Dance/movement therapists serve individuals connected to the US military in a variety of facets. They have worked with Veterans since the American inception of dance/movement therapy (DMT) in the mid 20th century. Dance/movement therapists also serve individuals in active duty as well as their families. In this interview with Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist (BC-DMT) Angie Yemma we learn how DMT supports family members when a military loved one has passed. Ms. Yemma was interviewed by American Dance Therapy Association’s Assistant Blog Director Melinda Malher-Moran.
MM: Can you tell me about TAPS as an organization?
AY: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors or TAPS provides a variety of programs to all those grieving the loss of a military loved one in the US and worldwide. The program offers National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp which have been held annually in Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend since 1994. TAPS also conducts regional survivor seminars for adults and youth programs at locations across the country, as well as retreats and expeditions around the world.
MM: When did you start volunteering at TAPS and what motivated you to do so?
AY: I began volunteering for TAPS in May of 2016 at their National Good Grief Camp as a dance/movement therapist. I co-facilitated dance/movement groups with several of the groups of children ages four to 18. I was asked to volunteer by my friend who was employed with TAPS because, in the past, the organization had dance/movement therapist volunteers and TAPS understands the value in utilizing DMT during the grieving process. TAPS has art therapists, music therapists, and other professionals volunteer and lead groups during the weekend for the camp so the staff, other volunteers, and camp attendees are used to visiting creative art therapists facilitating groups. I began volunteering with TAPS because I wanted to give back to the families of our fallen military. I have always been an active volunteer and this experience allowed me to use my skills as a dance/movement therapist to give back, educate, and advocate for DMT. After volunteering during this camp I was then asked to participate as a co-group leader. As a group co-leader my role is to help plan and organize a whole weekend for a group.
MM: How is dance/movement therapy (DMT) utilized at TAPS?
AY: During my time volunteering with TAPS I’ve visited different groups and offered DMT sessions but, most recently as a co-group leader, I am utilizing my skills as a dance/movement therapist to introduce body awareness, mindfulness, and play into our group sessions using DMT. At times I’ve had the group gather and move together as a DMT session or, if we are discussing grief and the read of the room gives me a tense feeling, I’ll introduce the use of breath and grounding techniques to center the group and help them stay present. With the younger children I’ve used DMT as ”movement breaks” to release the energy in the room. These mini session are more guided with instructions, for example, using “freeze dance.”
MM: Would you share a memorable experience you have had at TAPS?
AY: Part of what is so special and unique to TAPS is that each child that attends camp is matched with a Mentor who is either a current service member or a veteran. During the National Suicide Seminar Good Grief Camp in 2017, I was lucky enough to partner with a wonderful co-lead who led our groups of 9-10 year olds. As a group we began to share the stories of our loved ones. This was an intense experience since the majority of the children not only knew their loved one but also knew the circumstances of how their loved one died. The children and adults in that room were so brave, vulnerable, and honest about their feelings that the tension in the room was high. After the last child had shared I directed the group to take a breath. Sensing in my own body the energy and tension, I asked the group to join me in movement. We began with breathing and stomping/clapping in rhythm with each other. I asked the group to either increase the speed or decrease the speed of our stomping/clapping. Once the tension began to release we gathered as a group in the center of the room and came to stillness. I asked the group to take deep breaths together with their eyes closed. We then honored our loved ones by saying their names together. We eventually spoke their names and stomped together. Once we completed this multiple times the group came back to stillness.
MM: How do you believe movement was meaningful in this instance?
AY: After the circle ended verbally, the room was tense and I noticed some twitching movements from participants ( tapping of fingers, tapping of toes) and, as a therapist, I felt important to move that feeling to further complete our circle time. I felt that moving the tense, anxious feelings gave the participants permission to release their emotions in a different way that most had not shown yet during our time together. As a group it felt meaningful because it was spontaneous, mirroring the group process in the room, and released the energy in the room. After we finished moving each participant verbally stating how much better they felt and that they felt even more connected to the experience.
MM: How can others get involved with TAPS?
AY: If you want to get involved visit taps.org to find out about the current volunteer opportunities. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for opportunities with the Youth Programs.