A Moving Alternative: Dance Therapy as a Career

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by Annie Xu

Many students are passionate about their artistic and creative hobbies. However, as young adults begin to contemplate which career path to follow, very few will choose a profession in the world of art or dance. This phenomenon suggests that there are some glaring obstacles preventing young people from continuing to pursue their passion.

Dance is a physically demanding job with harsh competition; as dancers age, they are more susceptible to injuries and often cannot “out dance” younger counterparts. To compete in the world of dance, one must study from a young age and dedicate a significant amount of time to the art form. Professional dancers typically spend seven hours of their day in dance classes and rehearsals and often must work for even longer when performing in shows. As a result, dancers on average retire in their mid-30s, either due to competition, age or injuries and, therefore, run the risk of losing a significant portion of their income.

For those that wish to have a financially stable job that allows for dance and artistic expression, dance therapy is a great career choice. Dance therapy, the use of dance and movement as a psychotherapeutic tool, is rooted in the idea that the body and the mind are connected, and it is based on the idea that movement reflects one’s emotional and mental state. Dance/movement therapy benefits a wide variety of people, from those that struggle with their body image to patients that are autistic or suffer from dementia.

A dance/movement therapist must have extensive dance knowledge and knowledge of psychology. For example, in her sessions, Philadelphia-based dance/movement therapist Natasha Levitas, who for 16 years has worked with high-functioning seniors as well as those suffering from degenerative conditions like dementia, stimulates multiple senses by either gently placing her hand on someone’s shoulder or passing around scented oils to help participants feel more immersed in the session. Utilizing her knowledge of psychology, Levitas uses repetition or mirrors movements to make participants feel included, recognized and understood.

Some of the most important factors for students in selecting a major or career path are income and financial stability. According to May 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dancers make an average of $18.29 per hour, which is around $38,000 per year. However, for dance professionals, work can be sporadic, so annual wages may differ from person to person. While the bureau does not report wages for dance therapists, the American Dance Therapy Association estimates their annual earnings at around $60,000 to $70,000, and some can earn up to $95,000. In an interview, Dawn Morningstar, Assistant Clinical Professor in Drexel University’s Creative Arts Therapies Department, notes, “The last three years that I’ve been there, all of our graduates have gotten jobs either before they have graduated or very soon after they have graduated.”

For students that may struggle financially and are hesitant to take the risks in the dance world, dance therapy is a great potential alternative. Dance therapy combines health and wellness with the body awareness and creativity of dance. This idea of blending elements of the fine or performing arts with health may enable dedicated individuals to continue to pursue their passions and ensure financial stability. And this extends beyond dance therapy—music therapy and art therapy are attracting the interest of more and more students every year.

Annie Xu is a recent graduate of the Baldwin School, in Bryn Mawr, and participated in the Baldwin Scholars program. For more information about the program, contact Scholars Program Director Lisa López-Carickhoff, at LLopezCarickhoff@BaldwinSchool.org.

July 2017

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