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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


Article of Interest - Therapy

Dance therapy comforts body, mind and spirit
by Andrea Nobile, Macomb Daily, September 03, 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit

The shy, quiet 13-year-old boy just wouldn't let go of Kathy Hinchman's hand. It was his first day at her dance class for special-needs children, and the Sterling Heights teen-ager wasn't sure he wanted to dance, especially in front of others. Physically impaired, he was aware of his appearance and wouldn't leave Hinchman's side early on in the 8-week dance session. The boy also had limited short-term memory, but remembered his teacher every week thanks to a photograph his mom took at their first meeting.

"He just tugged at my heart," Hinchman said.

Slowly, he came out of his shell and joined the group in several dances.

"By the end, he was literally break dancing in the middle of the crowd," Hinchman said. "He turned out to love that program so much."

Hinchman is an instructor and co-owner of C.C. Plus, a local company that teaches movement to the developmentally disabled through its My Chance to Dance program. She and friend Dawn Malek started the company eight years ago, at first offering line and recreational dance. After several requests, they added dance classes for special-needs children.

The group uses dance as a form of therapy and exercise for people such as Stephen Mazurkiewicz of St. Clair Shores.

The autistic 17-year-old attends C.C. Plus classes through his city's recreation department. It's a program his mom, Margaret, takes with him weekly.

"Our kids don't have the opportunity to get as much exercise as other kids do," Margaret said. "I really found this gave him a chance to exercise and socialize."

Stephen recently showed off his skills at the St. Clair Shores Special Needs Picnic, an end-of-the-summer bash celebrating the city's recreation program.

C.C. Plus was awarded the 2002 Amateur Athletic Event of the Year Regional Award by the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports for its My Chance to Dance program. According to Malek, C.C. Plus uses dance to promote memory and socialization, as well as lowering blood pressure, stress and body fat.

"It's very important to their health, not just their (emotional) well-being," she said.

Although C.C. Plus is about fun and fitness, there's another organization that specializes in the serious side of dance therapy.

Dance/movement therapy was formally introduced around 1966, when a group of dance therapists founded the American Dance Therapy Association, or ADTA, based in Columbia, Md. The goal was to set standards for dance therapy, and encourage research and knowledge about the therapy. Since the 1970s, the group has required all therapists to hold a master's degree in the field.

Although it's not as recognized as other creative therapies, such as music and art therapy, it is gaining ground. The ADTA formed an alliance with the National Board of Certified Counselors in the 1990s, helping the movement's visibility in the therapy community. This therapy type is covered by health insurance in states such as New York and Pennsylvania, but not yet in Michigan.

"It has been a struggle," said Shelley Marinus, a Grand Rapids-based dance therapist who chose her profession after hearing about it in 1981.

"It's not something at this point that has achieved global success," said Sally Totenbier, a Houston-based dance therapist and director of community relations for the ADTA.

Marinus had to leave Michigan to receive training, and just returned early this year. She is on staff at Pinerest Christian Center for Developmental Disabilities in Grand Rapids.

She received her master's degree in dance therapy from New York's Hunter College, and teaches movement as a way of expression for adults and children with special needs or a mental illness, such as Down Syndrome and depression. Marinus, also a licensed social worker, considers movement therapy a nonverbal, body-based way of communicating meant for psychotherapeutic purposes.

"It's a means of communication and self-expression, especially for the adults I work with who don't have verbal expression," she said. "Just to see their response to music, to being noticed, to being valued. That's so rewarding."

Locally, dance therapy has been offered for three years at Orchards Children's Services. The organization, with locations in Sterling Heights, Southfield and Detroit, provides foster and adoption services, as well as family education classes.

According to Lois Gerenraich, Orchards' director of special events and volunteers, the dance sessions offered throughout the year are popular with clients.

Dance helps kids expend energy and express emotions such as anger, happiness and frustration through movement, Gerenraich said. The therapists validate these feelings, and encourage self-esteem and self-confidence.

"It's nonjudgmental. In this particular program, nobody's wrong. Everything is right," she said.

That's the key according to Totenbier, who knew she wanted to be a dance therapist at 18 years old, in 1976. She's now getting her doctorate in dance therapy at a London university.

She works with sexually abused children at The Children's Assessment Center of Houston, and notes that dance therapists are around specifically to build strengths and overcome weaknesses a client may have.

"It's an experiential way of identifying what's not feeling right to you," she said. "They need to learn to trust in their own body and (learn) a sense of safety and how they can interact comfortably with others."

Totenbier, who has also worked with people struggling with eating disorders, believes dance is the best way to work out issues. In sessions, she asks the children why they're there, and what they're feeling.

"They need to be able to acknowledge the abuse in order to be able to deal with it," she said.

She then leads the children through a movement related to what they said.

"Our feelings are first felt in the body," she said, mentioning the way our head droops when we're sad. Dance therapy takes that to another level.

"You're doing instead of discussing. It engages the whole person," she added.

If a child is scared about starting school, Totenbier has them do a movement that requires interaction with someone else. Totenbier also recommends dance therapy for children with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Hyperactivity Disorder, to sustain interest and keep the child focused on something.

Although the classes at C.C. Plus are less about therapy, and more just a form of fun, the goal of expression is similar.

"Confidence and joy -- you've never seen such happy faces," said instructor Peggy DiMercurio. "It's really just their chance to shine and show off."

For information on classes and other events by C.C. Plus, call (586) 412-8454. For information on the American Dance Therapy Association, call (410) 997-4040, or go to

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