Dance, Empowerment and Spirituality
: An ethnography of Movement Medicine

  • Eline Kieft

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis offers the first anthropological description of Movement Medicine, a
    contemporary movement meditation practice that blends together and is informed
    by different ingredients such as ecstatic dance, shamanism, voice work, and
    psychotherapeutic elements. Both the practice and the thesis emphasise movement,relationship with self, others and the world, ritual and ceremony. My argument is that the combination of different traditions that inform the practice, together with its metaphoric language and use of a variety of symbols opens different ways of viewing and managing life processes, so contributing to experiences of expanded consciousness and a sense of reconnection. The dance enables an integration of opposites and the creation of a new frame of meaning or reference.

    The motivation behind this study is a curiosity about people’s search for meaning
    and (self-)understanding in western culture at this time. With the decline of
    traditional religious frameworks, the focus of this search has changed, leading to
    the remarkable rise of so called alternative spiritualities. Having danced all my life
    and being a Movement Medicine participant myself, I am particularly intrigued by
    the role that dance can play in dealing with the increasing demands of a fast and
    often fragmented world.

    Through a combination of hermeneutic and ethnographic methodologies, which
    include over five years of participant observation, 25 qualitative interviews and
    analysis of 190 articles in three volumes of the ‘School of Movement Medicine’s’
    newsletter, I provide an analysis of people’s experiences to elucidate the
    mechanisms and contributions of this practice to the participants’ wellbeing, their
    personal growth and their experience of spirituality.

    In the first part of the thesis (Introduction, and Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4), I situate the practice within the socio-historic context of growth movements that have emerged since the 1960s, and explore the background of Movement Medicine, its ‘philosophy’ and symbols, aspects regarding the ‘School of Movement Medicine’
    as a business, and the relation of the practice to other traditions and world views
    such as (neo-)shamanism and New Age. This also includes a detailed description of the practice in Chapter 4. After a brief Intermezzo, in the second part of the thesis (Chapters 5-8) I discuss the empirical data, describing how, according to
    participants, Movement Medicine contributes to personal growth and wellbeing in
    the areas of body, emotions, mind and spirituality.

    Through this dance practice, people are able to experience anew their own
    embodiment and connection to others, and this has an empowering, healing and
    transformational impact on their sense of self. The insights gleaned through the
    practice do not remain within the confines of the studio but are integrated into
    participants’ daily lives in multiple ways, contributing to changes with regard to the body, self, relationships, work, values, actions and spirituality.

    The thesis contributes to understanding what can constitute meaningful,
    transformative experiences and therefore has a wider relevance. It presents not just another example of the rise of alternative spiritualities and the continued search for meaning in western culture, but develops this understanding in a way that might also be applied to and implemented in settings such as schools, community centres and social care work, helping people deal with the demands of contemporary culture in a variety of situations.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAndrée Grau (Supervisor) & Anna Pakes (Supervisor)

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