Dance / Movement therapists, an occupation not many people may have heard about.
Michelle Chan is a dance/movement therapist. A ballet dance student since a tender age, to her young self, Michelle had not given serious thought on whether she liked dancing or not. But she eventually enrolled into the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and step by step, found herself in dancing. It has not only helped her rediscover her self-confidence, but also inspired her onto the path of dance therapy, to heal and help many more people physically and mentally, as well as to reignite their self-belief.
This path however has not been easy, and has had its own moments of disappointment and awakening. How did dancing mend the heart and body, and let Michelle and others release their stress and rebuild their confidence? Read Michelle’s own testimony here!
From enjoyment to doubts: a hit on her source of confidence
Learning the craft since a kid, Michelle has enjoyed the aesthetics and satisfaction brought by dancing. Thirsting for the professional training it offered, Michelle has entered the Academy for Performing Arts. Being able to study what one loves should have been a great pleasure. But she said: ‘After entering dancing school, I found myself in an environment that demanded high standards in art, aesthetics and skill, and realised my deficiencies. Lacking a clear way forward, my self-esteem has suffered and that was the first low period in my life: faced with a huge blow and the inability to find my identity.’
Due to the expectation mismatch and the hit to her self-esteem, she has grown weary of dancing and even thought about giving it up. At the same time, years of joining competitions, exams and performances and of chasing perfect moves and poses have slowly made her unable to enjoy dancing. She even questioned herself, ‘Why do I have to dance? Is dancing just an expression of skill? Or to satisfy people’s standards?’
Unwilling to play the princess: low points became the start of new confidence
In the history of classical ballet, many characters are associated with royal courts and princesses. When Michelle dived into the study of ballet, she often found her character out of sync with the image of an elegant princess, and felt like she was ‘putting on an act’. Michelle started to wonder, ‘Practising ballet day and night, in pursuit of form, skill and aesthetics to play the role of the princess. But is that really me? Everybody is chasing their dream, but what is my dream?’
Michelle started to wake up to her own needs and wants, and allowed imperfections in herself. ‘By pure chance, I had to use my dance steps to express anger in one modern dance performance. At that moment I finally played myself. Even the tutor praised and said she saw the real ‘me’ for the first time.’ From that moment onwards, she has accepted and reaffirmed herself. Because only by being true to yourself, can your performance be more holistic and full with the power of confidence.
Dancing in the snow: a show of confidence
However, life is full of events that did not live up to your expectation, and is bound to have more than one disappointing episode. After graduation, Michelle has tutored and performed at various organisations, but when she hit a bottleneck at work, that plunged her into the whirlpool of self doubts once again.
After more than a year of life at a low period, she embarked on a trip to Iceland, hoping to start a new journey. An encounter with art has unexpectedly become a turning point in her life, and inspired her idea to use dancing to cure hearts.
‘In the midst of a snow storm, a sudden awakening made me run into the snow ground to dance and wearing just a vest. Large drops of snow hit my body, that pain actually described my torn heart and a frozen self at that moment, and I gained an inspiration there and then, using my limbs and dance to express fully my inner emotions. My heart was screaming: “I’m alive. I am reborn!”’ Once again she used dancing to rescue herself from desperation, and danced on the snow ground, with strong, powerful and confident steps, believing that self-belief can surpass limits.
Help yourself and others: develop a career on dance therapy
After the Iceland trip, Michelle decided to embark on the road of dance therapy, and even travelled to the United States to study it as well as psychology, including taking internships.
Perhaps you may not understand the relationship between dance and therapy. She explained, ‘In 2008 I read the news about Sichuan earthquake, I remember well a survivor said “pain in the body is not as great as the pain in the heart.” That reverberated in my mind. When faced with disastrous events, people often focus on the wounds on their body, but overlook psychological harms that more than harms to the flesh damage on people’s lives. That inspired me to use dance to cure hearts.’ In fact, using dance to cure hearts and minds have sprouted early in Michelle’s mind.
She said, ‘Some feelings, like pain, sadness and anger cannot be described in words, but dance is the most primitive “mother tongue”. Body language can most directly convey certain emotions. When our body moves, you will see it moves even our smile, which is more genuine, and oblivious of pain in the body.’
But after all, dance is about dancing, making some people think that someone with poor arm-leg coordination would have no luck with dance therapy. Michelle said actually everybody can access it, ‘Dance exists in the movement of life. People of any age, ability or background can enjoy living and spending time with their body.’
Here, she used the example of a caretaker. ‘She took part in one to two hours of dance therapy, and can temporarily let go of her role as a caretaker for her sick family members, and forget the life constraints and heavy psychological burdens, to rediscover her own space and listen to her heart and body. At the end she told me from her heart, “I felt youthful”. I felt she had once again shown her liveliness.’
Michelle also gave the example of an executive in his 20s. ‘Under the influence of emotional stress, she has become more acute in her response to people and events around her. When receiving dance therapy, she even cried. I didn’t stop her, instead I gave her the space to face up to her pet-up emotions, and reminded her to love herself slowly.’ After some time, this worker has begun to bravely face and embrace her own pains, and learn to treat herself gently, find her inner voice, confidence, value and things she loved.
Michelle stressed that dance therapy is not about ‘helping people’, but to walk with others and can even be the source of confidence for everybody. ‘That was just life giving a chance for us to meet, so I can walk with him or her for a small moment in their lives, and let them rediscover their passion for life and the confidence to walk out of a crisis. This is what I am most happy about.’
A reminder from Michelle to give a boost to your heart and mind: ‘We must first learn to love ourselves, before we can love others. When we have stress, of course we should seek help. But we can also “self care” through dance, and to prevent the disease from occurring.’
Constant boost for the mind
After reading Michelle’s sharing, you might be aware of the importance of mental health and the impact of dance therapy.
Emma by AXA has set up a dedicated ‘Mind Charger ‘, and invited Michelle to create a series of dance therapy educational clips for the ‘Connect with your body and soul - A journey with nature’ programme, in the hope that this could comfort your heart at a busy time and help you release negative emotions, and ultimately be a BetterMe.
Confidence makes a BetterMe
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The above content is reviewed by Ms. Andrea Wong, Chief Marketing & Customer Officer of AXA Hong Kong and Macau
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