The Moving Child: 3 Part Film Advances Dance Movement Therapy in Trauma Treatment and Creative Arts Therapy Mix

The Moving Child: 3 Part Film Advances Dance Movement Therapy in Trauma Treatment and Creative Arts Therapy Mix

The project began as 15 minute DVD that was to be an in-office tool to help explain developmental movement and the work of dance movement therapists (DMTs). Perhaps because the need for resources about this part of the ascending interest in creative arts therapy was so great, the short film mushroomed into 30 taped interviews. This wealth of demonstrations, case studies and dialogues were then shaped by the project director/producer, Hana Kamea Kemble, RCC, BC-DMT into the 3-part The Moving Child documentary. With both trauma and creative arts gaining higher profile, at the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and elsewhere, the timing appears to be particularly strong for this well-produced documentary to launch DMTs and therapeutic movement as a presence in multiple healthcare contexts.

The 3 Parts:

  • The Moving Child I: Supporting Early Development Through Movement
  • The Moving Child II: Dance Therapy in Action
  • The Moving Child III: Developmental Movement in the First Year

Along the way, Kemble’s project picked up significant support. The Marian Chace Foundation, named for the professional credited as one of the founders of DMT, financially supported the project and helped bring in a number of donors. The foundation is associated with the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). Some time integrative health philanthropist Lucy Gonda, UCLA educated in the 1970s with a Masters in Dance Movement Therapy, was among those who substantially contributed. (Gonda is also an Integrator philanthropic partner and brought this work to may attention.)  Kemble shares that the ADTA has also been directly supportive. The association has given her platforms to present the work at it’s national meetings. Kemble estimates the total costs of the effort at $150,000 for the first, when most of the footage was gathered, $40,000 for the second, and roughly $25,000 for the third.

The documentary fills a surprisingly large gap. When I asked Kemble what similar film resources are out there, she had just a few significant reference points over the 50 years of the field’s existence:

           Chace, Adler, and Reeves

In the late 1960s Janet Adler wrote on “authentic movement” and produced the film “Looking for Me.”  In the early 1980s, the ADTA produced The Power of Movement. The late actor Christopher Reeves narrated it. There have been some smaller films, typically focusing on one school or one teacher. There has always been a long connection for dance movement therapy with psychology and psychiatry. The work of Marian Chace has been documented. But no, there was no documentary film really out there looking at movement and early childhood development.

The documentary has appeared at a time when, according to Kemble, the DMT field is taking off. She points to how DMT supports trauma healing, dovetailing with a growing interest in how skillfully integrating the body and movement into psychotherapy is “being seen as imperative to recovery from traumatic experiences.” She alludes to Peter Levine Somatic Experiencing and to other forms of Body Psychotherapy that promote the need to work with the body. DMT, Kemble clarifies, while part of the Creative Arts Therapies, is also a form of ‘Somatic Psychotherapy: “It offers unique knowledge, understanding and facilitation of the healing power of movement for mental health.”

The field itself is a focus of the second of the three films. Giving visibility to the field was also part of Kemble’s motivation: “I wanted to feature different DMTs in different locales, to show the breadth of the work. There are so many areas where it can be    applied – hospitals, youth, psychiatry, prisons, school system, pre-school environments, and early childhood education.”

Kemble reached out to a similarly broad array of individuals – not all from DMT, to engage the work. The copy on the website notes that:

The Moving Child Films draw on interviews with experts in developmental movement, psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, neurology, psychiatry, dance/movement therapy, and cognitive science, including Dr. Carla Hannaford, Dr. Annie Brook, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Susan Loman, Myrna Martin, Dr. Martha Eddy, Kalila Homann and Dr. Bruce Perry, among others. The films also features diverse parents and children inspired to do things differently and discover new ideas!

Personal perspectives, and the science

I was mostly a new-comer to the field, and to somatic therapy when I sat down to watch the episodes. Some of the statements are at once fascinating and curious. One sequence shows the natural “breast crawl” of infants shortly after birth, to latch on. The movement therapists recommend that let the newborn find his or her way. Kemble led me to the science.

Kemble asserted that “the patterns of movement in infant and early development resemble those we see in the movement of different animals. We believe that we move in these ways that are similar because we carry the same DNA and our nervous system develops in patterns similar to other species.”

I found the idea intriguing – and it prompted another query about science, and more generally about the level of science behind the claims made by the interviewed experts. I noted that it was certainly not meant as a scientific power-point. She offered this:

      Perry, Stokes, Siegel, Adolph

I am writing an e-book with research reference links to people giving talks on key areas. It will guide people to the science if they want to look into it. We draw on neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel, MD [author of The Whole-Brain Child]. One resource who is featured in the film, Dr. Bruce Perry, the co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, has developed what he calls the “Neurosequential Model” of therapy that helps explain what we are advocating. There is research by Karen Adolph at New York University that is looking at developmental movement in babies, and the importance of crawling on brain development. We have reached out to physical therapists and occupational therapists and Movement Analyst and Somatic Movement Educator, and author of “Amazing Babies”, Beverly Stokes. What I tried to do is find experts in the field whose work backs up what we do. I am planning for January to make the E-book available through our website.

Kemble shared a few of the resources that will be part of the e-book. I include them at the bottom of this article.

Pushy parenting and neurotic parenting

There were times when watching that I began to be concerned that this documentary might have unintended consequences. Might the helicopter parenting impulse bore directly into the minutiae of the movements (or not) of one’s infant, in the earliest days, and create more grounds for neurotic and self-flagellating over-parenting? Kemble responded:

When I show the movie, I tell parents you may have grief. Stuff comes up for people about what they did, or what they didn’t do, for their own child, and also what they may not have experienced from their own parents. Parents have guilt already and this can stimulate more. We tried to strike a friendly tone. We featured parents on purpose who weren’t doing things perfectly. We chose not to get into lists of dos and don’ts to keep from being too pedantic.

I pursued this further – wondering if those watching might only develop their own lists of what they or their baby, their toddler, or their young child “ought” to be doing. She responded similarly:

A majority of the film is supporting people to not push babies and toddlers to do things until they are developmentally ready. This is good knowledge for any parent. An example is if you are sitting up a child who is not ready to sit, or asking them to walk too soon. They may become out of balance in the development of their body, reflexes and muscle groups recruited. Occupational therapist Bonnie Cohen, founder of The School for Body-Mind Centering, teaches in the first film that if infants are asked to do too much too soon in terms of sitting, it may produce over-extension of the spine or lordosis. The film teaches that if we ask babies to recruit particular movements that they are not biologically ready for yet, then this can cause stress, compensation patterns, over-activation and over-stimulation, rather than allowing the child to do the movements they are developmentally able to do. The film’s message is against promoting accomplishment at earlier and earlier ages. We want to support natural processes. The films also explore how movement therapists work to support re-patterning and healing through movement at any stage in life.

Concluding note

One focus here is on Dance Movement Therapy. Yet the overall mission is much broader, and less sectarian. The films offer unique learning about the potential value of multiple forms of dynamic movement that may be usefully engaged with children. This is at a time when childhood obesity, diabetes, anxiety and sedentary lifestyles are on the rise – when the World Health Organization has just issued new guidelines on “physical activity and sedentary behavior.”

It is also a time when the multi-layered traumas of 2020 underscore the importance of exploring potential contributions from all quarters. I recently reported on work of family physicians in Chicago in Giving Trauma It’s Due in Education, Diagnostic, and Treatment Processes: The THEN Effort. These stories intersect. The culture has a good deal of necessary unwinding ahead of it if we are to emerge healthy. Kemble offers a simple promise: “The films offer understanding for anyone interested in human development about how movement impacts emotional development and mental health.”

Notes on Viewing

The Moving Child films are available through If your university or college or public library is a Kanopy subscriber, they can be watched them for free. They are also available for streaming for a small fee here on the website.

Additional resources recommended by Kemble (some hyperlinked in the article):

Information on the science:

%d bloggers like this: