Understanding the Power of Dance and Movement in Therapy; Interview with Francine Lee Mirro-Finer

…enlivened. And that is the word I like so much with dancing, it enlivens you.

L: Francine, you’ve been a psychodynamic therapist and dance movement therapist for over 40 years. Where did your interest for the embodied healing arts begin?

F: I think it’s kind of cute…I’ll answer you in three steps. The first was like many young girls, when I was almost 8 years old, I told my mom I wanted to go to dance school and of course I wanted to study ballet there. When I went to the school, the lady told me that she didn’t think that I had the body of a dancer and so I think I cried for three weeks. It was so painful to be rejected on that level. So I was sitting at a table and thinking ‘’What else…?’’ and then I thought ‘’Maybe I should tap dance.’’. So that’s how it started, and tap dancing led to modern dancing and then, when I was a teenager, I will never forget this, I saw a woman dancing flamenco and there was something about the way… the straightness but also the way she was stamping. So I went and I studied flamenco and later on I danced Lindy Hop; it was very popular when I was growing up. So that was how I got involved with dance and what I remember is going into the dance class and not being particularly happy and would always come out enlivened.

And that is the word I like so much with dancing, it enlivens you.

L: Right, so that’s where the interest began.

F: So I just danced all the time. When I was in high school, I did and was in charge of all the school dances. But then what happened is that I decided to become a political scientist and the reason for that was that I worked in the civil rights movement. When the integration law was passed, I saw the hatred that was around, especially towards the young black children. What it led to is that I started to do dance activities with these children inside the school, after-school ‘dance-ins’. Dancing with them enlivened my dance because there was something about the way they moved that hadn’t been taken away from them yet.

L: Yes.

F: Then I started to work in politics and I realized that people brought a lot of their neuroses and their psychological problems into politics. So therefore I felt it was much better for me to be a psychologist.

L: Right.

F: Then I studied to be a therapist and I liked psychodynamics better than psychology because though I took a lot of courses in psychology, it was too intellectual. I like the dynamic of how you develop a relationship with the client in therapy.

L: For those of us who don’t really know what psychodynamic therapy is, can you give us a short explanation?

F: Yes, it is when the therapist and the client have a dialogue with each other; where the therapist involves themselves. You can give some personal examples and say that what the client is saying reverberates very much with you. You don’t just sit and take notes, you interact.

Then, after I moved to Sweden in the 1980’s, I took a course in Gestalt therapy, and what I liked about the Gestalt therapy was that it brought in the body much more. We worked on chairs and did role-playing.

L: So why and where did you chose to study dance movement therapy?

Then, my old university in New York, they called me up and said that they wanted to do a dance movement therapy masters in ‘Norden’ and said that if I could help them fix it, I could get it for free. Since I had three small children and could only work halftime, the thought of taking this education and then getting it for free was fantastic. So I helped set it up in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. I studied here and was able to do my internship here as well. What was great was that we were in the dance college in Stockholm for 12 years. Unfortunately they kicked us out because it didn’t generate enough money but we still have the Dance Movement Therapy Association here in Sweden.

L: What populations have you’ve worked with over the last four decades?

F: When I started to work with dance movement therapy, I worked a lot with bodily issues; I worked a lot with incest, eating disorders and children with birth traumas. I also worked with highly stressed professionals in Sweden and musicians.

At the moment I am working a lot with couples, which is more shorter term therapy since I am not sure when I will retire. But I really enjoy working with couples because then you see how ‘un-attuned’ they are to each other.

L: Why is working with dance movement therapy different than more conventional psychotherapy or talk therapy?

F: Well one of the things that is beautiful is to see someone talk about something that they are experiencing and then to be able to dance with them. When they sit down again, they have a whole new way to see it.

L: It changes their perspective.

F: Totally. But the most fun is the transition of getting up from the stool onto the floor and when I chose to dance with a person or not. Working with the body can also reveals another part of oneself that a person doesn’t stay in touch with.

L: How can working with the body and movement help with trauma?

F: What happens is, you can see by the way a person moves, where they are keeping the trauma in their body. With trauma, as I have seen with a victim of incest from a very young age, is that with the therapy, she could slowly claim her body back again and get rid of her feelings of shame. The problem is often that the person wasn’t seen, heard or supported by their family or direct environment. That’s why I also work with the family as a whole.

L: So you also look at trauma from a systemic point of view.

F: I think that’s very important.

L: It’s a powerful tool the body. Can you give us a concrete example as to how you use the body and movement in therapy to assist the healing/self-discovery process?

F: When I worked with incest, the abuse ‘stayed’ in their bodies, but they eventually got well and ‘got back’ their bodies after a few years and started to have relationships and families of their own. I even started to assist in the births of their children. It was wonderful.

L: It sounds like you developed a special relationship with your clients.

F: Yes.

L: Do you think anyone can benefit from dance movement therapy?

F: I would say the answer is no and the reason is that it’s one thing if the person choses to come to me but if they don’t choose, then what is my way in? In the last 30 years, no one has come who isn’t willing to use their body.

L: There is a growing interest and need to work in embodied ways. Are there any other modalities or tools that you use in your dance movement therapy sessions?

Yes for example, I’ve used these ankle weights, which gave the clients a whole new way of feeling grounded. With some people I want to get them to see their own body in movement, so either we record the dance or I ask them to draw on a big sheet of paper on the wall right after dancing. This gets them to see the ‘moving body’. With the video, they can reflect on how they feel about watching themselves dance. I just love that.

L: I guess it could be a bit uncomfortable or confrontational.

F: Yes. Then sometimes I join them at some point in the dance. After we discuss about what changed in their dancing when they got a partner and when their partner was a therapist. How did they adapt to this situation.

Then, depending on age groups, I can use several dance styles and techniques. I worked a lot with flamenco and teenage girls for example. I’ve worked with women dancing tango by themselves. When a woman is pregnant, I use belly dancing.

L: Is there a message you would like to convey to the world about yourself and the work you have managed to remain so passionate about for over 40 years?

F: The biggest difference after 5-6 years of working in this field is that I’ve learned how to be present and not be absorbed by whatever the other person was bringing into the therapy – not to let it take over me. It’s an art to really feel what the other person is feeling but never to loose the feeling that you exist too.

Funny thing is, I danced and made drawings last weekend with a friend and what was mirrored back to me by her was really interesting, she said: ‘’You in that moment are dancing. You are the universe and you have birds flying all around you and taking your message out into the world.’’ So I just started to cry. It’s so deep and rewarding to do this work.

L: So profound. Thank you for continuing to spread your wings and for sharing your work with the world!