An Interview with a Dance Therapist- Ruta Pai

Ruta Pai

Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Dance/Movement Therapy

Expressive Therapies Division

Lesley University

I interviewed Valerie Blanc who is a Board Certified – Dance/Movement Therapist (BC-DMT), a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a Certified Movement Analyst (CMA) in Massachusetts. She has her own private practice and she is also an assistant professor for the Master’s program in Dance/Movement Therapy in Lesley University.

Question 1: What is your definition of Dance/Movement Therapy(DMT)? How do you explain to your clients what DMT is and, your role as a Dance/Movement Therapist? 

I am currently working with children so I don’t really have to define DMT as much as I have to define it while working with the adults. With the children, when they come in for the session, I try to tell them that they, along with her, are going to express feelings and, that there are many different ways in which they can do that. Then I tell them the different ways in which they can express such as they can either draw their feelings or move with those feelings. So basically, I offer them a choice of different tools that they can use to express their feelings. While working with adults, I explain to them that I believe that DMT is an effective tool because it works on the principle that the mind and, body are interconnected. I add to this by telling my adult clients that whenever we are expressing through bodies, it helps us to understand our emotions and feelings from a different perspective. I have different definitions of DMT tailored to fit in with different contexts. If I have to explain DMT outside a therapeutic setting, then I may word it differently than the way I would explain it to my clients.

Question 2: What theoretical model of DMT do you prefer to use? How did you modify it to suit your practice? 

I use a person-centered approach with both the adults and the children. I believe in following the lead of the client as they explore themselves on their own. I primarily use the Chacian model in my practice as a dance therapist. My work with children is very much in alignment with Suzi Tortora’s work with the children. Suzi is a BC-DMT and, is an expert in using Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) with young children. I, too, use a lot of Laban analysis in my work with the children to expand their movement repertoire. In addition to that, I use and, modify the Chacian model according to the needs of the clients. It sometimes feels like I have lost track of all the other models of DMT as a result of not using them quite often. However, teaching the ‘Dance/Movement Therapy: Theories and Practice’ class in Lesley University is helping me to go over these techniques again and, pick up some aspects of those techniques to use in my work.

Question 3: What all populations have you worked with? What population do you prefer to work with and why? 

My initial work using DMT was in an in-patient unit at a psychiatric hospital. The age group I worked with was 5-18years old which had a good range of adolescence as well as young adults. I have also worked extensively with older adults. I love to work with the elderly population because in my work with this population I have realized that movement brings them to life and, it really gives them a purpose. Majority of my work, so far, has been with very young children between the age group of 0-5 years during my time working at the Boston Children’s Foundation. I facilitated a DMT, resiliency-based program called Rainbowdance, developed by Dicki Johnson Macy, working with these children with objectives such as violence prevention. I have also worked with at-risk children and children with special needs. Additionally, I have my own private practice as a Dance/movement therapist and as a Mental Health counsellor. Majority of the populations which I encounter in my private practice are adults and children. I like working with all the populations but my preferred one would be the young children population. The reason being that I feel like they know where they need to go therapeutically. I also finds it very interesting how children explore their needs naturally through play and, movement.

Question 4: In what different ways have you used mirroring? Which population has mirroring worked really well with and, which populations it has not or would not work very well? 

I have used mirroring a number of times with all the populations I have worked with so far. With the children, I always use mirroring on some level, depending on how responsive or unresponsive the group is. I like to use variations of mirroring with children such as mirroring either face-to-face or side by side trying to reflect the movements of the child in some way or the other. With adults or adolescents, face to face mirroring can sometimes be very intimidating because they are so seen, exposed and, vulnerable. In such circumstances, I usually use postural mirroring in which I try to take on the posture of the client which does benefit him/her in a way because even mere posture taking involves attuning to the client. I believe that there is no specific population as such with whom I would not use mirroring at all but I would try to adapt the technique of mirroring according to the needs of the group. I am currently working with a married couple with whom I hope to use mirroring soon and, to see how it works out, as this would be the first time that I will be exploring mirroring with a married couple.

Question 5: How do you approach a new group? 

I love to work with groups because I find the collective acceptance of doing something together very interesting. The individual work is definitely more intimate but not every client can benefit from individual therapy. There are some clients who benefit more in group therapy as they find it less intimidating because they are not directly exposed like in an individual therapy. I approach a new group by facilitating some grounding and, then put on some nice rhythmic music to get them to move together. I introduce very simple movements which can help the group to be aware of different parts of the body. I focus on doing a lot of activities in the circle as it allows the group to bond better. Initially, as a new dance therapist, I would always go in the group sessions with a well-defined plan. Having led a number of groups, I now approach a group with a basic skeleton of ideas but leave a window to see what comes up in the moment for the group members and, then I lead the flow of the session from these spontaneous experiences.

Question 6: In your opinion, how important is the use of music/rhythm and props in a DMT session? How do you decide what props would be appropriate for a certain group? 

In my personal opinion, the use of music/rhythm is very important especially when approaching a new client as it is less intimidating to move to a music than without it. Moreover, I believe that props are excellent tools to be used in the sessions and, sometimes I plan my entire session around props. However, I feel that it is equally important to have an intention behind using a specific prop and, to not use it just as a time filler. It is essential to use props with an intention and, not because you don’t know what else to do. In my work with older adults, I often use balloon because the action of bouncing the balloon up in the air gets them out of their hunched posture to look up. Also, in order to wait for the balloon to come back down, they have to sustain their arms up over their heads for a decent amount of time. Also, if I am using a ball in the session, then my intention to use the ball is either fostering eye contact in the group, social connection or impulse control because in order to throw the ball you first need to look at the person and, then throw it. Often, people may get offended with the kind of props you choose to use with them such as using a parachute with adults may make them feel infantilized. In such instances, sharing my intention behind using the prop with the group has helped me in clarifying things.

My reflections of the interview:

The first thing that stood out to me from the interview was that every individual is different and, has its own unique needs. In addition to this, a theoretical model only provides a basic framework on which I, as a therapist, have to build on and, tweak the different aspects of the model to cater to the unique needs of my clients. I understood that Valerie’s work had a strong influence of the Chacian model. It helped me to understand the importance of mirroring in the session which was postulated by Chace in her sessions and, the different ways in which it can be modified to use it with different populations. I could clearly identify the four core concepts of the Chacian model in Valerie’s work– Body action, Symbolism, Therapeutic Movement Relationship and, Rhythmic Group Activity. Like Chace, Valerie too starts the session with a light warm up in which she introduces simple actions or movements to create awareness of the different parts of the body. She uses mirroring in order to facilitate a therapeutic relationship with the client by reflecting the feeling and, expressions of the client through movement. In addition to this, Chace used the rhythm and, music to provide a safe environment for her clients to express the chaotic emotions in a way that was less threatening. Similarly, Valerie believes that, it is very important to use music in DMT sessions and, she herself uses it to get her clients to initiate simple movements which otherwise would be intimidating for them without the music. Another interesting technique postulated by Marian Chace was theme development. She preferred to stay in the moment and, to be attuned to the feeling, emotions that would come up for her clients in that moment. In a group setting, she would be aware of different themes coming up for the participants and, would then spontaneously find a way to weave these themes into a common thread and, lead the flow of the session from thereon. Likewise, Valerie too, enters a group with a basic idea of what she wishes to do with the group but finds it more beneficial to see what comes up in the moment for the group and, then from there she takes the session forward.

To summarize, the Marian Chace’s model gives a strong foundation to work using DMT as a tool. As an in-training therapist, I believe, I will have to hone certain skills, primarily, to understand the needs of the client and, then decide on what aspects of the model would work best with him/her.


Ruta Pai is currently pursuing her second year of Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with specialization in Dance/Movement Therapy from Lesley University, Massachusetts. She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Savitribai Phule Pune University. She has worked with elderly and young children using Dance/Movement Therapy as a tool to enhance their psychological well-being and creativity respectively. She has recently worked as a Dance/Movement therapy intern at an assisted living center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has conducted group and individual Dance/Movement therapy sessions for elderly with Dementia and Alzheimer’s for over a year. She also has experience in conducting group Dance/Movement therapy sessions for children with Cortical Visual Impairment and Multiple Disabilities at the Perkins School for the blind, Watertown, Massachusetts. Her aim is to bring more awareness about the art-based therapies and to equip people with more creative resources to focus on holistic well-being. 






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