Exploring the possibilities of dance movement therapy with women in the criminal justice system and their supporting communities
AffiliationMelbourne Conservatorium of Music
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Ella Dumaresq
My PhD project sought to explore the possible ways in which dance movement therapy (DMT) might be used by women in the criminal justice system for health and wellbeing purposes. My thesis presents findings from a participatory, feminist-informed research study that was based in the regional city of Geelong, Australia. As part of this research, I invited two professional women from the Department of Justice - Susan and Alyce - to become “co-researchers” in the study. As co-researchers, Susan and Alyce helped to develop access pathways for criminalised women to participate in the project. Women serving time on community correctional orders were invited to participate in a series of community based, drop-in DMT workshops as part of an emergent research design. The intention was to centre women’s experiences of using DMT to learn more about how individuals might choose to engage in this service in a criminal justice context, and why. The centring of women’s direct experiences in this study aligns with calls for more participatory, women-centred studies that are guided by the lived realities of those directly experiencing criminalisation processes (Carlton & Segrave, 2013). From an activist perspective, this includes acknowledging the social and political contexts in which criminalisation and therapy take place, and challenging dominant norms and assumptions in both criminal justice and DMT (also referred to as dance movement psychotherapy, or DMP). The theoretical influences informing this work draw on a mix of feminisms, including intersectional theory, feminist new materialism, corporeal feminism, and Barad’s (2008) “material-discursive” framework. Also instrumental to my process were theoretical concepts from my previous academic training in cultural anthropology, such as Geertz’s (1973) ethnographic method of “thick description” which I expand on in this thesis from a more ‘embodied’ and ‘embedded’ perspective. The importance of bodily-led approaches to research is therefore central to my thesis, and my doctorial study combines somatic modes of inquiry with more traditional modes of qualitative analysis. Methodologically, my project followed a participatory research design and employed ethnographic methods to document, analyse and communicate my fieldwork experience and the data arising through these interactions. Principles of action research and feminist-informed participatory research are articulated in my thesis, and processes of collaboration are reflexively presented in the form of poems, movement videos and photographs. Challenges and barriers to authentic collaboration are discussed and the ethical, political and moral dimensions of fieldwork are critically examined in this study. Structural and systemic imbalances are critiqued and issues to do with power, privilege and oppression are reflexively worked through as part of the overall knowledge production process. The research findings are based on what I learned from each of the women participating in this study. I explored the following themes as they emerged from the data: fun, fitness and relaxation. These findings are used to voice a rationale for a renewed focus on dancing in DMT/P. A theoretical model, which I refer to as an exercisePLUS+ approach, was developed out of the findings and discussed in my final chapter. This model emphasises the concept of physical fitness/exercise in DMT/P and describes how fitness goals, combined with a phrase-based dance teaching, can provide an alternative framework to that of the dominant psychoanalytical application of DMT/P. Practitioners wishing to work outside of the biomedical mental health treatment model may find this theoretical model useful. My model challenges dualistic notions of healthy/unhealthy and locates the notion of ‘health’ within a broader framework of social equity and inclusion. As such, the theoretical developments presented in my thesis focus more generally on social participation, fitness and wellbeing, yet also include more internal, psychological approaches to DMT. The model includes reference to neurophysiological understandings of trauma, yet problematises the over-reliance on medical discourse in trauma treatment, DMT/P and mental health. An alternative approach is therefore presented with a renewed focus on social equity and inclusivity, community participation, and access to health promoting activities, such as non-institutionalised forms of dance therapy. As well as critiquing the dominance of psychoanalytical frameworks and arguing for a more interdisciplinary focus, I also position my study as a further development of social justice DMT (Cantrick et al., 2018). I argue that DMT/P is a flexible modality which has the capacity to dance across the full spectrum of healthcare: from preventative health, through to acute illness, within rehabilitation contexts, and in alignment with social justice principles. My contribution to knowledge is a critique of dominant models, as well an example of what DMT might achieve outside of the shadows of the biomedical model. My thesis can therefore be read as call to diversify DMT/P theory and practice, including the further development of critical and feminist approaches to therapy. Recommendations for practice and further research include the following: a) the need for continued discourse regarding power and oppression in therapy, specifically in relation to “body politics” in DMT/P (Allegranti, 2011; 2013); b) ongoing critical engagement with Eurocentrism and the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in healthcare, including DMT/P; c) the further development of critical trauma discourse/s in DMT/P which challenge and expand on the existing theories of trauma and the body, and d) a renewed focus on dancing in DMT/P which combines exercise and fitness with a psychosocial approach as per the exercisePLUS+ theories presented in this thesis.
KeywordsDance movement therapy; Criminal justice; Participatory research; Social justice; Feminism; Community health; Embodied research methodologies; Ethnography
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