Dance/Movement Therapy is a field that I have little to no knowledge of. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Surprisingly, not a lot of people know about this field, so I wanted to give it a moment to shine.

I interviewed one of my close friends from college, Nikki Margallo, who is currently pursuing a career in dance/movement therapy.

Just like dance, you can also learn a lot about a person through photographs. I usually have the dancers improvise during my shoots and it’s always interesting to see how they move and react. Improvisation is like being given a blank sheet of paper. You have the tools and you’re free to do whatever you want. There’s no rules and there’s no one giving you orders. Some dancers will jump right in and start splashing the paper with colors. Some will hesitate, shrug their shoulders, and say “I don’t know what to do.” I ask dancers to improvise because it showcases their personality. The way they move, their focus, their facial expression… to me they correspond to their true personality. I took these photographs of Nikki quite awhile ago. I’m sure the photographs I take today will be different as she has grown a little more as a person. To me, Nikki is a fierce and outgoing individual. She is easily loved by others and she’s never afraid to talk to other people. When you first meet her, you’ll probably think that she’s a very independent, confident woman, but, to me, she also has a sensitive side, which she doesn’t show so often to the public. In my opinion, the photographs portray both sides. What do you think?

Check out the interview below!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in the San Francisco Peninsula and grew up in Foster City, California, a small city 20 miles south of San Francisco. I spent a majority of my life there, attending local schools, where I became involved in student government, dance and theater. Then in 2010, I moved to New York City to pursue a dance major at Marymount Manhattan College.

How did you start dancing?

If you ask my mom she would tell you I started dancing in the womb. When I was four years old, she decided to enroll me in dance classes at the park and recreation center because whenever I had heard music, my body would start moving. After I outgrew the age limit for the classes that the center offered and my interest in dance grew, I attended a local studio in my hometown where I began to learn ballet. At the age of nine, I moved to a Kirkpatrick’s School of Dance where I began my serious training in ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. In addition, I attended San Mateo High School, known for its excellent dance program. Every 2 years the Advanced Class traveled to NY, exposing us to more professional dance classes and the theater. Later I changed studios and moved to Dance Arts Center (DAC) for a few years before making my big jump to the Big Apple!

Tell us a little about dance therapy.

Dance movement therapy focuses on mind and body integration. Fran J. Levy, dance therapist and author of Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art, states that it stems from “the idea that the body and the mind are inseparable…that body movement reflects inner emotional states and that changes in movement behavior can lead to changes in the psyche, thus promoting health and growth” (1). According to the Association of Dance Therapy (ADTA), dance movement therapy is the psycho-therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual. Through movement, d/mt helps individuals with a wide range of psychological disorders achieve greater self-expression.

What made you want to pursue dance therapy? Did you ever have dreams of becoming a professional dancer? Or were you focused on therapy from the beginning?

While at DAC, I volunteered to participate in a program they offered called Special Needs Arts Program (S.N.A.P.!). It was a class where children and adults with special needs came to dance, sing, and act. It was my experience here that led me to want to incorporate my love for dance with my desire to help others. While majoring in dance at Marymount Manhattan College, I discovered two other passions, psychology and neuroscience, which became my double minors. A friend and classmate of mine who was following a similar path, introduced me to dance/movement therapy. Although I didn’t know much about it at the time, what I did learn was that it united my passions for dance and the study of the mind and emotions. I did struggle with my identity and how I perceived myself as, as I went on to pursue d/mt. Part of me still wanted to pursue a professional career in dance and that conflicted with my new interest of d/mt. I questioned: do I need to give up the dancer side in order to become a dance/ movement therapist? As I have learned over time, I do not have to choose between either or. My view now is that I can wear both hats, dancer and dance/movement therapist.

 Does being a dancer/ having studied dance help in the field of dance/movement therapy?

It most certainly does! Upon applying to Pratt, where I am a Masters candidate for d/mt, it is required to have extensive experience in two styles of dance, as well as, experience with mind/body modalities. From personal experience, I found that my continued training in dance has helped inform my work with dance/movement therapy and vice versa. There are times where I have leaned on dance as a form of self-care. Exposure to other styles of dance also expands my dance vocabulary, which allows me more opportunities to communicate with clients and patients.

 Do you want more people to know about dance/movement therapy?

I would love more people to know about dance/movement therapy! When people hear about d/mt they focus on the dance part solely. They forget about the therapy aspect. Yes, the dance component is important, but it’s the means in which the therapy is carried out. D/MT focuses not only on the physical, but the emotional, cognitive, and social integration. Each of these elements is equally essential and significant in the healing process.

In your opinion, is there something that d/mt achieves that regular therapy cannot? Benefits?

In traditional therapies, patients verbalize their emotional or psychological issue. It’s easy to hide behind words, however with our bodies, it is not. Our bodies hold our history, in our memories and in our musculature. It’s a non-threatening approach, whereas verbalizing can sometimes be intimidating. Dance/movement is universal; a common language we can all speak. D/MT sessions involve an individual or group of patients. Engaging a patient(s) in a dance/movement exercise may evoke a memory or an experience. It can be something that has been too painful to consciously face or something that they have been unaware of. The role of the dance/movement therapist is to provide the patient(s) a “safe” environment so they discover the feelings and thoughts associated with the movement for themselves. The intention is to help them become more self-aware, to feel supported as they process their feelings and thoughts, and to gain more control of their lives. During my time working with the elderly living in a rehabilitation center, some of their movements prompted topics such as helplessness. They felt confined by the schedules set by the establishment and missed the freedom of deciding what they want to do with their day. In our dance therapy groups, we explored this idea of helplessness, starting with their own movement that they initiated. As the dancing/movement continued, we introduced strong and direct movements to the group. Seeing the participants develop their movements throughout the session was exciting not only for me and for my supervisor, but for the participants as well. I could see the shift in their posture and in their attitude. After the dance/movement exercises, we spoke with the patients and discussed how the movement made them feel or if they brought up any memories. It gave them a time to reflect on their past and to talk about the times they did feel empowered. D/MT is already being incorporated with traditional treatments. Patients undergoing chemotherapy are encouraged to participate in D/MT, simultaneously with their medical therapy. For those who can’t verbalize their feelings it is a means to express themselves, to become more self-aware, and to share with others. It can be a comforting to unburden themselves. People with Parkinson’s also benefit from D/MT. Depending on the severity of their condition, a modification of movement can be tailored to their capabilities. This allows them a vehicle of expression and some control over their bodies. There is so much more potential to treat patients and to improve their lives through D/MT. What is needed is to make patients, their families, medical professionals and insurance companies aware of the benefits and application of this treatment.

What are some of your dreams & aspirations?

Besides obtaining my credentials to become a dance/movement therapist, I would love to get back into performing. I definitely miss the adrenaline rush I get before stepping onto the stage and connecting with the audience. Ideally after gaining work experience in d/mt, my intention is to establish my own practice, as well as, traveling abroad to spread and share dance/movement with the different parts of the world where it’s not as known.