Dance movement therapy with college students Unfolding the secrets of early adulthood


Raksha Agarwal

“Adulthood was invented to repair the wounds of childhood”

Joy Browne

I started with short-listing the target groups I wished to work with; I wanted to experiment, explore and comprehend how deeply or subtly can dance therapy work with different groups. But, irrespective of the group differences I was going to work with ‘people’. In this process I chose to work with a group of college students who were full of energy, enthusiasm and creativity.

Before the 18 hours module, I decided to observe the group from a distance. These people were competitive, joyful as well as critical. They would read math book as if it were a comic, general knowledge as if they were a book. I was amazed at the brilliance and as keen on working with them.

As a facilitator I had certain things in mind about the group and I started working on my session plans. I was yet to analyze their needs, for the first session I kept the objective as simple as rapport building and getting to know each other. Walking in the space I saw them enter with curiosity and hesitancy. The session did wonders and I was amazed to see how ice breakers and basic warm ups like balloon activity, non verbal hi’s had already triggered something in their bodies. This one statement by a participant gave me some insight, “it took me back to childhood, the happy days back then. I don’t remember when I recently had so much fun” (17 years old). It almost felt like a 70-year-old man was speaking. I was convinced that something has changed through the years and they were not at the best state.

Research helps us understand things more objectively. It helps us drop our assumptions and know the facts. Hence, I started reading research papers on college students, their physical and mental health, issues and concerns. This helped me understand the needs of my group as well as myself. Being in college for the 7th year now I had a few realizations and that I think is the reason I got into healing and therapy. There were shocking revelations, from suicide, depression, body image problems, eating disorders, bullying and the list was never-ending. It felt like, every abnormality had actually become the normality at this developmental stage of life.

Keeping 18 hours in mind and still doing something productive I decided to keep my objectives, Stress reduction and developing coping skills in college students. Rather than focusing on every small problem and dealing with it individually in the therapy session, I planned to leave them with a few coping skills that would help them even after these 18 hours. My session plans hence involved activities that were a combination of movement, play, drama and music.

For state level stress reduction I took activities like dance circles, saying hi with different body parts, sound machine, drum circle with element of movement etc. Slowly the process of group coordination and bonding was taking place. For group bonding and attunement, activities like mirroring, tap the ball, visual art with verbalization were used. Being a part of the sharing circle felt like a privilege.

Slowly they started verbalizing and coming up with their issues, fears, complaints, wishes in the session. Topics like academic pressures, high BP at the age of 17, adjustment problems due to migration, break ups, child abuse, self-doubt, body image and so on were dealt with in the session, TOGETHER. They would be very direct, seek support and break down. But the beauty of dance therapy is that it helps us connect to each other at emotional and spiritual level through the body. Hence, the bond was unbreakable. Soon, I saw a group that was formed going through all the 5 stages and so powerful that it became a source of coping.

This type of coping came under emotion focused coping. But, research has proved that problem focused coping helped individuals in the long-term. In problem focused coping we would work on the problem itself rather than by working on the emotion associated with the problem. Hence, I looked up for exercises that would help them in problem focused coping.

Play therapy exercises like dog and the bone, cat and mouse, tap the ball, pole to pole are much more than just fun games. For example, after they played cat and mouse they could experience strategy making, mental strength over physical strength, after tap the ball they understood importance of coordination and focus. They were then free to use these as skills at college, during exams etc.

Movement exercises like, Gabriel Roth’s 5 rhythms, Jacobson’s relaxation technique, mindfulness, 5 senses meditation helped them instantly relax themselves. Along with experiencing these, we made it a point to understand the purpose and science behind each so they could use this in their day-to-day life. A 17-year-old boy shared that he had been moving on 5 rhythms that I had shared with them and surprisingly after 7 month his BP was normal. He shared, “my BP problem started when I came to Pune 8 months ago. It was stressful but today I feel like I have a family here. Every evening I moved to 5 rhythms, something changed and I felt good. I planned to go for BP check up. I was surprised to find it normal. Thanks to dance therapy”. A Boy shared his experience where he dealt with anxiety of viva at college with Jacobson’s relaxation technique. I saw it was making a difference, maybe subtly, but it surely was shifting things.

The list of developments during the sessions cannot be put in this little piece. But what stayed with me was the fact that, S (STIMULUS) à R (RESPONSE), But the little à (SPACE) in between can change everything.

Every person has the power, intelligence, insight to give the desired response. We are not just victims of childhood experiences. Even though Dance therapy has its roots in the theories of Freud and Jung, it gives a ray of hope that we are beyond the past experiences.

Hence, early adulthood would be an important stage in life to repair the so-called childhood experiences, provided, the right skills are provided or figured out.

This little experience surely gives me motivation to further research on how Movement therapy can do wonders in the à (space) that is totally ours and not dominated by the mere experiences.


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