Dancing to Heal

An Interview with Creative Dance Psychologist Rachel Jordana Horodezky

By Emmaly Wiederholt

Bodies are powerful vessels of feeling; most dancers know this inherently, that movement can transform and heal. So when a friend of mine emailed me about her experience taking Creative Dance Psychology, a form of therapy that integrates dance, I was intrigued. I wanted to talk to the woman who had founded this practice and who had applied dance to the realm of psychology. That woman is Rachel Jordana Horodezky, and in this interview she describes how she came to implement dance into her therapeutic practice. My friend who took her class has additionally written about her experience, and this will be posted next on Stance On Dance.

Creative Dance Psychology

Emmaly Wiederholt: How does Creative Dance Psychology differ from other approaches to therapy?

Rachel Jordana: The traditional mode of therapy is by talking and my sense is that talking is not always enough, and in fact we can actually use talking as a way of getting around a subject we need to address. The body, however, doesn’t lie. Once you put it in movement you can really see what’s real. So it differs because it’s integrating the tangible body and the spirit. It’s a more holistic approach.

EW: How did you develop Creative Dance Psychology?

RJ: There are two things that happened that made me go down this route. The first was that I was in a traditional PhD program for clinical psychology and I went to one of my professors who was quite artistic, perhaps the least mainstream one. And I said to her, “I’d like to do an independent study on expressive arts.” And she said, “Oh honey, I think you’re going to have to do something more legitimate than that.” And I thought, “Are you kidding me? The expressive arts can do so much more than talk therapy. How can this not be considered legitimate in a mainstream school?” So that was the beginning, when I felt stifled by what I couldn’t do in my program.

Then the next thing that happened was that I rediscovered dance. I used to love dance when I was a kid. It was really fun and free but something happened along the way where I started to feel very self-conscious and that dance was about looking good and attracting a mate and so I stopped dancing because I felt very uncomfortable. But when I was about 27 I stepped into an Ecstatic Dance class. It’s a class where you dance however you feel like. It’s not about what you look like; it’s about being in the music and being present and stripping away the layers of pretension and being with your authentic self. And the experience was so freeing for me and so amazing that I started to dance every day after that. And I realized while I was dancing every day that I was getting just as much if not more from that than I was from the therapy I was getting as part of my doctorate program. Also as a therapist I felt that there was an element I wasn’t able to quite get at with my clients. I was noticing that my shoulders had stories to tell or my heart had a story to tell. There are elements of my body that have a lot of information. And the information in my client’s body I wasn’t able to get at in therapy, so I wanted to create something where I would be able to do that.

Later, I had a supervisor and a team of other mentors who developed a philosophy called Creative Depth Psychology. The philosophy is a combination of expressive arts and traditional therapies. And they needed someone to find a way to introduce Creative Depth Psychology through dance, and so I did. My first conference was by the seat of my pants, but it went over really well and felt like something I was channeling or something that came to me. Everyone loved it and I kind of ended up taking over the conference a little bit. And so Creative Dance Psychology was born and I said to myself, “I guess this is what I’m doing now.” I put on a workshop and it sold out and I put on another workshop and it sold out and then someone asked me to Hawaii and Vancouver so now I’m travelling with it and it’s getting well received.

EW: How long have you been doing Creative Dance Psychology and how has it evolved over that time?

RJ: Its two year anniversary was the last weekend of August. At the beginning I started trying to catalog it. I wanted to create an evidence-based practice that would be researchable and where there would be a manual people could teach from so that I could develop some concrete scientific evidence that it works. So I started to develop the manual but realized there was no way I could develop it unless I was also teaching it. So my first workshop was in December of 2011 and it sold out, and then I started teaching workshops every other month for the first year and in the second year it just took off. I started getting invited to conferences every week or every other week in difference places. I developed the level one training and had the first annual level one training last year and the second will be this year. I also got asked to teach at JFK University in the holistic psychology department. I taught Creative Dance Psychology and it was so well received they hired me as adjunct faculty. It’s getting lots of press as well. It’s gaining momentum because it works and it’s fun.

EW: What sort of results have you seen?

RJ: So far I’ve only taught day-long workshops on individual groups, but I’m working toward developing it into a seven week program. Often though the effects of a workshop ripple and I later hear from people what happened. For example there’s an opportunity to create resolution with family members who aren’t there. This can be people who have died or who aren’t available to talk. I have heard about people who have had beautiful resolutions in the workshop and go out and notice patterns change in their familial relationships. Or another example, I was working in an institution with someone who had catatonic schizophrenia and wouldn’t talk to me. We did this movement session that involved opening up and after an hour he talked to me and asked me to play basketball with him. Different people write to me often and tell me it helped them let go of a difficult pattern. But mostly the workshop is meant to be more of a seed for growth. Your whole life’s not going to change after a five hour workshop, but it does open new pathways and ideas, and puts you on a new trajectory toward healing.

EW: Have you noticed a difference between people who are active in their lifestyle versus people who are sedentary?

RJ: Well I’ve noticed that when someone is sedentary they get the immediate benefits of exercise. In those circumstances it’s difficult to know if they are responding to the therapy or just because it’s exercise. Professional dancers or athletes have a different kind of appreciation because they didn’t always realize they could use dance as a healing method. I know a sports psychologist who had never experienced anything like Creative Dance Psychology and it opened his eyes to a new way of being. He didn’t even know something like that was possible.

EW: Have you experienced closed-mindedness about it?

RJ: Oh yeah. I have been recruited to teach at different work retreats where I’m a guest teacher and people have been sitting most of the time and they haven’t signed up or volunteered to do my workshop, and in those situations I reach a lot of resistance. But interestingly the people who are most resistant are the people who often get the most out of it. They might be very resistant at the beginning but get loosened up over time and then generally have more significant ground-breaking “aha” moments in a short amount of time. A flip gets switched.

EW: How do you see Creative Dance Psychology growing in the long run?

RJ: I’m hoping to have it be part of the curriculum in different psychology schools. I really want it to be considered legitimate and backed by research and part of psychology programs. In a traditional psychology program you have to learn about 20 different modes of therapy and not one examines the arts and the use of the body.

And then I hope to get it accepted by insurance companies, that there will one day be enough evidence that Creative Dance Psychology helps people feel better faster that it should be something used in institutions and supported by insurance. But that’s a very big goal.

However, I’m excited to keep going and if there’s anyone interested in research of this nature please contact me. What I’m trying to do is be part of the movement-movement. But it will take a lot of work and I can use a lot of help.

Photo by Masayo Benoit