The Mind and Body Approach

Dance is based on the belief that the mind and body work together.  A thriving dancer is one who holds the mind and body as one in action.  The body is changeable, alterable, and defined by the dancer because it is constant with the mind.  Movement becomes the result of free choices and the dancer can be artistic in translating what the body is, what it can do, and what it can convey by pushing away the boundaries of limitation, whether the movement be self- or externally imposed.

Goodwin, D. L., Krohn, J., &Kuhnle, A. (2004). Beyond the wheelchair: The experience of dance. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 21, 229-247.

What Frame of Reference Would Dance Treatment be Based Upon?

Aspects of Clients and Explanations of Practice Offered by Conceptual Practice Models


Biomechanical Model

Cognitive Model

Functional Group Model

Intentional Relationship Model

Model of Human Occupation

Motor Control Model

Sensory Integration Model

Aspect of the client addressed by the model

Motion based on joint integrity, strength, and endurance

Cognitive capacities underlying performance

Group process influencing individual performance

Client interpersonal characteristics

Choices, organization, and performance of occupations in environment

Organization of skilled motor action based on CNS organization

Organization of sensory information in brain for adaptive movement

What the model explains about practice

How to enhance or compensate for limitations in range of motion, strength, and endurance

How to remediate or compensate for cognitive impairments

How to use functional groups to enhance client engagements in occupations

How to interact effectively with clients in order to support occupational engagement during therapy

How to enhance motivation, roles, habits, and skills

How to enhance the control of movement during occupational performance

How to enhance sensory processing and help clients cope with their unique sensory processing difficulties

The following are a few examples of occupational therapy frames of reference in relation to dance therapy.


Biomechanical Model


  • Musculoskeletal capacities that underlie functional motion in everyday occupational performance.
  • How the body is designed and used to accomplish motion for occupational performance.
  • Applied to persons who experience limitations in moving freely with adequate strength and/or in a sustained fashion.


  • Capacity for functional motion is based on:
    • Potential for motion at the joints (ROM)
    • Muscle strength
    • Endurance
  • Joint ROM depends on structure and function of joint and integrity of surrounding connective tissue, muscle, and skin.
  • Muscles cross one or more joints and exert force to control or produce movements allowed by structure of the joints.
  • Performance depends on simultaneous action of muscles across many joints producing stability and movement required for a task.
  • The ability to sustain muscle activity is a function of muscle physiology in relationship to work being done and supply of oxygen and energy materials from cardiopulmonary system. 
  • Movements produced during occupational performance are as much a function of dynamic circumstances of performance as they are of structure of the musculoskeletal system. 
  • Capacity for movement affects and is affected by occupational performance.

Therapeutic Intervention:

  • Interventions focus on intersection of motion and occupational performance and can be divided into three approaches:
    • Prevention of contracture and maintenance of existing capacity for motion
    • Restoration by improving diminished capacity for motion
    • Compensation for limited motion
  • Intervention aims to minimize any gap between existing capacity for movement and functional requirements of ordinary occupational tasks.

Therapeutic Dance Intervention:

  • Complete aerobic exercise videos, video games (wii, connect)
  • Add arm/ankle weights to develop strength and increase ROM
  • Participate in group therapy focusing on exercise and strength


Cognitive Model



  • Most cognitive approaches are concerned with difficulties relating to structuring, organizing, and using information for task performance.


  • Cognition involves a long developmental process influenced by social mediation.
  • Cognition is part of a mind-body system in which cognitive functions cannot be understood fully without reference to the motor system.
  • Cognition is dynamic and results from multiple factors both inside and outside of the person interacting together.
    • Remedial: aims to retrain or restore specific cognitive skills
    • Compensatory: helps persons to capitalize on their existing potentials; applies to clients who have less capacity for learning

Therapeutic Intervention:

  • Remedial treatment of executive functions involves providing persons with opportunities to choose, select, plan, and self-correct.
  • Compensatory approach involves providing external support or strategies to allow adequate performance.
  • Cognitive Retraining is used to improve capacity to process information and awareness of abilities.
  • Neurofunctional Training is for clients with severe cognitive impairments.
  • Dynamic Cognitive Intervention combines remedial and compensatory interventions that directly and simultaneously enhance participation while seeking to improve and expand learning ability and self-perception.
  • Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance  is a cognitive intervention for improving motor performance in children with developmental coordination disorder.

Therapeutic Dance Intervention:

  •  Give client a simple 8-count routine to memorize and execute.  If the client can do this, add modifications to make the task more difficult like increase speed.
  • Allow the client to choose music/type of dance they would like to complete and include them in the creation process
  • If a client cannot complete a motion, modify the action so the client can successfully complete. (ex: if a client cannot put their hands over their head, have the client use one arm to hold the other arm up to complete the task)
  • Repetition of tasks will increase the client's cognitive abilities to remember the task  



The Functional Group Model



  • The functional group seeks to enhance occupational behavior and thus adaptation by mobilizing dynamic group forces that have the potential to positively shape people’s understanding of themselves or their abilities.


  • True groups include:
    • Interaction among their members
    • A common goal
    • A relationship between size and function
    • Members’ desire or consent to participate in a group
    • A democratic capacity for self-determination
  • Groups are characterized by structure, cohesion, and stages of development
  • Group structure refers to the combination of parts that form the group
  • The basic concepts of the functional group model are adaptation (adjustment of the environment) and occupation (action or behavior or a member in the group).
  • Groups can also provide a sense of identity and self-worth to their members. 

Therapeutic Intervention:

  • Functional groups involve four overall stages in which the group is designed, formed, developed, and concluded.
  • Forming the group involves getting everyone acquainted, sharing how the group will function, an developing accepted norms of behavior in the group.

Therapeutic Dance Intervention:

  • Complete dance activities while in a group to allow for other members to assist with a clients actions
  • The other members can help a client memorize actions, increase motion, and gain confidence
  • While in the group, members will develop a self-acceptance within themselves
  • The groups common goal is to dance and to gain a deeper understanding of themselves
  • Smaller groups allow for more intimate experiences



Model of Human Occupation


  • Motivation for occupation
  • Occupational life pattern
  • Subjective dimension of performance
  • Influence of environment on occupation


  • The model conceptualizes humans as composed of three elements:
    • Volition refers to the process by which persons are motivated toward and choose what they do
    • Habituation refers to a process whereby doing is organized into patterns and routines
    • Performance capacity refers both to the underlying objective mental and physical abilities and the lived experience that shapes performance
  • Volition
    • Icludes a deep human drive for action combined with thoughts and feelings about doing things
    • Personal causation
    • Personal values
    • Interests
  • Habituation 
    • Organizes ones doing into the recurrent patterns that make up much of daily routines
    • Habituated patterns of action are governed by habits and roles that give regularity, character, and order to what people do and how they do it
  • Performance Capacity
    • Focuses on subjective experience and its role in how people perform
    • Asserts that instead of being simply and artifact or consequence of doing, experience is central to how people perform
  • Environment
    • Provides:
      • Opportunities
      • Resources
      • Demands
      • Constraints
  • Systems Theory
    • Frames how volition, habituation, performance capacity, and environment are interrelated and organized over time, emphasizing that:
      • Occupation is dynamic and context dependent
      • People shape who they are by what they do
    • Conceptualizes the doing of occupations at three levels:
      • 1. Participation
      • 2. Performance
      • 3. Skill
  • Occupation adaptation, identity, and competence
    • Persons realize their occupational identify and competence over time as they develop and respond to life changes

Therapeutic Intervention:

  • Concept of change and understanding nature and process of change is central to this model’s explanation of therapeutic intervention
  • Provides a detailed account of process of change that occurs in therapy
  • Stresses that only clients can accomplish their own change
  • Concept of occupational engagement underscores two points:
    • For doing to be therapeutic, it must involve an actual occupational form, not a contrive activity
    • For client to achieve change through doing, what is done must have relevance and meaning for clients

Therapeutic Dance Intervention:

  • The clients are motivated toward and choose to particpate in dance with or without other participants
  • Have a client participate in a dance with music that they enjoy
  • Dance is organized into patterns and routines
  • Dance requires both mental and pysical abilities to shape the performance
  • A client can utilize dance to express their inner most feelings while particpating an actual occupational form

Sensory Integration Model


  • Organization of sensory information in the CNS and its use in guiding adaptive motor behaviors that make up occupational performance


  • Sensory integration is a process in which sensory intake, sensory integration and organization, and adaptive occupational behavior result in a spiral of development.
  • The brain functions as a whole.
  • Sensory integration is multi-modal sensory processing in which sensory data are organized and processed in the brain, converted to meaningful information, and used to plan and execute motor behavior.
  • Children have an inner drive to seek out organizing sensations.
  • Mind and brain are interrelated; subjective experience is a necessary part of the adaptive spiral and sensory integration.

Therapeutic Intervention:

  • Aimed at remediation of the sensory integrative problem.
  • Goal is to improve ability to integrate sensory information by changing organization of the brain.
  • Enhanced sensory intake, which occurs when a child plans and organizes adaptive behavior in a meaningful activity, improves ability of the CNS to process and integrate sensory input.

Therapeutic Dance Intervention:

  • Intigrate props to improve ability through processing sensory information
  • Allow the client to plan and organize behavior in a meaningful activity (dance)
  • Allow the child to be involved in planning the dance activity
  • Incorporate a dance obstacle course for the child to complete; include binds filled with sand/beans/foam for child to find objects to complete the dance activity
  • Include multiple surfaces for child to dance upon (soft, hard, foam, uneven)


Kielhofner, G. (2009). Conceptual foundations of occupational therapy practice (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Compay.


 Performance Skills

Motor and Praxis Skills:

Motor: actions or behaviors a client uses to move and physically interact with tasks, objects, contexts, and envirnments; includes planning, sequencing, and executing new and novel movements

Praxis: skilled purposeful movements; ability to carry out sequential motor acts as part of an overall plan rather than individual acts


  • bending and reaching for a prop
  • pacing tempo of movements to dance around room
  • coordinating body movements to complete a task
  • maintaining balance while walking on surfaces while completing activity
  • anticipating or adjusting posture and body position in response to envirnmental circumstances


Sensory-Perceptual Skills:

Actions or behaviors a client uses to locare, identify, and respond to sensations and to select, interfret, associate, organize, and remember sensory events based on experiences through a variety of sensations (visual, auditory, vestibular)


  • positioning the body in the exact location for a safe leap or jump
  • hearing and locating the beat of the music
  • timing the appropriate moment to move arms and legs at same time
  • locate props/shoes by touch from closet

Emotional Regulation Skills:

Actions or behaviors a client uses to identify, manage, and express feelinfs while engaging in activities or interacting with others


  • responding to the feelings of others and by showing support
  • persisting in a task despite frustrations
  • controlling anger and frustration towards others while working in groups
  • recovering from a hurt without acting out
  • display emotions appropriate for each dance number

Cognitive Skills:

Actions or behaviors a client uses to plan and manage the performance of an activity


  • judging the importanct of clothing and costumes for the dance
  • selecting tools and supplies needed to execute dance
  • sequence tasks and 8 counts needed for dance
  • organize activities within the time required to meet the dance education needs
  • creating new and different dances that are fun and enjoyable

Communication and Social Skills:

Actions or behaviors a person uses to communicate and interact with others in an interactive envirnment


  • looking where someone else is pointing
  • gesturing to emphasize intentions
  • maintaining acceptable physical space during conversation while instructing dance
  • initiating and answering questions with relevant information when questioning a dance "move"
  • acknowledging another person's perspective


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2008). Occupational therapy practice framework: domain and process (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.


Possible Assessments to Assess a Patient before Implementing Dance Therapy

Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1999)

  • Age range: recommended for 5 - 10 years (may be used for children 3 - 4 years)
  • A caregiver questionnaire designed to help the occupational therapist gain undertanding of a child's sensory procesing during daily routines (i.e., hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive to certain sensory events). This includes how the child tends to respond to stimuli and which sensory systems may be creating barriers to functional performance.
  • Yields a descriptive profile of a child's sensory processing and sensory modulation abilities. Cut scores allow for a rating of typical performance, probable difference, or definite difference of sensory processing abilities.



Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (Folio & Fewell, 1983)

 Dynamic Occupational Therapy Cognitive Assessment for Children (DOTCA-Ch)

  • Age Range: 6- 12 years
  • DOTCA-Ch ™ consists of 22 sub-tests in 5 cognitive areas: Orientation, Spatial Perception, Praxis, Visuomotor Organization, and Thinking Operations
  • For each sub-test there is an option of a structured 5-step mediation.
    Measures of short-term memory and time of performance are included in the visual motor organization area.
  • The goals of the assessment are to identify the strengths and deficits of the child in the different cognitive areas and measure learning potential, as well as to recognize the child's thinking strategies utilizing dynamic procedures.
  • Data for typical children ages 6-12 years, groups of children with learning disabilities and brain injury was collected to establish the standardization, reliability and validity properties of the test
 Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOTMP)
  • Age Range: 4.5 – 14.5  years
  • Areas Tested: Balance, strength, coordination, running speed and agility, upper limb coordination (ball skills), dexterity, fine motor control, visual-motor

 Kielhofner, G. (2009). Conceptual foundations of occupational therapy practice (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company.


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