An ethnic minority dance project sets out to tackle alcoholism

Dance movement therapy is not the most obvious technique to apply to people with alcohol problems. But it works for a group run by ARP Choices, a Stockwell-based specialist alcohol service for London’s ethnic minority communities. Every Friday afternoon, ARP Choices holds a Creative Expressions session in a refugee centre near Brixton police station.

Creative Expressions is one of a number of groups and individual services offered, all with cultural sensitivity in mind. Work can embrace carers and relatives and includes the use of holistic and alternative therapies.

ARP Choices manager Surrinder Chera says groupwork is an important feature to create a community feel. He says of Creative Expressions: “It has helped users to open up in a different way, using a range of interventions from the dance movement therapy world, in many cases drawing on existing cultural connections to music and movement. It has been successful and we would like to expand this aspect of our work.”

So, every week a group of up to 10 men and women meet in a room equipped with a CD player. Each person is experiencing, or has had, a problem with alcohol, which is a taboo – particularly for women – in some ethnic minority communities.

Alcohol counsellor Marcia Atkinson, who runs the groups, says: “We start with a music exercise. Clients bring in the music and explain why they have chosen it and share their experience of what it means for them. The music could be R’n’B, soul, jazz or reggae – anything really.”

Movement – not necessarily dance in the traditional sense – follows. In a typical exercise, one person will be the leader and the others copy their movements. After 20 minutes or so, group work, often themed, starts. The sessions always end with a cleansing or shedding ritual in which users “leave their problems behind”.

The Creative Expressions group was started in January by registered dance movement therapist and training consultant Sharon Simpson. She brought this therapeutic technique to ARP Choices by introducing the staff to it at an awayday. She then worked alongside and coached Atkinson over two six-week sessions. Now Atkinson leads the sessions with support from Simpson.

Initially, Atkinson had doubts that the technique would work for ARP Choices’ clients, about 60% of whom are male. She says: “I thought the men weren’t going to buy this, they would feel self-conscious. But three months on, it’s happening. We have taken a risk by using this technique, which is outside our comfort zone – but it has worked well. Sharon has opened up the potential of a wonderful new way of working with our clients.”

The group, she says, may adopt other creative activities, such as art and photography but it will retain the use of movement therapy.


Robert, a regular user, says: “At first it feels strange, especially with the lights on in the middle of the day. But you soon get used to it. The music helps to loosen you up. It relaxes you and makes you feel at ease. You feel more confident when you are dancing and someone is following you or you are following them.”

Another user, Barry, says the group has given a welcome structure to his weeks and has helped him to “re-attach” some dysfunctional relationships. He says: “I think that this group connects us as men. Here, we are allowed to have feelings and we actually talk to each other. Your dress sense improves, because you notice how other people dress and you don’t want to let yourself down. I am 50 now, but when I am here, I feel that I am 19 again.”

Karen, one of the two women in the group, says: “When I am here, I can express myself without being judged, or people thinking that I am crazy. It makes me realise that everyone has a problem, not just me, and it makes me feel safe. After seven days I look forward to coming back to the group.”

The right moves

Dance movement therapy helps substance misusers by:

● Offering clients the opportunity to discover new and often untapped aspects of themselves.

● Creating a confidential therapeutic relationship between client and therapist and between group members so that they feel safe. When clients trust the process they are more likely to be confident to express feelings through movement and dance.

● Providing a forum where they are listened to. This helps links to be made between events in therapy and life patterns outside therapy.

➔ Sharon Simpson runs Help Addicts Cope and can be contacted on 020 8316 0126 or e-mail:

This article appeared in the 30 August issue under the headline “Steps to recovery”

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