle tone, some were slow learners with speech disorders, adolescents with learning disability and Attention-deficit/Hyperactive disorder. The families were from Chennai, Bengaluru, Lagos, Berlin, Erode, Singapore, Mumbai, New Delhi and Gurgaon. The plan was to have 12 sessions of one hour each followed by 4 review sessions to cater to children who might have missed some of the 12 sessions. I was assisted by a Dance Movement Therapy trainee, Vidhisha Devnani, in all the sessions and she also managed the social communication between the parents during the entire process.
Initially parents were sent a questionnaire that was filled by them – their responses helped us understand their child’s physical intellectual and emotional needs and issues in detail. I followed this up by pin-pointing short-term and long-term objectives, making session plans and conceptualizing movement experiences that would address the needs of the group.
A family member with a sibling in some cases supported the children/adolescents as they underwent varied activities based on warm-up routines, rhythm development, partner work, moving with props, emotional expression and relaxation routines among many others. Instrumental music, action songs with lyrics and verbal prompts accompanied these activities.
Varying therapeutic needs in this heterogenous group were consistently assessed and evaluated through observation of participants in all the sessions. These helped us in creating, adding more specific movement experiences and modifying originally planned ones to address the changing needs of the participants. Parents’ responses from questionnaires, observations during sessions, zoom recordings of sessions and written reports have been blended and used in this chapter. While referring to children and their parents, their original names have been replaced by fictional names, to respect the confidentiality of participants. I have also selected and described excerpts of lengthy activities in the sessions for this chapter.
In the first two or three sessions, we observed that few children showed much affection mixed with dependency on their mothers which bordered on physically clinging to them even when the movement activities were going on. With some who could not directly respond to our instructions, their mothers repeated the instructions with movements so their children could perform the activities. Low attention span seemed to be a major issue with some children who also had a bound flow of restricted movements. Mothers had to chase them around the room playfully to get them back in front of the screen. The energy level fluctuated with one or two children feeling low and wanting to lie down on a sofa or bed. They would continue to be involved in the sessions by observing activities that were unfolding. There were two children who seemed to resist taking instructions from their mothers - Sanjay for example would constantly rock his body back and forth when he felt disturbed and distracted. Prabha would sit still with glazed eyes exhibiting a loss of energy and interest in activities. Few others responded directly to my instructions and moved accordingly without their mother’s help.
The first session began with all the parents renaming themselves on Zoom with their child’s name followed by theirs. Next, we devised self-introductions in which participants shared the name of their city and the school their children attended. Parents did most of these self-introductions but in some cases, with verbal prompts, children did speak out too.
We then played the ‘Hello’ game in which each participant said hello to the rest of the group with a movement of the upper body followed by other participants echoing back the hello with movement. Each family enjoyed reaching out with their hellos, were glad to be acknowledged and imitated by the group. It was the first step in building group awareness and coordination.
This was followed by a warm up which was focused on the verbal-physical synchronicity. We asked each participant to name any part of their body and describe the movement they were doing. For example, “my hands are going up, going down, rotating, swinging and shaking” etc. This helped build awareness of various body parts and different ways in which they could be moved. Some children who did not speak much or had slurred speech were gently coerced to articulate themselves verbally with sounds and words to accompany their body actions. Prarthana, a parent, shared that this was a great way of getting Asha (her daughter) to speak apart from her undergoing conventional speech therapy.
In the ‘Follow the leader’ warm up each pair generated their own movement of any one body part with others imitating them. This activity would have been much easier in a studio space with direct, physical engagement but online it was challenging for the children to keep an eye on the screen and be precise while following movements. Everyone in the group contributed movements such as shaking their heads sideways, rotating their shoulders, letting their elbows go up and down, shaking their fingers, rotating their wrists, their hips, bending and stretching their knees, rotating their ankles as well as wriggling their toes.
After the warm up, we asked every child to point out on the screen where each of their friends were, for example when I asked them ‘where is Arvind for you on the screen?’ children had to use their fore fingers to point to Arvind. This activity helped them become aware of each other in the group.
As we ended the warm up, I saw Simran holding hands with her daughter Mehek and moving spontaneously to the music. Taking this as a movement cue, we got all the parents to hold hands with their children and waltz across space. A joyous partnership dance unfolded in which they all danced in the same zone and travelled through their rooms, twirling around, leading, following, coordinating and supporting each other.
The above activity gradually morphed into mirroring! There was laughter as they explored fresh movement patterns in each pair, we got them to alternate between being a leader and a follower (the leader could do any body movement and the follower had to be precise while imitating the movement standing opposite the leader). There was also a role reversal with the activity gradually picking up a playful energy as children understood the concept better. Mirroring helps in improving social skills and establishing relationships with others (Winters, 2008).
Each pair was given ample time to experiment with moving as a leader and follower. For some pairs it was a mesmerizing experience in which they seemed completely engrossed oblivious of our presence. When the children became the leaders, they had a sense of agency and achievement - it surprised and pleased them that their mothers imitated their movements. Jia and Aadi expressed this by hugging their mothers after the activity. This unexpected non-verbal expression of affection between the partners was felt by us even through the flatness of a screen. Mirroring let the children perceive the effects of their movements on their parent or sibling and thus further explore what their bodies were capable of accomplishing. Tortora (2006) states that mirroring allows for a qualitative emotional connection to occur between the individuals involved in mirroring (p. 216)
We went on to doing as many variations of mirroring as possible – slow vs medium paced, using only hands vs using the whole body, travelling across space vs mirroring in the same zone and having a leader-follower vs simultaneous mirroring in which the leadership kept shifting within the pairs. Moving across space laterally while being opposite each other and mirroring proved to be a challenge for some. Sanjay needed continued physical/verbal prompting from Bhama (his mother) especially when he had to mirror whole body movements. Towards the end of the activity, leader ship roles seemed to melt away as most pairs mirrored each other effortlessly, making eye contact and exchanging wide smiles. Erfer (1995) refers to mirroring as “a form of reflecting back, which provides a powerful means to understand a child’s experience, on a body level” (Scharoun, Reinders, Bryden and Fletcher, 2014, p.216).
In the beginning of most sessions I would ask participants how they were feeling? words such as ‘fine’, ‘enjoy’, ‘hot’, ‘okay’, ‘good’, ‘nervous’ and ‘fun’ among other responses emerged from children. This verbal ‘check-in’ helped them express their feelings or thoughts in the here and now as we began the movement segment. Most parents shared that they felt happy dancing with their children since it helped foster a new kind of friendship which had been missing in their duty of ‘looking after’ their children. Some parents expressed that initially they felt nervous as they had not danced or moved like this before but later were happily surprised that their bodies produced so many movement patterns in relation to their children.
We stressed that parents should reinforce these activities with their children during the rest of the week. This would not only help review the activities but also create a daily movement routine for the children. Some were able to do this whenever their children were in a good mood and willing to participate. In those times, they said children had a deeper focus on activities since they did not have to pay attention to all of us on the screen.
In the next few sessions, most children participated with an active interest. Few did get distracted and refused to be drawn in, yet their mothers carried on doing the activities by themselves, enjoying the variety of movements which they said gave them relief, made them feel light and liberated. Some children would continue being in the sessions quietly observing their mothers moving and dancing.The sessions usually ended with a movement relaxation (cool down). One was titled ‘breath and movement’ in which we counted numbers from 1 to 4 along with which we would let the hands go up and down, open them sideways and close them inwards to hug ourselves. We simultaneously coordinated our breath with these movements and it became more sustained with longer inhalations and exhalations. We sensed the group awareness growing stronger with coordinated hand movements making us all feel calm and centered.
Usually each session acted as a build-up on the previous session. Such linkages helped us to retain connectivity between the sessions so we could transit from basic to complex activities. Thus, in the following session the warm up consisted of an activity titled ‘Body Talk’ in which a pair or triad stood opposite each other and interacted by moving different parts of the body that were called out. For example, if I called out ‘elbows’ the pairs had to use their elbows’ movement to communicate an idea or a thought with each other.
Naina and Arvind fluidly moved different body parts as called out, without needing their mother’s help. Aadi and Jia imitated their mother’s movements even if they could not make up their own. In this session they made progress in small steps compared to the previous session in which they were not able to mirror their mothers much. This was quite commendable especially for those children who had initially been non-participative, with poor imitation skills and body parts articulation. During the ‘Theme development’ segment, I introduced a ‘spatial awareness’ activity. Children were to move their bodies in different levels and directions in space surrounding the body, to let them expand their movement repertoire. In the beginning, we used our hands to mark, memorize and sequence different levels and directions such as up, middle, down, right, left, diagonal, front and back. Further I juggled the order of these so they had to listen closely to what was being called out and move their hands in the said direction or level. This also challenged their cognitive skills in relation to physical reflexes, most of them were able to respond well, thanks to the reinforcing verbal prompts from their parents and/or siblings.
Later Vidhisha created a small dance study using a sequence of movements with naming levels and directions which was repeated by everyone. Most children were fairly good at this but few found it difficult to correlate the words and movements. This is where the idea of ‘homework’ helped – As these movement sequences were repeated during the week, progress hastened and children could navigate their bodies through space more effectively.
As they enhanced their spatial awareness, a video of an action song by children titled ‘Move and Freeze’ on YouTube came as a great boon for us. Vidhisha did a screen share of the video which the group watched and imitated. The action song gently coerced the group to improve their physical reflexes and mental alertness, isolating different body parts in motion and stillness, as well as learning to move the whole body as a unit. Movements were demonstrated slowly part by part over a period of 4-5 sessions and participants worked on their cross coordination (body parts reaching across the vertical midline of the body) and became conscious of the left-right sides of their bodies along with developing ambidextrous movement control.
Certain movements proved difficult - especially those in which they had to rotate their bodies and place their right hand on the knee of the partner. Similarly, the ‘Freeze’ command was challenging to follow for Prabha, Diana and Aadi who could not freeze suddenly in the midst of motion. In spite of these initial setbacks, children eventually followed the movements on the video simultaneously with as much precision as they could muster.
An activity that was highly pleasurable for all the participants was ‘Follow the Finger’. Each of them followed their own forefinger (with the rest of the fingers folded in) initially with their eyes, then with the head and eventually with the upper body. Next the parents’ forefinger moved through different planes in space and children had to follow it with their body movement and vice versa. Most children were able to follow the parent’s finger but occasionally lost focus or interest in doing so. They were also hesitant when asked to become leaders and get their parents to follow their forefinger. However, once they understood the activity, they enjoyed it immensely and thus engaged in the process completely. In the latter half of the activity, we asked them to individually move the forefingers of their right and left hands through different directions in space simultaneously and decide which finger the body wanted to follow. Some managed very well but others did find it difficult to move both fingers and coordinate their bodies as well. Later they were requested to also use both their fore fingers to talk to their parent’s fore-fingers through movement. This activity had everyone’s complete focus as they worked tirelessly on their eye-hand coordination and imitation while their leadership skill improved considerably as well.
The activity ended with each participant making a circle with both their hands by locking their forefingers together. After moving this circle around their own bodies in many ways (I called it the circle of self-love) they interlocked their hand circles with those of their parents and moved around. This movement puzzle allowed them to figure out how to move around each other without letting go off the interlocked hands. Most parents and children explored the vertical plane in space (movements were done standing) except for Simran and Mehak who were horizontal on the floor while exploring movements playfully with each other. There was no doubt it was challenging for the children while transiting from one part of the activity to another, but when these activities were broken down into smaller bytes and done at a slow pace it gave them the space and time to internalize and take pleasure in the nuances of the activity.
In a later session, participants were requested to create a movement signature for their names using their bodies. The movement they produced could either reflect the meaning of their name or the number of syllables in their name. As the mothers helped their children come up with their movement signatures, it occurred to me that we could create a poem using all the children’s names. Juvena (one of our DMT trainee observers) and Simran (a mother) helped us do this. Eventually the children and parents memorized the poem using all their movement signatures as body actions. As they worked on coordinating their movements with recitation of the poem, I requested Nina Cherla, a music therapist to compose a tune for the poem so we could all move to the song.
Nina sang the poem beautifully accompanied by her ukulele and sent us her recording of the same. The participants matched their movements with her music and coordinated with each other using Vidhisha’s help. They moved beautifully in unison and practiced singing the song along. Here are the beautiful lines of the song...
Aadi marks the beginning
As we open our Naina and see through our eyes.
Swaying like Arvind embracing the breeze
As our hearts are sweetened by Jia’s grins
Ananya opens us to a deeper world
Prabha lights up our hopes
Shakti defines our strength within
Kripa ignites the courage
As Dia lights up our passions
Bringing it all together Asha stirs it with her love
With a heart like Parvesh, we acknowledge our inner self with Mehak
We come to see what a beautiful world this is
That breaks all chains and we shake it like Sanjay!!
The poem-song became our anthem - an acknowledgment of the inner beauty and dynamism that animates each child! We ended the session with free style dancing as I played rhythmic music and everyone danced the way they wanted to with no steps, structure, form or meaning. It seemed relaxing for many as they moved in solos and pairs in complete abandon as if they had been doing it all their lives!
I instinctively felt that this group would respond well to movement props, so in another session we got participants to blow up balloons, tie them up and use them in a warm up routine! Participants used the body part that was called out to bounce the balloon up in the air, the most difficult one was keeping the balloon up in the air with their backs which they had to bend completely. At times the balloons floated away in space or on the floor and they would race after it, pick it up and start bouncing it again without feeling frustrated.
This was one activity in which most mothers got so engrossed themselves that they forgot to help their children! There were spontaneous moments in which pairs and triads exchanged balloons repetitively with each other. The balloon activity eventually brought in much gentle, soft textured movements and physical reflexes into some bodies that seemed rigid. The body core moved more fluidly though it was the extremities of the body (like hands, legs or elbows) that were being used! Ananya, Naina, and Arvind picked up the activity rather quickly and enjoyed themselves while playing and dancing with their balloons.
We then requested them to lay down on the floor on their backs and bounce their balloons up in the air with their hands and feet. Through this they experienced moving in the lower level of space - they rolled over, crept along the floor forwards and backwards to keep control over their balloons. Some children who had seemed disinterested or felt low on energy suddenly got animated and interacted with their balloons and that of their family members. Sanjay and Bhama were quite adventurous - they hit their balloons against each other, moved it around their bodies and tried to bounce them on the floor. Aadi, who was hesitant at first about being horizontal on the floor was later keeping his balloon up in the air with precision.
I also introduced the idea of participants moving with dupattas in pairs while standing opposite each other and holding onto the edges of the dupatta. The whole screen was animated by the movement of the colorful dupattas, almost all children took part whole heartedly with pleasure. Naina, Namrata, Aadi and Priti made a few designs in space with their dupattas and tried to communicate their feelings through its movements. Jia and her mother Anamika used it as a skipping rope and also seemed to fly like birds using the dupatta as wings. Parvesh found it difficult to relate to the dupatta and was not moving by himself or following his mother. Arvind enjoyed his independence, avoided eye contact with his mother and yet they danced together doing their own movements with their dupattas. When asked to move the dupatta creatively he wrapped it around his hip like a dhoti. The dupattas in general intensified the contrasts in the qualities of movement as partners interacted with each other.
As the attention span of the group increased, most children began to stay with us and attempted all the activities throughout the one-hour sessions. To work on their movement reflexes, I introduced an activity in which partners stood opposite each other with mothers shooting their palms out in different directions and levels. The children touched the mothers’ palms quickly with their own palms. Naina picked up on this activity quickly and did beautifully well-coordinated movements with Namrata. Sanjay (feeling lethargic) sat on his rocking chair and engaged passively in the activity. Parvesh and Aadi refused to move, preferring to sit and watch their mothers move their palms. When it was the children’s turn to shoot out their palms, they enjoyed it because it turned into a ‘move and catch’ game in which parents grabbed their children’s palms. The competitive spirit caught on! This simple game enhanced the attunement and alertness in children to a great extent.
We moved on to rhythm development from here because I wanted participants to get in touch with their rhythmic capabilities - producing their own rhythms, memorizing them and communicating with each other through rhythm. It’s a known fact that each of us function rhythmically in life since it is as natural as the movement we are born with. Our body moves rhythmically while performing functional chores, our heart beats in a rhythm, we breathe, we speak, we walk and run in a particular rhythm, we also brush our teeth and play games, all in rhythm - it is thus quite fundamental to our being. Using rhythm in DMT allows for expression and release of emotions in a kinesthetically felt sense i.e at the level of the body. This can then lead to developing the ability to communicate emotions with others (Espenak, 1981, as cited in D’Aurio, 2011).
We had so far used recorded instrumental music which had provided a supportive ambiance to all our activities. We now decided to get each participant to make up ‘body rhythms’ for 6 beats using snapping fingers, clapping hands, stamping feet and gently hitting different body parts with their palms. Most children created a few rhythmic syllables with parents and siblings making effort to get children to memorize their own rhythms. There were some children who didn’t participate in this activity but we felt that rhythms have a positive effect on those who are observing too. Spectators can feel the rhythm in their own body while seeing and hearing the rhythms and by doing so feel a part of the group (Chace, 1993, p. 201, as cited in D’Aurio,2011). Given the time lag because of fluctuating internet connections, Vidhisha helped put all the created rhythms in a slow-paced sequential order which we repeated over multiple sessions. Group rhythms can help develop a sense of well-being among group members. Moving together can provide a feeling of strength and security to an individual, more than they would feel on their own (Chace, 1993, p. 196, as cited in D’Aurio, 2011).
This activity in particular got most children to work on increasing their memory and sequencing skills as well as body coordination. It also concretized their body awareness since most rhythmic syllables emerged using the body as a drum. Rhythm and dance activities help improve motor skills and also let people have fun and gain valuable learning experiences that help in problem-solving and creative expression” (Boswell, 2005, p. 416).
Thus, creating rhythms together promote cohesion and oneness among group members. Developing a common rhythm in any group allows for the movement language to develop and also improves the mirroring responses i.e their ability to move with and like others around them, build responses and they take the lead in these movements too (Berlandy, 2019).
Throughout these sessions we made sure to repeat activities that had been done before - to review, to memorize, to build on, to make variations, and to bring out different responses each time to the same activity. Children actually enjoyed repeating activities as they felt secure being familiar with it. Learning a new activity each time and feeling the pressure of doing it well must have seemed hard on them.
As their rhythm coordination built up, we got them to make different kinds of body statues to numbers that I counted from 1-8 using a tambourine. With each number, they had to change their body shape moving from one statue to another in solos, duets or triads. These were mostly abstract ones but Naina and Namrata surprised us by making expressive sculptures to the rhythms (without being told) such as one pouring water with the hands and the other drinking it. Ananya moved from one sculpture to another keeping her own rhythm independent of her parent. Jia, Mehr and Prabha found it difficult to freeze in a statue and needed their parent to physically hold their bodies still. Experiencing difficulty in rhythm is often accompanied by encountering trouble in movement during daily activities too, this is often the case with children with special needs. However, through various rhythmic movement activities, a sense of rhythm can be built (Boswell, 2005, p. 417).
Each pair graduated from making the same sculpture (identical form and shapes) to doing ‘action and reaction’ in which they had to make different statues interacting and relating to each other. Most children did develop the ability to freeze and exercise movement control over their statues and transit to another statue with fluidity and grace. One was able to see progression in their understanding of movement, it is also often associated with a feeling of accomplishment - The proof is seen in their movement expression (Boswell, 2005, p. 417).
As the group members got comfortable with gross motor skills, I felt they also needed to work on their fine motor skills. I lead them through ‘fingers warm up’ in which we all moved our fingers in many ways to increase mobility in them - they were stretched, bent, curled, crossed, stuck together and moved apart. The whole group then sang the 7 notes of Indian classical music ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ and I taught them a different hand gesture for each note. As the children synchronized their voices with these gestures their fingers were flexed and extended in many ways. In fact they perceived their hands and fingers in a new light and seemed wonderstruck that their fingers could produce so many creative gestures!
We also got the group to symbolize different aspects of nature by stringing a few gestures together. We ended by devising an activity titled ‘storytelling gestures’ in which we divided the whole group into 3 break out rooms on zoom. In each room there were 4-5 participants who were instructed to discuss, select a simple story and create gestures to express their stories with the children.
All the groups were brought back to the main screen once they created their gestural stories. Each group performed their stories using hand gestures with the instrumental music that I played while we all watched. One group’s story was based on their children’s routine in a day, the other group based their story on animals they liked and the last story was based on a book that one of the children had read. The groups did their best to communicate their stories with clarity and coordination using a buddy system in which they helped each other recollect the forgotten parts. We all had to guess the storyboard of each group and kudos to their expressive skills, we were not wrong! Building group work aids clients to participate better as a collective, sharing experiences, moving with one another and expressing themselves (Espenak, 1981, as cited in D’Aurio, 2011).
After witnessing the different gestural stories, we decided to create a ‘story-movement chain’ with the whole group. Each parent-child contributed a string of gestures depicting part of the story and others had to add to it. In each case, parents helped children contribute to the story - they enjoyed the agency to have their say and know that their parent/sibling would listen and accept their contribution in a non-judgmental manner. In order to help build their Movement repertoire further, we also introduced ‘Opposing movements”. Movements that were explored included big – small/up – down and fast – slow among other opposites. We saw how some children and parents had certain movement preferences and avoided others. Prabhu-Devi, Ananya-Dia and Naina-Namrata explored small and big movements using only their hands and we got them to use their whole body too thus expanding their range of motion. Aadi would tend to explore only fast movements and so we encouraged him to lay emphasis on slower movements too. Arvind and Naina were really adventurous and combined low level movements on the floor with high level ones by jumping up and collapsing down, thereby challenging their bodies to change levels with ease.
Towards the last but one session I thought it was important to address the group’s ability to express their feelings. I used the statue activity but this time participants had to freeze in body shapes according to the feelings I called out - Joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, love, disgust, courage and shame. Initially some children imitated their mothers’ statues but as time went by managed to portray these feelings by themselves, especially Prabha, Kripa, Jia, Naina and Aadi. Later as partners and triads had to express these feelings towards each other they would look happy with each other, look sad together, show anger towards each other, get scared together and express love for each other through hand gestures and facial expressions included in their statues. Unexpectedly Arvind and his father both hugged each other tightly expressing affection!
I also asked the parents to speak of 3-4 good qualities their children possessed. It felt like a fulfilling experience for them as they paused, smiled, thought and shared with us qualities they loved in their children - naughtiness, creativity, tenderness, helpful nature, affection and observant were some that were mentioned. It was touching to see children feel happy about the appreciation being shown by the parents towards them.
In the last session, I asked each parent to contribute a movement activity (not from our classes) which could be done by the whole group. Most of them had come prepared with activities and after the initial tentativeness each parent courageously gave instructions to the group so the activities could unfold. This I felt was quite an empowering experience for them – It encouraged the parents to think creatively and generate activities on their own. When they saw how positively the whole group responded to their activities, they felt a heightened sense of belonging to the group and gained self-confidence of building movement rituals for their children too.
Towards the end of our time together, we all noticed few positive changes in the physical and verbal responses of the children as well as their overall behavior. Sanjay who had initially sat in his rocking chair not really engaging with other group members nor responding directly to us (thanks to Bhama’s persistence) explored gross motor movements in his interaction with her as well as with all of us.
Aadi who would mostly use small movements towards his body and found it difficult to expand his body in space gradually let his elbows relax and stretched out the rest of his hands. His entire range of motion increased exponentially and he was eventually able to mirror a variety of his mother’s movements. Towards the last session, he would often smile, hug and kiss his mother.
Prabha who constantly rocked sideways not engaging in the initial sessions was later able to directly pick up instructions from me and do most activities on her own. While she was comfortable initially using only her upper body to move, she gradually began to articulate the lower half of her body with ease as she moved across space and was expressive in the ‘feelings and statue’ activity.
All through the sessions, when Mehak was in a good mood, she seemed to find comfort in being playful and would interact using creative movements with her mother. She would at times deliberately hold her mother physically and make eye contact with her asking her to listen to what she had to say. There was much pleasure seeking and physical intimacy between them as they went through most movement sequences with feelings of love and laughter.
In many sessions, Parvesh seemed to depend on his mother’s instructions to do most of the activities. He normally preferred to stay in one specific place in the room and would only observe passively. However, in the second half of some sessions he began to get more immersed in the activities, gave all of us some attention and slowly began to like moving and dancing across space with his body adapting more comfortably to the surrounding space.
Right from day one, Arvind explored expansive movements in space, He constantly swayed and rocked his body naturally to music and responded directly to my instructions. In some activities his mother would leave him alone to interact with us on screen and he was comfortable with that. This was quite a progress he made for himself during our sessions.
Kripa had high energy, mostly jumped, played around and got easily distracted by her sister. However, in the later sessions, she would respond to her mother and partake in some of the activities which involved props or rhythm with her sister too. She gradually matched her mother’s movements by effectively imitating her or countering and complimenting her movements as well, creating her own moves for self-expression.
Prabha stayed on the periphery of the screen not wishing to participate much in the first few sessions. She was observant but did not respond physically to most activities, her mother shared that she participated in partnership activities like mirroring, shadowing or balancing after the sessions were over.
Jia who had a constant smile on her face would often play with her hair and yawn through some sessions. She seemed to constantly look at her mother to understand what was happening and would readily follow her mother’s instructions. Her mother would often have to hold her hands and only with this tactile stimulation would she participate in some activities. Slowly through the sessions Jia was able to take the lead in the mirroring activity and would often end up dancing playfully making sure her mother followed her.
Asha often seemed spaced out and liked being by herself and yet her eyes were constantly fixated on the screen. It seemed as though she was constantly trying to understand what was happening. She seemed involved when there were hand gestures being practiced and would do them happily. There were some activities that interested her and then her response was positively quick and her attention span on the activity lasted longer. She enjoyed dancing with her mother and as her mother mirrored Asha’s classical dance moves, she seemed to gain confidence and trust in her mother.
Aadi and Sanjay who displayed initial resistance to their mothers’ cajoling and pleading to be involved would suddenly pay attention and join mid-way in the session. Their resistance melted away as they heard music and they got interested and immersed themselves in specific movement activities.
Ananya and Kripa, who seemed lethargic with low motivation to participate would surprise us by their precision in responding to instructions and their dynamic energy when it came to rhythmic activities or the breath and movement cool down routine
Although these sessions were meant for children and adolescents with special needs, what we did not expect was a marked difference in the parents’ movement flow, energy, self-expression, and creativity which blossomed as they co-created stories, rhythms, movements with props and produced their own activities.
Some parents said they had been so busy looking after their children that they did not have time to have fun, be silly or laugh with them. Often while being there ‘for them’ they had forgotten to be ‘with them’. The sessions created a space in which they were friends rather than parents or caretakers of their children. Parents were much more sensitive to the body language signals of their children and these experiences reinforced that their children constantly needed acknowledgement and appreciation.
There is no doubt that if parents continue to embed these Therapeutic-Expressive-Creative movement experiences into their daily routine, they will discover and rehearse new ways to move forward in their relationship with their children. These and similar activities would further enhance the physical, cognitive, social and creative facets of their personalities. Children would continue to add newer ways of communicating and expressing themselves as they explore and experiment with movement in a non-judgmental space. Moving together would enhance trust, togetherness and comfort with emotional release among other attributes between family members.
These sessions and other similar ones have proved time and time again that Movement is humanity’s universal mother tongue! Everyone can speak it and so it follows that dance being a stylized form of movement is natural to all humankind and is indicative of health and life. In many primitive cultures, the dance of medicine men, priests or shamans belonged to the oldest form of medicine and psychotherapy in which the common exaltation and release of tensions were able to change man’s physical and mental suffering into a new option on health (Levy, 1988).
As an artform dance has penetrated the human soul for generations before and is still relevant - As seen, even on the online medium, dance and movement have kept many emotionally resilient, mentally alert and physically fit and expressive through the trials and tribulations of an entire pandemic! This is more the reason why we should all move, express and transform ourselves using the therapeutic power and magic of movement.
I would like to acknowledge Vidhisha Devnani for her generous help in assisting me during all the sessions and contributing her thoughts and ideas to this chapter. I extend my gratitude to the parents, children and their siblings who participated so beautifully with their energy, movement and creativity. I also acknowledge the help of Mira, Juvena, Darshana and Lily who observed and wrote reports on these sessions which were of immense value to this chapter.
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