For many individuals in recovery, Jamie Marich, PhD, is helping to re-position the concept of dance from the dangerous realm of the club scene to a safe haven.
Marich, an Ohio addiction counselor who also writes and lectures on issues related to trauma, took an interest in various forms of dance from the time she was 4, but that fell away in her own addiction. When she resumed by starting to go to yoga and dance classes in her recovery, she began to realize that classes in which expression without boundaries was practiced did not offer a great fit for the recovering community.
“A lot of these classes didn’t take safety principles into account—people become too activated,” says Marich. “If instead you orient people into being mindful, and in the moment, dance then becomes safer.”
This launched Marich’s establishment of a concept she calls “Dancing Mindfulness,” which she now offers as a class in a studio setting open to the public. She also trains others to become instructors. Dancing Mindfulness is derived from the larger practice of “Conscious Dance,” a free-form expression that emphasizes inclusiveness and takes place in a substance-free environment.
“I have never seen this as clinical treatment, but I think it can be an adjunct to treatment in the way that yoga, fitness and art therapy are used,” Marich says.
On her Dancing Mindfulness website (www.dancingmindfulness.com), Marich describes the concept as one of using dance as the primary medium for discovering mindful awareness. She says it emphasizes honoring the body and accepting limitations without being shamed. The attitude taken into the classes is, “This is what I can do today, and that’s OK,” she says.
Significantly, participation in these classes allows individuals in recovery to resume an activity they once associated only with using substances, and perhaps other risk behaviors. “People in all stages of recovery come to the classes,” Marich says.
Marich’s role in the classes is generally one of guiding and commenting. A typical class begins with a basic mindfulness meditation to promote awareness of the body, followed by stretching, then stretching with rhythm and movement, and then progressing to dancing.
She uses a variety of music combining what one might hear in a typical yoga class with songs from popular culture. She mentions Bob Dylan as one artist whose work she turns to because of the meaningful messages in his music.
“Many think they can’t dance when they first come in,” Marich says. “But recovering people end up taking so well to this because a lot have associated dancing with clubbing in the past. One of the students once said to me, ‘I never thought I could dance like this without alcohol, because alcohol released my inhibitions.’ Here, the mindful attention is what releases inhibitions.”
The classes can be structured according to the abilities and fitness levels of participants. The classes Marich teaches are about 60 to 75 minutes in length and usually attract around 25 participants. She is currently offering them monthly but is looking at moving to a weekly schedule with the help of other instructors. Most of the participants in her classes are young or middle-aged women.
For the second consecutive year, Marich will be teaching Dancing Mindfulness at the annual conference of NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals. She sees the practice as being of potential use both within treatment facilities and in the community.