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Healing spiritual and emotional trauma through dance

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“When it comes to breaking traumatic cycles, whether that be addiction or poverty or whatever, once you put in someone the core belief that they have power, it really enables outreach and change.”

This is how Chelsey Hicks explains why she designed and implemented Dance Thru It, a program for helping people of all ages and backgrounds discover dance as a form of healing; she knows that physically expressing emotions helps to process trauma and experiences that may not fit into words.

A mighty cosmic force in her own right, Hicks describes dance as a way to process internal feelings through external movement — “the ultimate way to tell a story that may not be ready for words,” she says.

Hicks piloted Dance Thru It with a community centre in St. John’s this past year. She worked with a group of young girls to physically release their traumatic, painful, or stressful experiences. The program uses virtues-based programming to discuss trauma and emotions, and then participants manifest the discussion physically through dance.

The virtues, as developed by The Virtues Project, are characteristics and attitudes that can be practiced to foster an authentic and meaningful life, such as generosity, honesty, courage, and thankfulness. Hicks explains that using the language of the virtues to discuss people’s lives and experiences forms the basis for participants to be able to physically express their emotions and stories.

Community groups and a range of organizations have asked Hicks to run the Dance Thru It program with their clients, participants, and staff, she says.

Dance Thru ItHicks insists that the sky is the limit for Dance Thru It and says the program could be used in corporate office settings to manage stress, among university students, single-parents, those living with mental illness and addiction, and marginalized demographics such as the queer community (including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, two-spirited, transgendered), people living in poverty, those living with disabilities, and more.

With organizations lining-up to book her, Hicks says St. John’s is clearly in desperate need of healthy, positive coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma.

While everyone experiences some form of trauma, sorrow, or abuse in their lives, not everyone has the financial means to participate in healing programs, so Hicks is determined to remove the financial barrier associated with dancing. This is why the grassroots, community-driven nature of Dance Thru It is so important for her — her own journey has led to a deep appreciation of “the different privileges and oppressions that exist in our society.”

A key aspect of Dance Thru It is the absence of mirrors in the room where participants talk and dance. Hicks says that having no mirrors is crucial because when people stop thinking about how they look then they can concentrate on “the importance of the movement and the connection between the body and the soul … How it feels for you.

“Some movements can be very intense; a movement can be such a deep story that doesn’t look artistically appealing. Removing the mirrors literally removes barriers and people can move more freely and discover parts of themselves, both physically and emotionally.”

Don’t worry, you don’t need to go through the Dance Thru It program to dance out your stress, trauma, joy, or sorrow. Here are Hicks’ tips for practicing positive self-awareness:

  • Take down your mirror for a day: Spend a whole day just feeling your body, instead of looking at it.
  • Come to grips with the power of your body: Think about all the functions of your body and how everything works, moves, and fits together. Think about your ten toes (or however many toes you have), your ankles, the bones and muscles in your legs. Think about how they work. Realize and internalize the power that is the human body.
  • Shake, shrug, and wiggle the parts of your body that feel tight. Many people hold stress in their shoulders. Try closing your eyes and shrugging your shoulders. Forward, backward, side to side. Move until you feel looser than you did earlier. Think about how the physical movement impacted your mood, thoughts, and emotions.

Currently, Hicks is travelling to present the Dance Thru It program design at the Child and Youth Mental Health Symposium (Prince Edward Island) and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity National Allyship Conference (Ontario).

If you require support or assistance in dealing with stress, mental health, abuse, or other forms of trauma, please contact one of these organizations:

  • Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (N.L. Police): dial 1-709-729-8000, or 911 in the case of an emergency.
  • N.L. Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-709-737-4668 or 1-888-727-4668
  • Crisis Support and Information Line (N.L. Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre): 1-800-726-2743

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