Dance of change and growth

Dr Kim Dunphy is developing new and innovative methods to help dance movement therapists to assess their clients’ progress.

Dance movement therapy can have many benefits for participants, but the published evidence is modest, and practitioners have been challenged to assess outcomes of their work with clients. Currently, recording the progress of patients can be difficult for dance therapist, as they are constantly on their feet with clients in dance therapy sessions.

This issue is being addressed through new research by Dr Kim Dunphy which seeks to develop ways to record and analyse the effectiveness of dance movement therapy.

Dr Dunphy is a dance movement therapist, academic, and a MacKenzie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Creative Arts and Music Therapy Research Unit (CAMTRU). Through the development of a new technological tool, the Movement Assessment and Research App (MARA), she is looking to address this challenge.

Kim Dunphy runs a dance therapy workshop. Image supplied.
Dr Kim Dunphy using MARA to assess a client’s progress in a dance movement therapy session. Image supplied.

Dr Dunphy says that establishing a solid reporting framework in this field is critical as there are few well-developed measurement and assessment tools. The new National Disability Insurance Scheme opens possibilities for funding of dance movement therapy services, if professionals can demonstrate its value.

“The NDIS makes new options possible for funding of arts therapies, but only for modalities that have evidence for their effectiveness. NDIS participants and their advocates need us to be able to demonstrate how our work can help them achieve NDIS-specified outcomes”.

There is increasing evidence that dance movement therapy can be effective in helping people of all abilities to improve wellbeing and develop their individual skills. Through participation in dance movement therapy, clients may experience physical, cognitive, cultural, emotional and social benefits. These can extend to other parts of a person’s life – with improved coordination comes greater confidence, for example; or with better breathing and relaxation skills, people can regulate their emotions better.

Together with her fellow dance movement therapist Tessa Hens, Dr Dunphy recently trialled MARA in a study with twelve dance movement therapy clients with intellectual disability. Among other key findings, they found that the app proved useful in enabling assessment: at baseline, during the program and at its completion. The app recorded quantitative scores as well as qualitative notes, photos and videos and saved them in each client’s file according to sessions, dates and times.

While the development of MARA is intended to be a significant and ongoing research contribution to the field, Dr Dunphy’s passion for dance movement therapy has its roots in her own love of dance and interest in the development of culture. The main question her research seeks to answer is: what difference arts engagement makes, and how would we know? In recent publications she has addressed topics including cultural measurement, cultural impact assessment, dance movement therapy assessment and arts participation as a social change mechanism.

She trained as a classical dancer and by the age of 16 began working as a dance teacher’s assistant before opening her own dance school. It was there she found that dance lessons had a valuable place in personal development and enrichment, for all students whatever their abilities. While dance movement therapy was just an emerging discipline in Australia at the time – there were no tertiary courses available – Dr Dunphy was excited to learn more. The ideas she had heard about resonated strongly with her.

“I saw how powerful it could be in helping people fulfil their potential. I recognised what it could offer even for people with very limited physical capacities, or intellectual challenges. It encourages us to share our stories and develop our imagination in a range of enjoyable ways”

Researcher profile

Dr Kim Dunphy

Selected publications

Dunphy, K. (2018). Theorizing arts participation as a social change mechanism. The Oxford Handbook of Community Music.

Dunphy, K. and Mullane, S. (2017). Dance movement therapy, student learning, and wellbeing in special education. The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Wellbeing.

Dunphy, K., Mullane, S. and Allen, L. (2016). Developing an iPad app for assessment in dance movement therapyThe Arts in Psychotherapy, (51), pp. 54–62.

Further reading

Creative Arts and Music Therapy Research Unit website