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My Job Description: The Dance Therapist

Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan

Pursuing a career in art may seem like a dead end to some, but if you can incorporate your craft into something unique and useful, you can certainly find success. For example, what if you could use your passion for art to help people?

Through dance and movement therapy, Erica Hornthal does just that. Hornthal, CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, uses dance, movement and counseling to help people understand and deal with their emotions. We asked Hornthal all about her career to find out what it's really like to be a dance therapist.

Business News Daily: What do you do?

Erica Hornthal: I am a dance/movement therapist. Since 2011, I have owned and operated Chicago Dance Therapy, formerly North Shore Dance Therapy, the premier movement-therapy group practice in Chicago. We provide accessible and affordable dance/movement therapy and counseling to individuals of all ages. You might be wondering, "What is dance/movement therapy?" It is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to enhance the mind-body connection. It is not about using any stylized or choreographed form of dance, but rather [it's about] moving our innermost thoughts, desires and emotions. 

BND: What made you want to pursue the industry you're in?

Hornthal: Dance has always been a passion of mine, but when I was a freshman in college, I realized that I didn't want to leave my interest in science behind. I began taking psychology classes and was introduced to dance/movement therapy by a professor. I began researching the field and never looked back. It truly marries my passions for dance and helping people.

BND: How did you get into your job?

Hornthal: After graduating with my master's in dance/movement therapy and counseling, I knew I wanted to work with older adults, specifically [those] with movement and cognitive disorders. I worked for several years in nursing homes, adult day-care centers and senior centers until I was able to start my own practice. I worked to acquire the supervised hours necessary to sit for licensure as a clinical professional counselor in the state of Illinois. Once I met the requirements and passed my exam, I applied for my board certification as a dance therapist and completed the necessary steps to open my own practice. We will be celebrating our fifth anniversary and now see clients of all ages. 

BND: What do you like about your job?

Hornthal: I love listening to people and supporting them in their journey to mental health. I thoroughly enjoy using an out-of-the-box method to integrate the mind-body connection in order to facilitate greater understanding of others' behaviors and emotions. 

BND: What challenges do you face at your job?

Hornthal: One of the main challenges is not in the job, but in the misconceptions of dance/movement therapy as a field. Although the profession has been around since the 1950s, publicly not much is known about dance/movement therapy. There is the assumption that it is exercise or physical therapy. People often wonder what kind of dance I "do." This is not the case at, all since I approach my work as a psychotherapist and incorporate body language into the therapeutic process. As a dance/movement therapist, I am using movement to assess, observe and intervene in the therapeutic relationship. 

BND: What's something people don't know about your job?

Hornthal: Many people don't know that dance/movement therapy isn't as enjoyable for the client as it might sound. Don't get me wrong. There are certainly times when it is happy and expressive and joyful. Sometimes I am able to dance with my clients, and it can be liberating to watch and to participate in. However, there are times when doing bodywork is difficult and emotional. Experiencing an individual living with an eating disorder who sees her own body as the enemy, or witnessing a client who has been physically abused explore how to feel vulnerable in the presence of a loved one — [that] can be hard to sit with. As a therapist in this line of work, I enjoy every minute, but realize it's not all fun and games.  

BND: What's the most interesting thing you've ever done at your job?

Hornthal: I wouldn't say it's a thing so much as the interesting people I have met in my job. I have had the privilege of working with individuals from all walks of life. I have worked with retired CFOs of Fortune 500 companies, politicians [and] veterans, as well as notable physicians and authors.

BND: Do you have any advice for others pursuing a similar career path?

Hornthal: Don't ever think you have to settle or give up on your passion. Find a way to make your job enjoyable, and you'll never feel like you are working. If you have a passion for the arts and helping people, I encourage you to look into the creative arts therapies — art, music, drama and dance. They are important, necessary and the future of mental health.

Image Credit: Karie Angell Luc
Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan
Business News Daily Staff
Brittney Q. Morgan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, as well as a graduate of Drew University, where she majored in History. Her work can be found all across the web at Apartment Therapy, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her on Twitter at @brittneyplz.