Dance is a very unique activity. Depending on who you ask, people may consider dance to be exercise, an art form, a religious ritual or an act of seduction. People dance to burn calories, express emotions or share intimacy with a loved one. Not many individuals would guess that someone would dance in order to deal with the symptoms of mesothelioma.
However, we recently discovered that this activity may actually be very helpful for this group of patients.
Dance was part of Western medicine for seven decades
People have seen the healing value of dance for many generations. Several Native American tribes have incorporated dance into religious rituals that are designed to promote healing. When it comes to Western medicine, though, experts from the American Cancer Society noted that a woman named Marian Chace introduced dance as a form of medical therapy in 1942. Scientists from Washington, D.C., observed how hospital patients who attended her dance classes experienced psychological benefits. In order to standardize this therapy, the American Dance Therapy Association was founded in 1956.
Today, there are more than 1,200 dance therapists in the U.S.
In order to decide what is appropriate for a patient, a dance therapist encourages an individual to develop a nonverbal approach to expressing their inner feelings. The therapist then observes the patient’s movements in order to determine the best regimen for dance therapy.
Dancing alleviates stress and promotes physical function
So what do cancer patients get out of dance therapy? Well, malignant diseases such as mesothelioma can take both a physical and emotional toll on sick individuals. Such an illness can lead to anxiety or depression, and both the disease and its treatment can lead to fatigue. In the latter case, a lack of physical activity can cause the muscles to waste away, reducing a person’s ability to live independently.
Fortunately, dance can act as both an expressive art form and exercise.
“Physically, dance therapy can provide exercise, improve mobility and muscle coordination, and reduce muscle tension,” experts from the American Cancer Society wrote on their website. “Emotionally, dance therapy is reported to improve self-awareness, self-confidence, and interpersonal interaction, and is an outlet for communicating feelings. Some promoters claim that dance therapy may strengthen the immune system through muscular action and physiological processes and can even help prevent disease.”
The physical benefits of dance therapy are particularly important considering that the National Cancer Institute said that physical activity improves energy levels and appetite.
Where do dance therapists work?
As more evidence to support the value of dance therapy builds, both the medical community and the federal government embrace it. Starting in 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated dance therapy as a service to cover as a part of partial hospitalization in Medicare facilities.
Additionally, dance therapists help patients within several settings, including nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, counseling centers and alternative health centers.
Typically, dance therapists are required to hold a master’s degree. The website of the American Dance Therapy Association includes a page where patients can search for a therapist throughout the U.S. and countries such as Canada, Mexico, the UK, China, Russia, Israel, Hong Kong, the Philippines and other countries.
As with any physical activity, ask your doctor about what would be considered a healthy level of exercise for you.