Dance movement therapy is a psychotherapeutic tool that may improve wellness. Proponents recommend this intervention on the basis that the body and mind interconnect, meaning that anything that affects the body will also affect the mind.

The existing research is still in the preliminary stages, but a few studies suggest that this therapy may offer several benefits, such as reducing depression, improving gait in Parkinson’s disease, and lowering high blood pressure. Further studies are necessary to verify these benefits, though.

Keep reading to learn about how dance movement therapy works and the potential benefits.

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According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), dance movement therapy, also known as dance therapy, is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to improve health and well-being.

The intervention is a holistic approach to healing that emerged in the 1940s. Many of the early innovators of the field were accomplished dancers who began to realize that movement was a form of psychotherapy.

The ADTA explains that dance therapy promotes health through coordinating and unifying all aspects of a person, including:

  • physical
  • mental
  • emotional
  • social

A premise that underlies the intervention is the belief that it is impossible to separate the body from the mind. As a result, changes in the body affect the mind and vice versa. The ADTA adds that the below premises also play a role:

  • Dance is a means of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal language is as important as verbal language.
  • In addition to serving as a means of communication, movement can be expressive, functional, and developmental.
  • Movement serves as a tool for both assessment and intervention.

The research on the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of dance therapy has some inconsistencies. Although more studies are necessary to provide proof, some evidence suggests that the intervention may have value for the following:

Psychological health

Researchers looking to determine the benefits of dance therapy for a variety of psychological aspects of health carried out a 2019 meta-analysis that looked at 41 clinical trials and involved a total of 2,374 participants. The results suggested that the intervention improves:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • quality of life
  • cognition, meaning the ability to think and remember
  • interpersonal skills

They also indicated that these benefits might be long-term.


Whereas the above meta-analysis looked at psychological health quite broadly, a 2019 review dealt exclusively with depression. It evaluated eight clinical trials that explored the effects of dance therapy on 351 adults with the condition.

The authors characterized the evidence as being of moderate to high quality and concluded that the intervention might offer an effective treatment for adults with depression. However, they could not judge its effectiveness for children, teenagers, or older adults, as the included studies mostly excluded these populations.

Fall prevention

The authors of a 2017 review looked at whether dance, a popular pursuit among older adults, may help prevent falls by improving gait, balance, and muscle strength. Noting that falls are a leading cause of illness and death, the authors reviewed 10 clinical trials that explored a possible connection between dance and fall prevention. The trials had a total of 680 participants.

Due to the preliminary nature of the results and the lack of long-term data, the authors were unable to draw firm conclusions. However, they note that dance appears to be safe and demonstrates well-being benefits in older adults.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that impairs gait, which can increase the risk of falls. A 2018 review looked at 40 studies and five reviews investigating the effects of dance and music on the symptoms of this condition. The results indicated that the interventions might improve gait.

Cancer care

The effects of cancer extend beyond physical health, as the condition often also influences emotions and socialization. In addressing such issues, current cancer care is increasingly including psychosocial interventions. To examine the benefits of dance therapy for cancer, a 2015 study reviewed three clinical trials that involved a total of 207 individuals with breast cancer.

The data analysis showed mixed results but indicated that the intervention might help by:

  • improving vigor
  • enhancing the quality of life
  • reducing somatization, which is the presentation of multiple physical symptoms due to psychological causes

In contrast, it found no evidence that dance therapy can help with:

A 2021 review supports the finding that dance therapy can improve quality of life among people with breast cancer but notes that this therapy may be more effective alongside other treatments.

Blood pressure

A 2020 meta-analysis assessed five clinical trials that dealt with the effects of dance therapy on blood pressure. Despite the small number of trials, the results indicated that the intervention could significantly lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Systolic pressure, the top blood pressure reading, denotes the pressure on the arterial walls during heartbeats. Diastolic pressure, the bottom blood pressure reading, denotes this pressure between heartbeats.

The results also suggested that dance therapy has more of an effect in people from Africa than those from Europe or America.

Chronic heart failure

An older 2014 study compared the effects of dance therapy with those of conventional therapy in individuals with chronic, or ongoing, heart failure. It evaluated two investigations that involved 62 dance therapy participants, 60 exercise participants, and 61 control participants.

When the researchers compared the effects of dance therapy with those of exercise and those of no exercise, they found that dance therapy increased exercise capacity and quality of life. There were no significant differences between the results of the dance therapy and conventional exercise groups. As a result, the authors recommend the inclusion of dance therapy in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

If a person wishes to get started, it is best to enroll in a program that a qualified dance therapist offers. Most of these professionals work in:

  • rehabilitation centers
  • psychiatric hospitals
  • schools
  • private practice

A therapist will customize the technique to suit an individual’s abilities and medical conditions. The movements can vary from ordinary and subtle to improvisational and expressive.

Some people may be interested in trying other creative therapies. These include:

  • Art therapy: The American Art Therapy Association explains that this is the use of art-making to produce psychological benefits, such as:
    • higher self-esteem
    • improved cognition
    • enhanced social skills
  • Drama therapy: According to the North American Drama Therapy Association, this is the use of performance, purposeful improvisation, or story-telling to achieve therapeutic goals, such as better interpersonal relationships.
  • Music therapy: The American Music Therapy Association notes that this is the use of music to render a variety of benefits, such as:
    • physical rehabilitation
    • managed stress
    • increased memory

Learn more about other forms of creative therapy.

Dance therapy is a psychotherapeutic intervention that works by unifying and coordinating the physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of a person.

Only limited research has explored the benefits, but early studies indicate that it might have value for some areas of wellness. These include psychological health, such as reducing symptoms of depression, and physical health, such as improving exercise capacity in people with heart failure.