Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2007, 12:00am

It was a lonely journey, but the city's first registered dance movement therapist has found her reward - the fulfilment of helping emotionally damaged and physically ill people ease their pain by way of the connection between body and mind

The road to becoming Hong Kong's first registered dance movement therapist was lonely but fulfilling, says Rainbow Ho Tin-hung.

She reached that landmark in 2004 after spending four years completing her training in New York and is now assistant professor of the University of Hong Kong's Centre of Behavioural Health.

'The process is lonely because Hong Kong does not have professional training and support on dance movement therapy, and it seems you are completely on your own,' she says. 'But when you see clients gradually improving, the happiness attained offsets everything and the whole process becomes delightful.'

She recalls the time two years ago when she handled the case of a girl who hardly spoke to anyone at school and was diagnosed with 'selective autism'. In their first consultation, they communicated with gestures. But after three sessions, there were gradual improvements. The girl initiated talks and opened up.

For centuries, dance has been seen as a method of self-expression, of celebrating life and death, and of ritualistic healing. Those atavistic traits have been incorporated in dance movement therapy, which originated in the United States several decades ago.

Advocates tout dance movement therapy (DMT) as helping people gain insights into and coping with their problems as well as enhancing self-esteem. The therapist brought this form of 'soul dance' to Hong Kong in 2002, when she was still an intern dance therapist.

She conducted DMT workshops for cancer patients at CancerLink centres on a trial basis.

'Dance therapy aims at integrating the body and mind. It helps people in four aspects: body-mind connection, stress reduction, self-understanding enhancement, and healing of personal wounds.

'It is [exceptional] in the way the whole body is used as a medium for change. Our body is like a library - it can store our feelings, emotions and beliefs. So when you do a body movement, it can always arouse memories or experience.'

Using movements or getting in touch with the body helps to relieve pain or change one's emotions, she says.

She recalls the cancer patients who have given her unforgettable moments and the strength to carry on as a dance movement therapist.

'There's a cancer patient who had developed walking difficulties and pain in her legs when she first came to our workshops. What touched me was that she insisted on attending every session, as she told me the therapy could help her to relieve pain, especially from a psychological aspect. At the very last session, she even came in a wheelchair.'

It is not just cancer patients who benefit. She holds workshops for a wide variety of people, including victims of childhood sexual abuse and those suffering depression.

'DMT is particularly effective for people whose physical body has had an unpleasant or traumatic experience. This therapy can help them to relieve their inner feelings and develop a new perspective to look at themselves.'

She says she has had a great interest in dancing since she was a child. She found dancing fascinating because it allowed her to experience the happiness of expressing herself in a non-verbal way.

Even her postgraduate studies were partly related to dancing. She chose to study anatomy at Chinese University because she wanted to know more about the body structure and its functions.

She then spent eight years working in a laboratory involved in immunology and cancer. But she always hoped that one day she could integrate dance into a career that could help people.

Then one day she quit her job and decided to equip herself further to become a dance movement therapist. 'I am very happy I made this choice, as now I can integrate science and art together in my work, and help people. I see this as my lifelong career. I want to make the whole world dance.'