Read this original post and more at My Honey & Co.
Written by Sabrina Mahoney
“Since five years old, I have been pulled in two directions. On one hand, I was outgoing and enthused by dance. My family’s home videos all show me twirling around, shakin’ it to N’Sync in front of my audience of stuffed animals. But on the other hand, sadly, these performances always stayed to confines of my room because I was chubby, quiet and terrified of failure. And so, despite my true passions, I was resolute in my career choice to become anything but a dancer.
At age eleven when asked: What do you want to be when you grow up? I answered very gravely. Envisioning my future pant suit and horn-rimmed glasses wearing self, I would answer, “I want to be a therapist!”
Clearly, my young mind didn’t fully grasp the complex adult world of relationships, independence, finance or really– anything that is involved in Psychotherapy. I just had this abstract idea of a comfortable chair, a leather-bound notebook that contained session notes and a cup of coffee that I would sip politely while people divulged their problems on a plush couch. It seemed dignified and comfortable. I wanted to be sensible, helpful. In short, I envisioned “Sabrina’s Big, Practical Plan.”
Fast forward: “Sabrina’s Big, Practical Plan” kept me dutifully on course all the way into my undergraduate program getting my psychology degree at UC Santa Cruz. The world of psychology is filled with compelling theories and some fascinating insights into human behavior.
I am currently studying psychological theories that show us how people justify inequality and injustice between different groups. System Justification Theory explores why societies tend to preserve institutions as they are. It states that when inequality is made obvious, justification of that inequality is actually more likely to increase because our perception of the status-quo always seems ultimately legitimate! And that’s just one theory that is so relevant and insightful concerning our current social climate. Fascinating, right?
With all of these interesting insights into human behavior, I felt confident in my area of study. But as time wore on, through all the fun I was having uncovering Classical Conditioning and Attachment Theory, I began admitting to myself that my degree felt safe. The thought of a doctorate, a big office and providing mental health services only for those who could afford to pay began feeling privileged. My plan became “Sabrina’s Big, Super Safe and (Sometimes Elitist) Practical Plan.”
Always the problem solver, I started taking dance classes on campus. A ballet class here, History of Modern Dance class there and before I knew it, I was becoming a dance minor. I was rediscovering how much I genuinely enjoyed dance. Yes, even the grueling technique classes, the involved historical theory, the bruised knees and the peeling toes. Each time I improved, I felt fulfilled.
I started making up cool dances to artists I liked. Thanks, Chance. See? Not having my nose in Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology surprised me a little too.
Because I had been studying psychology for some time, I found myself starting to analyze dance. In a Cognitive Psych class I took, we studied Embodied Cognition. This is the idea that cognition is not solely housed in the brain, but is informed by an embodied awareness of the world through systems like sensory input and spatial awareness. Or, as professor Raymond Gibbs, Cognitive Psychologist, puts it:
“[Embodiment is] people’s subjective. [The] felt experiences of their bodies in action provide[s] part of the fundamental grounding for language and thought.”
And so, our bodies in motion (like how we move when we’re dancing) can provide us with concrete information about how we perceive our world! This inspired me and I began to see more amazing parallels between my dance and psychology classes. I felt like my involvement in one world gave me a more nuanced perspective in the other.
My family began encouraging me to keep dancing. Despite all these breakthroughs I was having, I brushed them off, thinking that I could never be a professional dancer in a dance company because of my lack of experience in technique classes. There seemed to be no place for me to continue dancing after I graduated.
Then, on one seemingly unspectacular day, I Googled “Dance Therapy” because at this point in my academic career, I couldn’t tell which one I loved more. I initially anticipated the results yielding ads for elderly jazzercise classes or wellness based flash-mobs, but the first link was for the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). I couldn’t believe it! There, all along, was a community that had the exact same passions as me. An entire profession dedicated to dance and movement therapy. Let’s be real: I was hooked.
The American Dance Therapy Association is the national organization that is dedicated to the professional development of dance and movement therapists. Dance and Movement Therapy or DMT uses psychotherapeutic movement to facilitate healing. It utilizes the creative force dance is to improve our lives and create space to address psychosocial problems through creative means. By emphasizing the mind-body connection, DMT provides another language for people to access their inner lives. It works to bridge the often engulfing distance between mind and body.
Exciting work in psychology has even explored the role dance therapy can play in providing psychosocial support to those living in conflict areas such as countries with continuous warfare and political unrest. Since dance has long been appreciated as a cultural practice that simultaneously engages body, mind and spirit, arts mediated activities in conflict areas can strengthen individual resilience while also supporting community rehabilitation. My website, Arts Advocacy For War Affected Children In Africa, focuses on the positive psychosocial effects of reintegrating cultural arts practices in communities affected by ongoing conflict. I wanted our research to show how access to art can be a tool to promote resilience within communities.
This research just got me more excited to keep dancing. Now in my senior year, I have just signed on as a co-director of the largest annual dance production on my campus, Random With a Purpose. Three years ago, I was too timid to stay for the audition and now am directing and choreographing it. The transformation is still a total shock. All my research in psychology and movement therapy has helped me find my voice as artist, future therapist and individual.
In those first years of my undergraduate career, I never saw myself dancing past college. Now, with my years of abounding wisdom and lived experiences, I am ready to enter the professional realm with the divine confidence and surety that I can pursue all of my passions simultaneously. Joking!
Of course, I’m still figuring out where my life is heading and where I’m supposed to make my impact in this spaghetti-styled mess called humanity. However, I am now absolutely convinced to listen very keenly to my inner voice that was never willing to fully silence itself. Turns out, the little five year old in our home videos dancing to N’SYNC knew what she was all about.”
About January’s Boss Lady: Sabrina Mahoney is a Fourth Year Psychology Student and Dance Minor at UC Santa Cruz. She plans to study Dance/Movement Therapy and is passionate about exploring movement programs that promote psychosocial healing in underprivileged communities. When not in a dance studio, Sabrina can be seen performing with her friends on Humor Force Five, a long-form comedy improv troupe at UC Santa Cruz. Sabrina is an avid lover of historical fiction, vegetarian diners and very sunny beach days. Follow her on Instagram.
Think Dance Therapy is Inspiring Too? Click Here For More:
Dance Therapy In Action
Sabrina’s Dance Website
Get Involved with ADTA
[Photo Credit: Andrew Wofford]