American Journal of Dance Therapy

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 189–208 | Cite as

Exploring Dance/Movement Therapy in Post-Conflict Timor-Leste

  • Kim DunphyEmail author
  • Meredith Elton
  • Alex Jordan


Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is considered an effective therapeutic modality for people who have experienced trauma because it facilitates access to body-felt trauma responses. Antecedents of DMT, including the use of dance and music in traditional modes of healing, point to the potential for it to be effective for people strongly connected to traditional culture. Yet the literature regarding the application of this therapeutic modality in post-conflict and developing nations is modest. This article discusses an exploration of DMT as a vehicle for positive change in Timor-Leste. The people of this half-island developing nation have experienced trauma and dislocation over many generations as a result of waves of punitive colonization and consequent social turmoil. An introductory program of DMT that was offered to address issues including: health and well-being, peace-making, recovery from trauma and creative engagement, is described in detail. This includes exercises to develop body awareness, grounding and centering techniques, and opportunities for personal expression. An exploratory qualitative evaluation, including leaders’ observations of participants’ movement responses and participants’ post-session verbal reflections, offers evidence of the relevance of DMT for this post-conflict context and significant positive outcomes from these activities. Issues such as cultural appropriateness and the challenge of sustainability, where there are no trained professionals and few funding opportunities, are addressed. The article concludes with recommendations for the integration of DMT with the powerful role of traditional dance in this community, and reflections on more sustainable practices for visiting professionals.


Dance/movement therapy Trauma Timor-Leste Traditional dance Well-being Peace Qualitative method 


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Copyright information

© American Dance Therapy Association 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Phoenix InstituteMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Independent PractitionerMelbourneAustralia

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