Counseling Today

Counselor Career Stories: Dancing, movement and counseling in the inner city

Rebecca Daniel-Burke March 14, 2009

During a coffee break at the American Association of State Counseling Boards Conference in Tucson, Ariz., in January, I greeted the very fit-looking woman sitting beside me. As we talked, I learned that she lived in a counseling world of dance. Afterward, as I considered our conversation, I realized I wanted to tell her story.

So, meet Robyne Davis. She possesses a wealth of information on a topic that I knew very little about. Some of her experiences may prove helpful to you as you navigate the terrain of your career path.

Rebecca Daniel-Burke:Tell me about your current counseling position.

Robyne Davis: I work at SAIL (School for Arts in Learning) in Washington, D.C., just three blocks from the White House. It is a charter school for kids K-7. Seventy-five percent of the students are from low-income families, and half have learning disabilities. I am the school counselor. I work in a traditional way as a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I work in a less-traditional way with dance/movement therapy. I mix general counseling with mindfulness, honoring the body/mind connection.

RDB:Is there a specific certification for your specialty?

RD:Yes, I am an ADTR. Entry into the profession of dance/movement therapy is at the master’s level. The title Dance Therapist Registered (DTR) is granted to entry-level dance/movement therapists who have a master’s degree, which includes 700 hours of supervised clinical internship. The advanced level of registry, Academy of Dance Therapist Registered (ADTR), is awarded only after DTRs have completed 3,640 hours of supervised clinical work in an agency, institution or special school, with additional supervision from an ADTR.

RDB:An ADTR and an LPC. That is very impressive.

RD:Thank you. We have really worked hard to help LPCs and the public understand what is required to become an ADTR.

RDB:Give me an example of how you begin working with a child at SAIL.

RD:I do a lot of “Here & Now” work focusing on movement. Some of the children might have boundary issues, for example, and might be bothering other students. I might use something like a hula hoop — have a child stand in the middle and move his or her body without touching other students who are also in hula hoops.

I might be working with a child with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I can see the excess energy in their body. I may stand beside them and move in a way similar to the child. If their movements are too rapid, I might begin to move more slowly, helping them to breathe and slow their movements.

RDB:How do you provide an assessment?

RD:I use an assessment tool called LMA.

RDB:What is that?

RD:Laban Movement Analysis is a system for understanding, observing, describing and notating all forms of movement. It was devised by Rudolf Laban. LMA draws on Laban’s theories of effort and shape to describe, interpret and document human movement.

RDB:It is far more scientific than I thought. How might you help a child who is using a self-soothing behavior such as sitting and rocking rapidly?

RD:I would sit beside them and move in a way similar to their movements, and then I might begin to slow. Then I might begin to rock from side to side as opposed to back and forth. I would lift my head and try to slowly move out of that closed position. They feel a different pattern in their body at that time. Some call this neuro-mirroring, a way of making a connection on an unconscious level.

RDB:How did your passion for movement and dance evolve?

RD:As a child, I studied ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance. I used to think people were born with different smarts. I had body smarts. I even did clogging, salsa and swing. I was always very kinesthetically oriented.

RDB:What did you study when you attended college?

RD:I have a B.A. in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then I got a master’s in dance/movement therapy from Goucher College in Maryland.

RDB:What were your first professional jobs?

RD:I worked with at-risk youth in a community counseling center in Chicago, with young people at a homeless shelter and at an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

RDB:What lessons did you learn in those environments?

RD:I learned that when you stir up profound feelings, there can be very intense reactions. I was a little too trusting in the beginning. I had to learn to consider safety, particularly when working in the inpatient psychiatric setting.

RDB:Safety can never be minimized. Now let me ask you a question about your early years. Did someone see something special in you early on?

RD:Yes, my mother. She is a pianist. She believed in exposing us to the arts. She took us to concerts, museums and recitals. Even if a parent has little money, in D.C., all of the museums are free. It is a wonderful family outing to go to a museum and expose children to that world.

RDB:Do you have a theoretical hero, a theorist who inspires you?

RD:(Carl) Jung is my theoretical hero. He opened me to the symbolism within the unconscious. Nonverbal behaviors are symbols; they communicate so much. Jung went to a deep level with his work on the unconscious and symbolism. It never ceases to amaze me.

RDB:You work full time in a very challenging environment. How do you take care of yourself?

RD:I dance whenever I can. In this culture, we celebrate things with dance. At a wedding, at the inauguration, the first dance is very important to us as a culture. So I celebrate life by dancing whenever I can.

I have two children in first and third grades. I have a lot of fun with them playing outside. My husband and I always try to set time aside for ourselves as a couple. We enjoy going out to museums, dance recitals, plays, etc. I fill myself back up when I feel drained. I do yoga, attend dance classes and just go outside for a walk.

RDB:Is there anything else you want our readers to know about your story?

RD:I am constantly amazed at where our journey takes us. I am honored to be a part of the journey of others. Doors open when we least expect it. Even when doors close, sometimes windows open that help us see what we need to see. I am where I need to be today. This is where my journey has taken me, and it has made all the difference.

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To learn more about dance/movement therapy, visit the American Dance Therapy Association website at adta.org/.

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The American Counseling Association values the opportunity to honor the career paths of working counselors with Counselor Career Stories. The hope is that the lessons these counselors share each month will be helpful to working counselors and students alike as they seek employment and career fulfillment. For additional assistance with career and employment issues, visit the ACA Career Center at counseling.org/CareerCenter/, where current online job listings and state and federal employment lists can also be viewed.

Rebecca Daniel-Burkeis the director of the ACA Career Center. Contact her at RdanielBurke@counseling.org if you have questions, feedback or suggestions for future columns.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org