"The Spirit Thickened": Making the Case for Dance in the Medical Humanities

J Med Humanit. 2020 Dec;41(4):543-560. doi: 10.1007/s10912-020-09646-2.


In comparison to other art forms, dance remains underrepresented in the medical humanities, especially within the academic medical setting. Several factors, including perceived lack of applicability to patient care, contribute to this pattern. This paper contends that, to the contrary, learners across the medical education spectrum stand to gain much from engaging with the movement arts, including improvement of clinically-relevant skills such as physical self-awareness, observation, communication, and mindfulness. This paper makes the case for the nascent subdiscipline of Movement and Medicine, developed by the authors and piloted for inclusion in medical humanities curricula within a medical education context. Movement and Medicine employs a dance-inspired pedagogy to a) promote awareness of personal movement and embodiment tendencies and b) harness that awareness to gain more profound, sensory insight into the embodied experiences of others-experiences of health, illness, or otherwise. This work outlines the research, rationale, and philosophy behind Movement and Medicine; concretely defines the subdiscipline and situates it within the medical humanities landscape; proposes practical approaches to engaging with and applying this material; and describes a Movement and Medicine course developed for one American medical school.

Keywords: Body language; Communication; Dance; Medical education; Medical humanities; Movement; Patient-doctor interaction.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humanities
  • Humans
  • Medicine*
  • Philosophy