2019-20 | Moving together: Alleviating loneliness through an interdisciplinary music- and dance-based intervention programme

moving together flock of birds bronwyn tarr

'Moving together: Alleviating loneliness through an interdisciplinary music- and dance-based
intervention programme'


Knowledge Exchange Fellow:
Dr Bronwyn Tarr   |   School of Anthropology   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation:
Association of Dance Movement Psychotherapy UK (ADMP UK)  |  Justice in Motion


Dancers are experts in experimenting with the emotional power of the moving body, and so too are dance movement therapists, who harness this power in their work as practitioners. But why do certain movements affect us so strongly? At a time when young people increasingly report feeling socially isolated and lonely, can we use movement to help change how we see ourselves, and connect to others? This project brings together dancers, dance-movement therapy practitioners, loneliness researchers, music/movement scientists, and those with lived experiences of loneliness to explore these questions. This movement-based exploration of loneliness will lay the foundation for the first interdisciplinary, purpose-built music and movement-based intervention programme to help combat loneliness.

Despite extensive research linking loneliness with negative health consequences, including anxiety, depression, and decreased life expectancy, loneliness remains clinically undefined, making it difficult to tackle. There are wide-ranging interventions, but few empirical studies mean intervention efficacy is not well established. We urgently need to develop new, creative strategies to combat this public health priority.

Dance movement psychotherapy (DMP) offers a solution. This psychotherapeutic practice uses movement to foster emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration. Although it has long been used to help with depression and anxiety, it has not yet been applied to loneliness. But various existing DMP practices could theoretically help with loneliness–e.g. therapists often use movement mirroring to build trust, which the BBC Loneliness Experiment report is lacking among lonely people.

Parallel to DMP, there is growing scientific evidence that specific musical components (like synchronised dance) can dissolve the psychological boundaries between self and other and create feelings of closeness. Combining these knowledge threads, this KE project will spark the development of a novel approach for alleviating loneliness.

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