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