Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance and Movement Therapist and author of books for children.
Dzagbe Cudjoe holds a certificate of Dance Therapists International as a qualified “Dance Therapist in the Community”. Dzagbe also holds an MA degree in Ethnology from the Ludwig Maximilian’s University, in Munich, Germany, with a wide experience of Dance in Africa and Europe.
Teaching children dance meditation is one of the latest therapies to come to prominence in the search for ways to help children cope in our evermore stressful world.
Certain individuals in the Western World (usually in holy orders) have practised meditation for hundreds of years. However, it has only entered the consciousness of the general public in the last forty years or so. The general practise of dance meditation is even more recent and dance meditation for children is a new rapidly developing area.
I do not think it is helpful to try and define meditation - it means different things to different people. The effects of meditation are what matters. The word meditation terrifies many people but a surprising number reach meditational states without realizing it. Many adults from all walks of life have told me of experiences they have had when they were clearly in a meditative state but did not recognize this as such.
Bored pupils in school seem to have two major strategies for finding relief. Some distract their neighbours by talking and often succeed in disrupting the entire class. Another group of children, to which I belonged, remove themselves from the confines of the classroom by day-dreaming. I can remember looking out of the classroom window at the blue sky. I was transported to a place which was quiet and peaceful and where I felt I was related to everyone and everything. These sessions always resulted in a sharp call by the teacher which brought me back to the here and now.
Movement meditation is especially suitable for children. My primary interest is in children with special needs, their parents and what can be acheived at home. Dance therapy in general can bring joy into children's lives, calm or stimulate them, be a source of fun, give them confidence and feelings of self-worth. In addition it can also improve their posture, co-ordination and general health.
There will be parents and carers who are familiar with and practise meditation but who are new to the idea of dance movement. To some both practices will be unfamiliar. But you will know what your child is capable of and not cross the safety boundary. Help is available for those who would like some ides as to how to initiate dance movement therapy with children who have special needs.
There are certain groups of children with whom it will be difficult if not impossible to do dance meditations. To this group belong children who are totally immobile and "away in their own world" most of the time. My feeling is that they are already experiencing higher levels of reality and only visit us and their bodies from time to time. It should be possible to do dance meditations with children who are immobile and in wheelchairs but are focused on this world.
Dance meditation with children can go very much deeper than dance therapy on its own because it requires a wider and deeper focus from the participants. You know your child and will be aware of which areas you would like to concentrate on in meditation.
The type of dance or movement you initiate will depend on the key word for the meditation. If, for example, the key word is "peace", then the music, the dance and the tone of voice in which the word "peace" is repeated must all reflect the meaning of the word. There needs perhaps to be a visible illustrative point of focus for the child.
For children with conditions such as ADHD, "quiet" or "stillness" would be suitable themes for the dance. It may be very difficult to get these children to relax and focus. Perhaps a reward system might be a way of encouraging a child who has special needs until they feel the benefits of the dance meditation.
Believe me, dance meditation interspersed with regular sessions of dance therapy can change behaviour and bring benefits both to your child and yourself.
Dance as a means of restoring and maintaining mental health is a treatment method well known in parts of the world where people lead less fragmented lives than in industrialized countries. Dance Movement therapy gives the participants more than just a toned body. It can restore the equilibrium between mind, body and spirit.
Scientific research is proving that dance therapy has a part to play in the treatment of psychological and mental health problems. Let me mention just a few of the areas of research. Dance Movement Psychotherapy has been undertaken with adult survivors of political torture and organized violence as well as with former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, with sexually abused children and also in the areas of ageing and dementia. There are drug treatments available for some of these conditions but they do not necessarily cure; and long term drug treatment can have serious side effects for the patient.
Marian Chace was one of the founders of dance movement therapy. When teaching dance she noticed that some of her students were first and foremost interested in expressing their emotions and were less interested in technique. She encouraged this form of self-expression in her students who reported feelings of increased well-being as a result of their sessions with her. Word reached psychiatrists at a nearby hospital and in 1942 they invited Marian Chace to work with them and their patients in the field of dance and excercise. Chace's methods attracted others and by the 1950's dance movement therapy was taken seriously at the hospital.
Dance has been shown to lift mood more than exercise by itself. In a study at the University of London researchers assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four therapeutic settings - a modern-dance class, a regular exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Only the dance class was shown to significantly reduce anxiety. Cardiac-Rehabilitation patients in a recent Italian study who enrolled in waltzing classes not only ended up with healthier arteries but were happier than those who went to bicycle and treadmill training. The effects of dance are increased and enhanced by the use of music which is also a factor in mood enhancement.
MRI scans show that watching someone dance activates the same neurons that would fire if you yourself were doing the dancing. So when one dancer's movements express joy or sadness, others often pick up on it as well, so spreading the feeling and fostering empathy. Gabrielle Kaufman, a Los Angeles dance therapist has this to say "Dance's expressive aspects help people process feelings they have trouble dealing with in conscious, verbal terms." "Dance allows people to experience themselves in ways they didn't know they could" says Miriam Berger, a dance professor and dance therapist at New York University, "You can change your internal state through external movement."
A dance teacher usually but not always teaches a specific form of dance, for example, ballet, tap, ballroom, folk, latin etc. He or she is concerned primarily with technique and the outward appearance of the dance whilst at the same time being aware of the psychological aspects. A dance therapist on the other hand more usually employs free dance, improvisational or inspirational dance with the student or patient encouraging them to create their own personal expression.There is no criticism in dance therapy classes - no right or wrong way. This unconditional acceptance is important to the participants. At the same time the therapist is consciously working towards helping the person to find within themselves catharsis, solutions and resolution to problems through dance. The dancers find the answers without words from within themselves. Dance therapy can have immediate and unexpected results. On occassion deeply buried blockages are resolved. Dance is a right brained activity and the left brain with its critical commentary is quietened down. This allows our subconscious and intuitive levels to function.
Personally I have found Gabrielle Roth's "The Wave Ecstatic Dance for Body and Soul" with its Five Rhythms to be a very effective way to release my own intuitive dance. Her understanding of rhythm and energy is profound. One can dance alone or in a group. Personally I would caution anyone with mental health problems to undertake this form of dance only with a trained therapist. The sessions may involve a spiritual aspect. This is not usually anything to do with organized religion. It has to do with encouraging people to take a more holistic view of themselves and the planet on which we live. This more holistic approach to life and people is often a great help to those who have mental health problems.
The understanding of the power of dance has led to numerous forms of dance movement therapy. .
As a Dance Movement Therapist her area of specialization was working with children who have challenging behaviour or severe physical and intellectual Special Needs.
Dzagbe is now working on helping the parents of such children to appreciate the healing effects of dance and the author of the manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance."
"I highly recommend "Dance to Health" by Dzagbe Cudjoe especially for children with disabilities. She easily shows parents how to use simple movements to enjoyable music to help these children form appropriate brain connections. In particular, the vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, and auditory systems are significantly enhanced through dance movement therapy. Also, the interaction between the parent and the child and between a group and the child during dance improves social and communication skills. "Dance to Health" is a necessary asset for anyone interested in a fun yet effective therapy for pediatric disabilities."