Rider senior will explore therapeutic power of dance in master's program

Julia Weiss to study dance movement therapy at Pratt Institute
Rachel Stengel '14

The mind-body connection dance provides has always been apparent to Julia Weiss. She wants to help those struggling with an array of psychological disorders discover the healing power of that relationship.

After graduation, the dance major will leap into Pratt Institute's dance movement therapy master's program to prepare herself for a career using her passion to create change. It is one of only seven graduate programs in the U.S. approved by the American Dance Therapy Association.

“I like to say what physical therapy is for the body, dance movement therapy is for the mind," she says. "You’re taking something that’s not working properly and doing something to help change that.”

Dance movement therapy is an emerging psychological field. The expressive therapy examines the correlation between movement and emotion in addition to promoting emotional, social, cognitive and physical well-being. Therapists typically work in hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers. Dance movement therapy has been particularly successful when treating those with eating disorders as it helps promote self-esteem and body positivity.

"I didn't even know this field existed until I took a dance lab about it," Weiss says. “I remember thinking, 'Wow, I can still do dance, but also bring my interests in psychology and teaching together.'”

She was first introduced to therapy in her sophomore year during a class with adjunct instructor Eri Millrod, a certified dance movement therapist. She led the class through a variety of exercises and explained how she incorporates them when working with clients. Sessions usually include a significant amount of improvisation and discussion about how a movement and the music made each person feel.

“The class and the dance program in general gave me a broader view of what dance can do," Weiss says. "Before Rider, I thought dance was just for performance — learning choreography and steps — but after taking all these different classes, I see that dance is just so much more.”

Weiss will begin supervised fieldwork in dance movement therapy immediately along with courses focused on psychology, anatomy, kinesiology and neuroscience. After earning her master's, she hopes to work with children with autism to promote their social and communication skills.

"I'm excited to learn more about why we behave the way we do and the mind-body connection," Weiss says. "Dance movement therapy teaches that through movement we can heal ourselves.”