MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement


Movement can be therapeutic. With that, dancing can contribute a lot to our health and wellness through giving us passion and aliveness in our bodies. It is a form of self-expression contributing to our emotional intelligence. In addition, movement can also help in processing and getting over trauma. How? Erica Hornthal, licensed clinical counselor and board-certified movement therapist, explains as she joins Whitney Lauritsen in today’s episode. Erica shares how something that doesn’t come naturally to you can become your line of work, which in her case is showing people the power of therapeutic dance and movement. She also mentions how dance gives people agency and empowers them to own how they are able to move, and that movement is accessible to everyone regardless of age, mental impairment, or mobility. It is about coming back home to our bodies and how we move. Additionally, Erica helps unpack what dance is for us and what purpose it serves. Plus, she addresses the fear of dancing and how anyone can get over it and experience the therapeutic power of movement. Tune in to find out everything you need to know about dance as a therapy.

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Dancing Through Life: The Therapeutic Power Of Movement With Erica Hornthal

In this episode, I am interviewing Erica Hornthal. We ran into some issues with Zencastr, and it gave me an opportunity to practice grounding myself, connecting, and tuning into how my body was feeling. That is one of the things that Erica specializes in as a dance and movement therapist. As I was going through Erica’s work to prepare, I felt a lot of ease coming up, knowing that we are going to cover this important topic.

Since the show focuses much on the mental and emotional side of our health, I tend to not put too much emphasis on the physical side. Erica, thanks for joining me to become more intentional about the way we move our bodies, how they feel, and building that greater sense of connection and intimacy with ourselves and our loved ones, and slowing down so that we can lessen, hopefully, our anxiety and all of that.

Thank you for having me. It’s something I love talking about, and it’s a pleasure to be here.

What is it that you love about that specifically, and how did you get into this line of work?

What I notice for myself is the passion and aliveness that I feel in my body when I start to talk about these things. It’s unexplainable. I don’t have words for it necessarily. It’s a feeling and a sensation that I get. It’s the sensation when I’m not engaging in these conversations when I’m not tuning into the language of my body or at least talking about my body connection. It’s a sensation of excitement, heat, and fiery passion. I don’t know if it was something that I always was aware of, but it’s something that’s always been inside of me.

I’ve always been a traditionally verbal, very cognitive person, so it didn’t come naturally to me to listen to my body. I was very good at turning off my body, shutting off sensations, numbing them, or ignoring them. I started dancing as a kid and always used dance as a form of expression and sometimes escape. It’s a way for me to express myself fully. I always say I feel the most myself when I’m dancing.

MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement

Therapeutic Movement: I feel most myself when I’m dancing.


As I started to explore career options, I was led to the field of Dance Movement Therapy. I was able to marry my passion for moving and dancing, more specifically my love for psychology and mental health and ultimately trying to create accessibility and ease for people to understand this innate wisdom of their body, using their body, and how to listen to their body to better support their mental health.

I feel that the word ease comes up for me a lot, hearing your voice, and how you describe things. It’s interesting how you noted it. It didn’t necessarily come naturally to you. I assumed that it did, and it’s a great opportunity to check assumptions. Some of the things that we’re best at, experts in, and most passionate about weren’t necessarily there our whole lives. How did you transition, and how did this become that passion and aliveness if it didn’t come naturally to you when you were younger?

Expressing myself is very natural. I’ve always had a high emotional intelligence. I don’t think I necessarily understood any of that as a kid. It translated to sensitivity, anxiety, or worry. Some of that was modeled by family members. It’s my own natural tendencies and curiosities. When I began graduate school for Dance Movement Therapy and counseling, I didn’t even realize the expansiveness of this work.

Here I am using what I know to be true of dance and what most of society thinks of as dance, this certain set of choreography, and skillset, and over time have come to understand how present we are in our bodies, how much we’re able to express ourselves through our bodies, and how much range of emotional capacity we have through our movement.

What started to shift for me was not in graduate school because even after I graduated, I’m thinking, “What is this? What did I get myself into?” I found a passion for it and wanted to continue to grow as a practitioner, but I still didn’t realize the full capacity or the full potential. Every therapist is different. Every practitioner practices differently and has a different influence that they focus on. What happened for me was this passion for advocating for the field, realizing that not enough people knew about the power of dance and movement within the therapeutic relationship as a niche form of psychotherapy.

The other thing that happened was this innate ability for me to make movement accessible to everyone and break down the myths, assumptions, and even stereotypes that the movement has. Oftentimes, when we think of movement, it comes with the word exercise. That leaves so much to the imagination. It’s lacking with regard to, “How much we could be bringing to the table to support our mental health?” I feel like I’ve landed in a place where I could speak extensively on.

It’s realizing that there’s a lot of talk about somatic, body, and movement, especially about trauma, but there’s a lack of practicality and accessibility. Even when we say things like, “Listen to our bodies,” it’s very elusive for a lot of people. We don’t know what that means or how to do that. My skillset has been bringing it back down to earth and making it more accessible. That was something I needed because that’s how I entered into the work.

That’s really beautiful. I’m grateful that you do that work. Accessibility is something I’m increasingly becoming passionate about myself and learning a lot about because I’ve had a lot of privileges with my body on many levels. I am able-bodied. I carry the privilege of being a White woman and all of these things that I took for granted. I’m not the most coordinated person.

I tend to be a bit clumsy, but I used to dance a lot when I was younger and had a passion for it. I learned how to be good at it. As you’re talking, I think about how many people don’t have those privileges, access, or maybe even interests. I would love to learn more about what isn’t accessible about dance and movement.

What makes dance and movement inaccessible are the constructs, the myths, or the assumptions that we place on it. Most of us can express ourselves through things other than body language. Formal language is where we learn our ABCs and where we’re learning to read and speak, which is a privilege in itself. I recognize that not everybody has that same trajectory, but speaking from this generalized place of society, all of a sudden, dance goes from our innate original first language to this art form, skillset, activity, and career for the very privileged few that can use their body in ways to perform.

What makes dance and movement inaccessible are the constructs. Click To Tweet

Even if that is opening wider than it used to be, for so long, it had a very specific body type, sound, and look. Broadening our definition of dance and looking at it from a different perspective allows movement to be more accessible. At the heart of it, it’s understanding that movement is a shift or a change in position or posture, and we’re doing it all the time. We always look at movement from a space of limitation as opposed to a space of possibility or ability. As an able-bodied person, I’m going to see the rest of the world around me with regard to what they can’t do based on what I can do.

Broadening our definition of dance allows movement to be more accessible. Click To Tweet

From an individual perspective, if we can come back home to our bodies, take a look, and become aware of how we move, what makes us individuals, and what movements are at our disposal, we can start to expand this view of how my movement contributes, perpetuates, and inhibits my emotional well-being because our movement has everything to do with who we are. Our early movement experiences shape our identity and shape who we are.

We don’t necessarily know how or think that they can be re-patterned. I truly believe that if there are things we want to change, behaviors, actions, emotions, and thoughts, we owe it to ourselves to go back to where they are wired and how they are patterned within us. That comes down to movement. It’s not just dance the way we see it traditionally in the world, but the core component of dance, which is movement, which we all do in our ability to do it our way.

I like the way you phrased so much of what you said. You are very articulate and inspiring with your words. What more could you ask for on a show? It inspires much curiosity within me because now I’m sitting here, visualizing memories of how not only I have moved, but I’ve noticed other people move.

I realize that I’m looking at it through a bit of a narrow viewpoint because what I’m interpreting some of what you’re saying to mean is it’s not just these more traditional versions of movement like the dance. When I think of dance, I think of the specific types of dancing. It’s the casual dancing that you might do to music on your own or with other people, maybe in a club or something. I think of professional dancing and all the different styles of dance.

It sounds like what you’re saying is all different types of movement could be dance, or maybe I’m getting it mixed up, whereas dance is one of the many forms of movement. I would love clarification on that. If I’m trying to broaden my view on both dance and movement, what can I do? What else could I look for? Maybe you have some examples of what we might not notice.

Dance has a lot of different definitions, to be honest with you. To say that there’s one specific way to view it and changes across cultures as well wouldn’t necessarily be true to have one formalized definition. The idea is to make the definition work for you. What is a dance for you? What is dance to you? If your definition of dance is limiting and it suggests that you can’t do it, maybe we need to redefine it. Dance, at the very heart of it, is something that should be accessible to everybody. It’s a basic form of expression.

Dance, at the very heart of it, should be accessible to everyone as a form of expression. Click To Tweet

We see children, babies, and infants. You put on some music or co-regulate with a family member or a caregiver. There’s a movement there, and that becomes a dance of relationship. There’s a give and take. There’s a push and pull. Broadening our definition of what dance is, there is the art form of dance. There is talent, skillset, the formalized idea of what we think when we hear the word dance, whether it’s a partner dance, a certain type of dancing, tradition, legacy, or generational dances that are passed down, and this idea of traditional dances, folklore, or folk dances. These are ways that we’ve celebrated, grieved, honored, things of the past, and parts of our histories.

Before dance was this formal, I keep saying art form or a form of expression, and entertainment. That’s how we see a lot of dance now. Dance becomes entertainment. If I can’t provide entertainment through my movement, I must not be a dancer. Furthermore, if I feel uncomfortable or if I feel silly, dumb, stupid, uncoordinated, or untalented, then I must not be a dancer. At the heart of it, I feel like we’re all dancers. It’s the judgments that we place on dance that makes us not a dancer, “I have two left feet. I don’t have any rhythm.” Everyone has some type of rhythm. It might not be the rhythm that you think is in time with someone else or keeping up with a certain tempo.

We all have innate rhythm, a breath, and a heartbeat. It’s broadening this idea of what dance is, what are the judgments and assumptions that I place on dance, why dance is inaccessible to me, what suggests that I can’t dance, and blowing those away starting from ground zero and re-exploring that. Regardless of our physical abilities, all of us were dancers.

I guarantee there is a video, a photograph, or a memory where someone said, “Look at that child dance. Look at them, bounce. Look at them jump. Look at that child moving to the music.” That doesn’t suggest that they’re a professional dancer. They’re not going to become a dancer by trade, but they are dancing. At some point, that leaves our vocabulary. It goes from dance as an expression to dance as talent and entertainment. If we don’t feel worthy or carry that, the dance leaves our vocabulary. We’re no longer considering ourselves dancers, or we don’t do it at all.

I’m blown away by that sentiment. It’s shattering a lot of blocks that I’ve found within myself, to be honest. I thought I consider myself to be quite open-minded, but I feel I’m coming up against my limitations and noticing them in others. I’m grateful that you’re speaking on this, Erica. It’s powerful. I first started thinking about other people, and the shame I hear, especially when you were talking about entertainment and how we exclude ourselves from dance.

We feel it’s reserved for somebody who’s going to entertain us. If we feel we don’t want to entertain someone or we’re not good at entertaining someone, maybe we quote, “Don’t dance.” I love how you’re pointing out that dance shows up probably in all our lives. We might not even notice it. I can think of a specific example in a romantic relationship in which my boyfriend said he didn’t dance over and over again.

I would catch him dancing around me. Sometimes I would point out, “I thought you said you didn’t dance?” and we’d laugh about it. I realized that it was not that he didn’t dance. Anytime music came on that he enjoyed, he would dance around to it. In his head, he was viewing it as if he wasn’t a good dancer, and he didn’t dance. It was a very different definition.

MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement

Therapeutic Movement: I see dance as a way of connecting to myself.


It makes me think that we almost have to ask ourselves who we are dancing for. If someone says, “I don’t dance,” I don’t think it’s that they don’t personally move or dance. It’s that they don’t dance for others. They don’t dance with the expectation that someone’s going to watch them, or the definition of a professional dancer means someone’s going to pay to watch them dance. In that case, I’m not a dancer either. I can count on one hand how many times I got paid to dance, and it was in the capacity of a bar mitzvah.

If I were a professional dancer, we’d be having a different conversation because I would have a skewed view. Considering that I don’t embody a professional dancer, when I call myself a dancer or even have a hard time calling myself a dancer, it’s because I don’t have that “professional dance identity.” I see dance as a way of connecting to myself. As I said, I am the most myself when I dance. That means I lose myself when I’m not engaging in dance on a regular basis. As an example, my spouse was out of town, and when it’s me watching the kids, my freedom to go out and take a dance class, or my movement practice of choice tends to go out the window because I can’t bring them and I can’t leave them.

MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement

Therapeutic Movement: I lose myself when I’m not dancing on a regular basis.


I start to lose touch with a part of myself, and it’s important for me to get back to that place, which is, “You’re back. I’m going to go dance.” The basic question of why I don’t put on music or dance around my kitchen, which I can do serves a different purpose. For me, it’s going to a class. It’s following someone else’s movement. It’s not necessarily following the rhythm of my own heart, although that’s very healing for some people.

It’s also recognizing what purpose dance serves for you if you connect to that word and if you don’t. That’s why I started using the word movement more. It’s why as therapists, we hyphenate dance movement therapists because not all of us as therapists connect to the word dance, and not all of our clients do. At the heart of it, we are all moving, and it’s about using movement to express something that may be too deep for words.

That circles back to that question I was pondering earlier, and you gave me much clarity of understanding. Movement can be very separate from dance, although I’m not 100% sure if you would agree with that. It’s all movement dance in a way, but it’s the clarity you gave about how it’s all part of the same definition.

It’s maybe a word that we’re using based on what somebody views movement or dance as, and the purpose that it’s serving. There’s the question you asked, “Who are we dancing for?” That also brings me to my limitations, which is noticing in my life how much I’ve always loved to dance and more of what I see as a traditional definition of dance. Doing dance routines is something I loved as a kid.

I remember I would watch Janet Jackson and her music videos. That was like the be-all, end-all. It was Britney Spears for me. I loved watching her dance. I couldn’t wait to get to an age where I could go take dance classes because, in the town I grew up, there weren’t very many available. When I got to college, somewhere at the beginning of my college experience, I went to a hip-hop dance class, which was always my preferred style to learn. It was scary. I almost feel the same tension, anxiety, and stress coming up in my body talking about it as it felt back. I vividly remember going to the class and how nerve-wracking that was.

I was concerned about what I was wearing. I was concerned about what the other people would be like. I was wondering if I’d be able to keep up if anybody was looking at me. There are so many fears. Over many years of going to dance classes, I had that same experience. I got very concerned with the judgment. That was a block for me because it’s hard to overcome, and I imagine I’m not the only one. You talk about dance classes, and they simultaneously sound exhilarating to me. I’m there with you. I’m like, “Yes, I want to go to a dance class,” and there’s another side of me that goes, “That’s scary.”

You’re not alone in that, speaking from my own experience, but also hearing many other individuals sharing that viewpoint. A lot of stuff comes to mind as you were talking, stirring thoughts and sensations in my body. I took it upon myself to quickly look up the definition of dance. I thought to myself, “What is that? If someone googled dance, what would they find?”

There are a couple of different definitions, but if you look at or, it says, “Dance is the movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to music given within a space for purpose of expressing an emotion or idea, releasing energy, or simply taking delight in movement.”

That is not how we view dance as a society. It’s performative. When we perform, it comes with judgment. Early on, when you said, “I took these dance classes,” we have this experience where it goes from the creative movement or pre-dance. You’re 2, 3, and 4 in this exploratory ballet class where we’re embodying butterflies or we’re going to be animals moving through the jungle.

You graduate from that and go into technique, and it becomes about how your body looks, looking at yourself in the mirror, and your alignment. You have to perform for others. You get critiqued. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Within reason, there’s a lot to learn from that structure, but it is where the divide happens between movement and dance as creative expression.

It’s this idea of using and moving my energy to express an emotion or an idea versus conveying something to an audience, conveying a certain emotion, posture, or perspective based on how I move. There’s a right and wrong to it. In Dance Movement Therapy, there’s no right or wrong way to move your body because it is your own innate interpretation of what you experience from an embodied perspective.

In a dance class, there is a right or wrong because there is a technique. There is a skill level. I should say that’s with certain dances. You could dance to the beat of your drum, and that’s fine. Most of us know that if you’re going to take a dance class or grow up in a studio, there is a set of criteria. There is a “right way” and there is a “wrong way” to engage in a traditional dance form. That’s very scary. I have a reaction to that as well. I’m like, “I don’t want to do that anymore.”

There are days of trying to pirouette, get a perfect plie, or leap across the floor probably behind me, and not because, “I can’t do it.” It doesn’t serve a purpose for me anymore. It doesn’t feel good to meet someone else’s standards. I dance for me. I dance because it feels good. It’s a way to express what I’m feeling or what I don’t even know I’m feeling. We have to weigh the two definitions, this idea of dance as expression and dance as performance.

Some of us can engage in both. Some of us choose one over the other, but this idea of dance performance has such a heavy bearing on society that it prevents us from dancing. We say, “It is not for me. I’m not able to do that.” Therefore, dance is not in the cards. I know that’s a way that we limit our capacity for healing because the body needs to be included in mental health.

The body needs to be included in mental health. Click To Tweet

If we are afraid of judgment through the body, or we have these experiences growing up where our bodies were judged, especially in a dance class, there’s no way that would be the outlet that’s missing from my life. Many people that engage in this type of healing are blown away because not only are they disconnected from their bodies, but they would never in a million years consider themselves dancers or even movers. It was the one piece that was missing from their mental health journey.

Erica, it’s been lovely to listen to you on a personal level because it’s revealing blocks that I didn’t fully know I had. I not only can recognize how a class is based on a dance technique but can also feel uncomfortable for me, even though I simultaneously enjoy it. I felt mostly joy in dance classes. The times that I haven’t felt joy are for the exact reasons you mentioned. It’s the times when I’ve been corrected by a teacher.

I remember one big memory that happened several years ago at a dance class when a teacher in front of the entire class told me that my shoes weren’t right. It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to be some professional dancer. I was there to take a class, and she made fun of my shoes. I was mortified. It was a huge class. I could go on about how much shame I felt from that one moment and wonder about the ripple effect that I haven’t even considered since.

For me, there are blocks I have around some physical therapies. My therapist that I’m working with a few months ago encouraged me to do some humming exercises. I didn’t like it. I was perplexed, “Why does this feel uncomfortable to hum?” It was just the two of us. We were doing a virtual session, and he gave me permission to mute myself. I even did, but it was deeply uncomfortable for me. Based on that experience, I wondered, “Would I feel deeply uncomfortable doing dance therapy?” There’s something about being witnessed for me that’s uncomfortable.

There’s also even curiosity. For instance, I was doing a session with you. We can’t see each other because of our technical limitations, and we have our videos off. I’m wondering, if at this moment, Erica, you gave me a therapeutic process, I’d still feel uncomfortable doing it even though you weren’t watching me and nobody else was. I wonder what you think of that. I won’t place any questions beyond that. What does that mean for someone, me, or anyone else who can relate to what I’m feeling now? Who’s feeling those physical blocks come up even in a psychologically safe place?

I’m not here to qualify, place judgment, or diagnose. That is the norm. I’ll even say I have those experiences too. That’s uncomfortable. I don’t want to do that now. Something is empowering about not doing something that doesn’t feel comfortable. My only reaction is that isn’t that where growth happens? Change and growth happen through the discomfort because we don’t want to throw ourselves into the deep end and dysregulate our nervous systems entirely.

We also never evolve if we never experience something out of our comfort zone. I tend to lean into those times and ask myself, “Why am I hesitant or resistant to do this? Why does this feel uncomfortable? When was the last time I did this? Is this something that I need to experience more of, or maybe I need to revisit it at another time? Do I have a history with these things? Was I shamed for moving a certain way, dancing a certain way, or singing a certain way?” I say lean into it. That’s when I become curious, when I have an embodied response to something, especially when it is counter to what I thought I would want or what I’m being invited to do.

You don’t have to override the no. You just have to be curious and wonder why it’s there. I would invite curiosity. That’s the normal response for a lot of us. I get that, too, even as a dance therapist, even with my dance therapist. There are times when I feel uncomfortable in my body. I don’t know if I’m ready to explore it, and I don’t know if I even want to explore it. That’s okay. It’s not about overriding those parts. It’s about listening to them and witnessing them. I’m noticing the sensation in my body that’s stopping me from engaging in this.

Maybe I can put an emotion to it. I feel embarrassed. I’m ashamed. I’m insecure. I’m vulnerable, X, Y, and Z. I get curious about them. I lean into it and recognize that it might not be your optimal intervention. Dance therapy is for everyone, but it’s not going to be for everyone. It could be used for anybody, but not everybody is going to engage in them. We get to have free will. We get to choose what modalities we engage in.

I’m merely suggesting that if people feel they’re reaching a plateau or they’re aware of these blocks, they’re not broken. You’re not beyond therapy. You just haven’t found the right therapy that’s going to target the issues or the concerns where they are. We can talk ourselves out of them. We can say we’re fine or deny that they exist, but our body feels it. It is there somewhere. The proverbial body keeps the score. To get back to what you said and to answer that question, I would be curious about what is uncomfortable about this and if I am allowed to be uncomfortable, more so far from being playful.

Talk about dance. Everybody talks about dancing and nobody’s watching. That implies that someone’s always watching. I always say, “Dance like you don’t care that anybody’s watching. Just dance and move for you.” The more we engage our bodies in what feels like a new way, the more comfortable we become with exploring what our body is capable of.

Most of my clients when they come to me are uncomfortable. They don’t know what it’s going to look like. They don’t know what to do with their body. Maybe they feel uncomfortable being or becoming aware of their body, and that’s part of the process. Be present and start to listen to what we are carrying with us because regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not, it’s there. It’s always with you. We may as well start using it to our benefit.

That’s so helpful, Erica. I feel inspired to spend more time reflecting on this because it’s something I’ve overlooked, even when you said that statement about, “Dancing like no one’s watching.”

It’s like you don’t care that anybody’s watching.

For me, I’m like, “Maybe I do feel someone’s always watching, or I’m carrying the judgments I felt from others with me, even when I’m alone.” Even in those moments where I feel a bit awkward in my body and I’m completely alone, or I’m with someone and the camera’s off where nobody can see me, I’m still carrying the weight of being seen. That’s in itself something to be very curious about, and I feel very inspired. One thing I want to make sure that we touch more on because I’d love to learn from you about this is going back to the accessibility angle.

I suppose those internal blocks could perhaps be a form of accessibility. You have to work through some things in order for the dance to feel comfortable or accessible to you. What about the physical accessibility sides of it? What are some things that get in the way of accessibility? When you mentioned something about dance being inaccessible, what is it on a physical level and how do you help people move into a place where it feels accessible to them physically?

We come so much from the perspective of limitation. Thinking back to some of the early groups that I did, mostly with older adults, people that had dementia or memory impairment, which, as we know because of this mind, body, connection, the connection between our thoughts and our embodied feelings and emotions, there is inevitably going to be a regression in the body.

A regression in the brain correlates to a regression in the body. I say that because staff administrators of the facilities that I was going into would come up to me and say, “I don’t know how much you’re going to get out of them. They’re not very mobile, so I’m not sure how much they’re going to dance,” not realizing that these people at the time, their generation, grew up dancing. It was a social thing. You went out dancing on a Friday night. You went to a concert and everybody stood up and danced while the concert was going on.

That is their reality. That is an embodied memory. I’m not coming in thinking, “We’re going to be lifting our legs five times, and it needs to look like this.” The staff was thinking of it from this perspective of what dance as a performance looks like and what dance as a formal technique class looks like. There is a benefit to that. There are people who do that, but that’s not what I do. I’m not a dance educator or a dance teacher. I’m coming in as a dance therapist, which is different. There’s overlap, but it is different.

That being said, it’s bringing in ability. One of the questions that I started asking people pretty early on was, “How are you moving? Not based on what anybody told you, not based on what I see you doing, what do you recognize as a movement? What are you doing? How are you moving now? How have you moved today?” People started bringing in, “I brushed my teeth. I got dressed. I’m breathing. I’m coughing. I just had lunch.” It’s going back to these basics of how my body moves, digestion, vascular movement, blood pumping, and cells dividing.

I know that’s not how we see dance, but those are all part of the definition of movement. Once we broaden this idea of what movement is already happening in my body, all of a sudden, I recognize all of the movement at my disposal. It becomes more accessible. I realize that I have a vocabulary to work with. On some level, I’m the expert on that.

You can come in and teach me a certain type of dance because you have experience in that, but you don’t know what it’s like to be in my body. You can’t experience my body any more than I can. It’s giving people agency and empowering them to own how they can move. What’s beautiful as a dance movement therapist is we get to engage with people in their movements, and that’s not always easy too.

I was mirroring a client who physically was very able-bodied, but I was starting to feel inadequate, “Could I keep up? Can I do these movements anymore? Have I ever done these movements? What might she think if I can’t do these?” These are things that go through my mind, even as the therapist in the room sometimes. It’s not necessarily being a master of movement because no one can move the way anyone else does. We can emulate it, mimic it, and mock it, but nobody knows what that embodied experience is except you.

It’s peeling back the layers of what’s expected of us as we dance and redefine, “How am I moving? What does my movement look like? What’s my affinity towards certain movements? Are there certain movements that I avoid altogether and don’t even realize? Do I prefer to be low to the ground? Do I prefer to be close to my body? How do I feel when people come into my space? Can I share space with others as I move through the world?”

These are all elements of dance, and we’re separated from them because we don’t necessarily engage in them within the capacity of a studio, going to a class, or taking a class. It requires having these conversations and sitting with the definitions that have been ingrained in us and giving ourselves permission to redefine it.

Speaking of having conversations, I’m curious if you have tips or advice for how we can not only examine this within ourselves but with others. You mentioned earlier the community element of dance and how that was such a big part of socializing, depending on the generation. Hopefully, that still is, but it looks a bit different in modern times. What else could we do to support people around us who might want to move through their limitations when it comes to dance movement?

Our bodies are trained to mirror the bodies around us. That being said, if the people you surround yourself with also have this limited view of the movement, whether it’s incapacity, a limitation, physical, and/or cognitive, we’re not necessarily pushing the envelope. We are not challenging the way we show up in movement in our bodies on a regular basis. With that being said, it’s important to surround ourselves with people that challenge our idea of movement. Even if I have a physical disability, I can engage with people who identify in the same way as me.

MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement

Therapeutic Movement: It’s important to surround ourselves with people who challenge our ideas of movement.


I can take up a movement class geared toward a certain population, a certain age, a certain movement ability, or a disability. Finding community and camaraderie also allows us to be more vulnerable in our bodies in, hopefully, what feels like a safe or secure way. Recognize the environment that you’re currently in and how it limits your movement and find opportunities or communities that allow you to move in the way that you’re looking to move. Sometimes that’s counter to what you’re doing. I love to take yoga every day. That’s not me personally, but perhaps you’re a person that does yoga every day, and you’re surrounding yourself with these groups of people that do yoga.

MGU 430 | Therapeutic Movement

Therapeutic Movement: Finding community and camaraderie allows us to be more vulnerable in our bodies.


That’s great, but is it supporting you? Is it supporting your mental health? Are you leaving worse off than you did? Is there pressure to show up? Is there pressure to be or look a certain way? We can expand the way that looks, take a different class, go with a different instructor, take it in a different neighborhood, or take it in a different part of the world or country. Maybe we switch it up altogether.

If I’m always used to doing yoga, I’m going to go for a hip hop class, or I’m going to take Zumba or high interval training. We need variety in our movement. We need to expose our bodies to different ways of moving. If we limit our movement, we limit our emotional range. We don’t want to just drop ourselves into the deep end, but we can slowly increase our tolerance to different styles of movement, forms of movement, and rhythms of movement to ultimately expand and enhance our resilience.

You’ve given me so much to think about, and I imagine that the readers feel the same way, Erica. These are incredible tools for thought and opportunities to make some shifts in our lives. We can do that almost immediately, if not now. The beauty of reading a blog is often that you can multitask. You could start moving your body as you’re reading these, and maybe you already have, or maybe switch to some music after this episode and see how that feels.

You’ve opened up a lot of possibilities, Erica. I’m deeply grateful for that. I love this end note around community and camaraderie and also expanding our experiences to include different types of movement with different types of people. To me, that sounds appealing. Also, you were saying, “Putting ourselves in places where we can be and can feel vulnerable in our bodies.” Some places are not going to feel safe to us, or maybe we need to do more work on ourselves to feel safe. There’s complexity, but it sounds simple.

There is this push to go into places that automatically say they’re safe. I fall into that too. Sometimes I’ll invite people into my office, studio, or whatever you want to call it. They feel warm and welcomed, and I will sometimes interchange that word with safe. This is a safe space. It’s safe for me. It’s my office. I can’t assume that it’s safe for everyone. Maybe it’s not safe.

They may have had other experiences in the same building. They don’t even know me. We don’t have any trust built yet. We have to remember that trust and safety cannot be assumed even if the intention of safety is there. Give yourself the opportunity to even recognize when an environment feels safe and when it doesn’t. There’s a difference between a lack of safety and vulnerability, discomfort and threat, that not all discomfort is a threat. It doesn’t necessarily compromise our safety, but we don’t know if we’re not engaging in this practice.

Not all discomfort is a threat. Click To Tweet

Putting ourselves in new environments is certainly a new way of moving. The idea for me is if we continue to move in the same way as we’re not retraining or rewiring anything. It makes it much harder to follow those mantras and to change those mindsets. It works for a lot of people until it doesn’t anymore. It’s not all that different than exercise. When you do the same exercise over and again, your muscles plateau. I’ll increase the weights or the reps, but it only does much for so long, and it’s the same thing for our movement and our mental health.

If you’re doing the same exercise over and over again, if you’re moving in the same way, sitting in the way, gesturing in the same way, and you’re having trouble changing your mind or thinking beyond the negative self-talk, or making positive changes to your lifestyle and your mental health, the movement could be the one thing that is missing. Give yourself the opportunity to not even change your movement, but to notice what is or is not already present. Having my clients sit and notice their posture is eye-opening for a lot of them. They’re like, “No wonder I’m closed off to everything.”

I sit in a closed position. I couldn’t be more wrapped. I couldn’t be more closed in on myself. That’s not to shame or blame. We just have to become aware. If my movement goal is to be more open and expansive, and my cognitive goal is to do the same thing in a way that I can trust, be vulnerable, and feel secure, we can work together. We can work on the balance between mind and body and how do I safely open or learn to open my body so that I can be safe or feel safe in my mind as well. It’s not easy. It’s a faster trajectory for a lot of people when it comes to psychotherapy or mental health support.

Overall, it is a lifestyle, a practice that comes and goes and depends on how emotionally overwhelmed we already are. I was not super bodily aware of myself this past weekend. I was very taxed. I had a lot going on. It’s the first thing I think of when I can reground and recenter, “What don’t I have now? What movement do I need? What am I craving that I did not get enough of in the last 24 hours, week, whatever, however long?” It’s never too late to start moving.

What a perfect note to end on, “It’s never too late to start moving.” It’s never too late.

Eventually, we all stop moving.

Hopefully, move while you can. It’s another good one too. Thank you so much, Erica. I appreciate this. I felt much psychological safety with you, and that’s helped me consider things. I’ve already been curious about this conversation, and I imagine that will continue well after and help me become more aware of my body and all these nuances that I hadn’t considered until I spoke with you. It’s enlightening and delightful. Thank you for spending this time with me and with the readers and planting a lot of seeds.

As I said, those are some things that we could experiment with now in the present moment or aim for in the future to see how that contributes to our growth. What more could you ask for? That’s exactly what the show is about. I also loved when you said, “Not all discomfort is a threat.” I don’t think I’ve heard that before. I am a big proponent of the name of this show. It’s to lean into the discomfort and get curious about it, as you said. Thanks again, Erica, for being here with me, and thanks to the readers for being here with the two of us as we explore dance and movement in many ways that I wasn’t even expecting.

Thank you so much for the invitation and your beautiful platform. I appreciate it.


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About Erica Hornthal

MGU 430 | Therapeutic MovementErica Hornthal, a licensed clinical professional counselor and board-certified dance/movement therapist, is the CEO and founder of Chicago Dance Therapy. Since graduating with her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling, Erica has worked with thousands of patients from age three to 107. Known as the “Therapist Who Moves You,” Erica has truly changed the way people see movement with regard to mental health; moving people toward unlimited potential, greater awareness, and purpose by tapping into their innate body wisdom. In addition to her passion for working with cognitive and movement disorders, neurologic conditions, anxiety, depression, and trauma, Erica is an advocate for the field of dance/movement therapy. Erica is the author of the award winning book Body Aware.


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