What Does a Dance Therapist Do?
The power of structured movement like dance to aid physical rehabilitation and improve coordination, strength, and health is well known. However, few are aware that dance and movement activities can also improve psychological, emotional, and behavioral health. Dance therapists work on the understanding that the body and mind are deeply connected, and utilize this connection both to assess and treat their patients.
Working as a dance therapist generally requires an undergraduate degree, in addition to a master's degree or post-graduate program approved by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA).
Clients come to dance therapists with a variety of ailments, including chronic illness, anxiety, depression, OCD, abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. It’s the dance therapist’s job to assess their needs, invite them into a safe therapeutic space, and create tailored sessions that utilize a combination of movement exercises and choreography activities—in a wide range of styles—to treat them. Although movement itself can have great therapeutic value, reducing stress and improving mood management, dance therapists are equally interested in what lies beneath the movements: a hidden language that they can interpret, helping bring to light repressed thoughts, memories, attitudes, and feelings. 

Dance Therapist at a Glance

Career Path

Most dance therapists get started as dancers or choreographers. Working as a dance therapist generally requires an undergraduate degree, in addition to a master's degree or post-graduate program approved by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). In order to advance within the field, dance therapists might seek additional training—also ADTA-approved—to become board-certified practicioners, or pursue licenses, which are awarded on a state level and possess differing requirements. Dance therapists might also go on to work with or found dance therapy-focused nonprofit organizations, or incorporate other art forms into their practice, becoming creative or expressive arts therapists.

Finding Work

Dance therapists work in a wide variety of settings, from medical, rehabilitation, and drug treatment facilities to schools, community centers, and prisons. They can also create their own opportunities by founding private practices, or work within a local community as freelancers.

Professional Skills
  • Dance performance and choreography in a wide variety of genres
  • Assessing clients' needs and developing treatments
  • Teaching
  • Anatomy
  • Research
  • Establishing therapeutic relationships
  • Empathy
Interpersonal Skills

Dance therapists should strive to be patient, perceptive, and persistent. Analytical skills are helpful in assessing clients' needs and interpreting their communication through movement, but perhaps more critical are empathy and emotional openness, which can go a long way towards making clients feel safe and comfortable. Of course, excellent communication skills will only help.

Work Life

Dance therapists might work a fairly predictable daily schedule in a school, hospital, or mental health institution, combine a number of small gigs in different settings, or create their own schedule working out of a private practice. While dance therapists might spend some time at a desk organizing clientele, seeking out new jobs, or taking care of billing and other paperwork, the majority of their workday is spent on their feet with clients. Time is also set aside for continuing one's education and acquiring new tools and approaches.