Dance, Dance, Dance

Authentic Movement Can Ground You

By Jennie Hastings
[Savvy Self-Care]

Life as a massage therapist or bodyworker means we often pay attention to other people’s bodies, noticing what muscles need to be moved and how. We move our clients’ bodies through range of motion exercises and use intuition to coax tight areas to release. The partnership between client and therapist during a massage or bodywork session is much like a dance. So, it is no wonder that a marvelous form of self-care for therapists is to get up and dance.
Dancing is a way to become more fully embodied and grounded in our own selves. It has a way of weaving together our body, mind, and spirit as the movements we choose to make reflect what we are feeling at all of these levels. When I was a child, I took many dance classes, but mostly ballet. Dance class is a wonderful way to begin moving the body, feeling into the body, and learning technique. And yet the kind of dancing I am writing about here is not about following a prescribed form of movement, but allowing the most authentic form of movement possible to flow through the body.

Authentic Movement
Exploring authentic movement is valuable for massage therapists and bodyworkers because our work is based on movement. By the very nature of how we work, our movements are repetitive and focused on the benefit of the client. When we take the time to explore movement (and we can call the kind of dance I am writing about “exploration of movement”), we can begin to balance out the movement we do in our work.
I was recently in a dance workshop, and as we were undulating our ribs to the sound of a drum, the teacher said, “Massage your heart with your lungs.” This was a wonderful revelation for me. I had never thought of movement in this way—the idea that through my own movement I could use an internal part of my body to massage another internal part of my body. By using breath, awareness, and movement, we can massage all our internal organs and lubricate our joints.
I am a regular participant at a Sunday morning dance gathering near my home. It is called a community dance, although some people may call similar gatherings ecstatic dance. For two hours, a DJ plays music that starts out slow in the beginning, so the dancers can warm up and get used to moving, and then speeds up as people become ready to move, followed by a cool down at the end.
When I first began attending these dances, it was hard to not feel self-conscious. Even with all my dance training and comfort in a dance studio, it was difficult to let myself move freely. When we are exploring authentic movement, it is not necessarily graceful or beautiful. Sometimes the way our bodies need to move is nothing like a dance we have seen before. As we work out stagnant energy and release areas of tightness, we might need to explore a wide range of speed and space that almost feels out of control. This is where the emotional side of dancing comes in.
To move freely, we must allow ourselves to be with what is, to not judge ourselves or hold back because of what it might look like. For this reason, it might be more beneficial for you to dance alone, at least when you are beginning to explore authentic movement. As you become more comfortable with this kind of movement, you can begin to share it with other people.
There is great benefit to dancing with other people. Everybody seems to have a way they naturally move, and when you can see how other people are moving, you can begin to pick up styles of movement that have never occurred to you before. It is also enlivening to the heart to move with other people, to trust each other enough to explore movement together. There is something primal and exhilarating to dancing with a group, and it is also good practice for being aware of other people while staying connected to yourself.

Full Embodiment Through Dance
Now when I go to dance on Sunday mornings, I am much freer in my movement. I think about what I am doing, not what other people are seeing if they watch me. I want to move joy and love and life through my body. I want to move in a way that expresses my devotion to unity. I think of my movement as body prayers that are communicating (to no one but the universe) where I am in my life, how I feel, and what I need. Through this expression, I am better able to know myself. My physical, mental, and energetic bodies are purified and enlivened, and after focusing on myself for a while, I am more present and ready to serve others.
Dancing brings us into full embodiment. It requires presence and a willingness to embrace what is without judgment. These are great skills to hone as a massage therapist. If you need a dose of inspiration for your work and for your life, my advice is to turn on some music and dance, dance, dance.

Exploring Your Dance
What does it feel like to explore all the ways you can move your body? Turn on some music that inspires you to move and begin to reach your arms all around. Now your legs. Explore the full range of motion of all your joints. Open the front of your body; now stretch forward, opening your back. Stand on your feet, then explore the ground with your hips, hands, and back. Move the sides of your body. Exploring authentic movement is like a bodywork session you give to yourself.

Jennie Hastings is a board-certified massage therapist, writer, and yoga teacher. She is the author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). Hastings believes having a career in massage and bodywork means having infinite possibilities, and she is always exploring new ways to evolve her practice. You can find more from her at