Dancing with refugees

  • Dance movement used as a coping aid to the adjustment period for refugees and as a therapy for their PTSD, depression.
  • The importance of a mental fitness of a parent (or primary carer) on a child’s physical and mental development and wellbeing. Especially valid for children after a traumatic experiences, the need of a stable, mentally available and nurturing carer to provide a foundation and security that are protective factors against the emotion and mental injuries caused by the stress and trauma associated with a refugee circumstances.
  • Dance movement therapy is suitable for both, child’s recovery process as well as the parent’s recovery and coping needs.

What happened in the past, cannot be undone. The question now is, what can you do today to improve yours and your children’s life and future?


Common problem with war witnesses/participants-personality split or dissociative disorder. Unfortunately, that makes these people unpredictable and any stimuli can become a trigger for emotional or violent outbursts. Therefore, working with the victims of war atrocities can be also potentially risky in terms of the safety of the instructor. It is not uncommon for stabbing and choking incidence in a group therapy to happen. It is always recommended to stick with group sessions with multiple assistants (strong males that can physically restrain a person in case of a violent outburst, but also be prepared to offer a comforting attention in case of a painful emotional outburst).

In case of a music or dance therapy, it is strongly recommended to avoid sounds that are or resemble a music from the country of origin of the refugee. This can be a strong reminder of the painful past and can easily become a triggering stimuli.

But on the other hand, there is an established movement of “dance and movement therapists” that have experience working with these victims and can show for wonderful outcomes of such interation. Please, see the video below.


There are number of academic studies on dance movement as a positive influencer in the lives of people who suffer from depression (common with chronic diseases as well as the mental and physical disabilities) and people with PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) and survivors of torture. It turns out that dance movement fosters resilience and recovery. It improves emotional responses and modulates neurohormones.  Some studies on people with chronic diseases and disabilities find that when dancing, the levels of anxiety that often accompany the other physical symptoms of the illness and disability,  are significantly reduced. But why is that? This research finds that there are 3 elements that distinguish dance from other forms of exercise:

1- Social element- many benefits with multiple levels ( if you are interested, we can explore this further)

2- it is very physical – next to the obvious health benefits, physical activity is a good work out for hippocampus. This region in the brain is known for long term memory. We also know that depression has negative effects on the memory and especially on hippocampus. It accelerates the natural shrinkage that happens to everyone with age. Structured dance has been found to actually help hippocampus to expand!

3-It is cognitive – there are things happening in the brain/nervous system especially in the regions involving in learning and problem solving. When you do cognitive training, you get better at problem solving ( think about this is wider context of a refugee situation, would they not benefit from this particular polished skill?) This cognitive training can be dancing ?By learning to dancing type training, you use memory, spatial abilities like spatial awareness.

The research shows that when you engage those elements, you have changes in your brain.