NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Maria Daniel, Founder and Artistic Director of iDance Ministry and mentor for the Youth Dance Ambassadors. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
When we dance, the journey is the point. - Alan Watts
My journey toward understanding dance as healing began over 10 years ago, when I experienced semi-paralysis (paresis) in both legs. My husband found me lying on the ground, motionless and confused. A debilitating illness left me without feeling in both legs for nearly 2 years. My five year old daughter became my caregiver while my husband served in the military. After 18 months of physical therapy, 14 medications and weekly Emergency Room visits, my condition only got worse. Since doctors could not properly diagnose my condition, it became degenerative. The level of suffering that I experienced was incomprehensible. I was devastated at the thought that I may never dance again.
Then, God gave me a wonderful gift. An integrative doctor took over my care and within 2 months of treatment, I began walking without the support of walkers or canes and no longer needed medications. My only challenge was that any dance related movement still left me in excruciating pain. Having danced since the age of 4, I felt lifeless without dance.
The journey between who you were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life begins. - Barbara De Angelis
It was in this lowest moments that my Dance of Healing story began. On Christmas Eve, I would take a leap of faith and attempt a Liturgical dance performance. Completing the performance would be a miracle, as I could not even perform a walk-through of my dance without severe pain. Since my body was failing me, I practiced the dance in my head based on the choreography God provided me visually. For the first time, I prepared to present a dance that I had only practiced and performed in my mind.
On Christmas Eve, I got in position to present my dance without knowing how my body would respond or cooperate. My only memory was hearing the music begin. The next thing I remember, I was standing in my finishing position to applause. I had been able to present my dance to completion and without pain. I have never felt so connected and alive.
When I danced in that moment from my soul, I realized the healing power of dance. Dance became an exercise of faith and hope, and I discovered that I was able to overcome the obstacles of my illness through movement. To quote an unknown author, “Adversity isn’t a disadvantage. It’s a doorway. We decide how to interpret the dance.”
Dance became my medicine. Because dance is rhythmic movement, “it has an effect…at a cellular level. Dancing creates a kind of heartbeat…[that] harmonizes every cell in the body.” (Khazzoom, 2009). Visualizing the dance in my mind gave me restoration and balance. It taught me that dancing was more than physical motion; I felt the same passion and emotions when I danced in my mind that I felt when I physically danced. This performance was the moment my life changed. I realized that I was able to dance beyond my physical boundaries. According to Isabella Pericleous, “Dance can set people free on a physical and...a psychological level. It is a means of expressing oneself without any boundaries.” The ability to dance without boundaries allowed me to experience the healing power of dance. The more I experienced God’s choreography and the more I “danced” in my mind, the better I felt physically, mentally and spiritually.
As I moved forward in my recovery, dance helped me to restore balance between my mind, body and soul. While I had experienced physical trauma, this affected me emotionally and socially as well. Studies have shown that the healing power of dance also extends to people experiencing emotional trauma, grief, mental disorders, loss, and chronic illness. (Khazzoom, 2009) and (Goodill, 2011). When you experience disruption or trauma in your mind, body or soul, allowing your body to tell the story through dance can be not only therapeutic but healing. (Hovitz, 2017).
I continue to dance and share what I have learned and experienced by offering a Dance of Healing workshop series. Jocelyn Richard, of The Praise Dance Life, introduced me to the Dance of Healing curriculum through her Liturgical Dance Certification program. It was through this process that I first experienced a forum to share the healing power of dance. Since Jocelyn’s workshop was so transformational, I was led to create a series to allow an extended exploration of the power of dance to heal. I developed a Dance of Healing series that is designed to be a mind, body and soul experience, using dance movement to support the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of each participant. In essence, the curriculum is designed for people to dance their journey and work towards restoration. No dance experience is required. All that is needed is a willingness to share your journey and work towards healing your mind, body and soul. I am renewed daily by the healing power of dance and am humbled that God gave me the vision to share this with others.
As Adi Beth states, dance allows us to tap into what is within and express ourselves “in an authentic, open, creative, beautiful and spiritual way.” This trial and the healing that I experienced following have taught me that when our bodies fail, we can leap in our minds. When our minds fail, our souls can jump for joy. When life ends, we can dance in the spirit.
María Daniel is a native of New Jersey. She is a dancer, choreographer, educator and attorney. María is the creator of the Hip Hop Experience Dance Class which has been featured on NBC, CBS and 101.3 Jamz FM radio. As an Official Ambassador for the National Dance Week Foundation, María received two mayoral proclamations for her advocacy of dance. She taught at the Ballet School and is the Founder and Artistic Director of iDance Ministry. She mentors the award winning Youth Dance Ambassadors. María is certified to teach youth with special needs. María is known for her unique choreography and innovative fusions of dance in unexpected ways. María continues travels to New York to take open dance classes at the Alvin Ailey Extension, the Joffrey Ballet and most recently, the Broadway Dance Center. She has over 35 years of experience in dance performance and choreography. She has performed in Philadelphia, PA, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, GA, Virginia, North Carolina and Minnesota.
Goodill, S. (2011). The Healing Power of Dance | NEA. [online] Arts.gov. Available at: https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2011/healing-power-dance [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
Hovitz, H. (2017). The Healing Power of Dance Movement Therapy. [online] Recovery.org. Available at: https://www.recovery.org/pro/articles/the-healing-power-of-dance-movement-therapy/ [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
Khazzoom, L. (2009). Scientific studies reveal the power of music and dance to heal chronic pain | Dancing with Pain®. [online] Dancingwithpain.com. Available at: http://dancingwithpain.com/scientific-studies-reveal-the-power-of-music-and-dance-to-heal-chronic-pain/ [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
Pericleous, Isabella A. 2011, Healing Through Movement: Dance/Movement Therapy for Major Depression, Columbia University Academic Commons, Available at: https://doi.org/10.7916/D8ZC88V2.