The Power of the Mind-Body Connection: Make Mental Health a Priority

By: Erica Hornthal, CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy

Image result for mind body connectionAs a dance/movement therapist, I have always known that the mind and body are connected. I see it in my clients who carry scars of physical abuse, emotional abuse, tragic loss, debilitating illnesses and crippling anxiety. This tip is a reminder to pay attention to your body and know that there is a psychological component to your movement or even lack thereof. Whether or not you consider yourself an athlete, it is beneficial to move everyday and pay attention to what your body is saying.  So what can we do to be more present to the psychological impact that our bodies endure?

  • Never underestimate the power of your breath. Not only taking time to breathe, but notice how deeply you are breathing. The bodies ability to breathe can become compromised due to stress. Allowing for “breath breaks” throughout the day actually alleviates the buildup of stress and calms the nervous system.
  • Check in with your physical health every day. Make sure to move your body throughout the day to see what feels good and what doesn’t. Notice aches and pains that weren’t there before. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right.
  • Mental health is physical health.  There is a connection between mind and body even if you are not aware of it.  Everything you encounter emotionally, your body feels.  Take time to recognize that connections.
  • Make an appointment for a mental health checkup. Make your mental health a priority. Don’t wait for a reason to see a mental health provider. Be proactive!  Call Chicago Dance Therapy for a mental health check today!

Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in psychology from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  Erica is the founder and president of North Shore Dance Therapy and Chicago Dance Therapy.  As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica specializes in working with older adults who are diagnosed with dementia and movement disorders.  Her work has been highlighted nationally in Social Work Magazine, Natural Awakenings, and locally in the Chicago Tribune as well as on WCIU and WGN.

This is Your Brain on Dance!

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT , Chicago Dance TherapyImage result for brain dance

June, which is just around the corner, is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. There are an estimated 47 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If you are not familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, it is a progressive disease that affects memory and other cognitive functions and it is the most common form of dementia.

Since there is no known cure for the illness, people are looking for ways to stay cognitively active and one such way that has been getting a lot of attention is DANCE! According to researchers, dancing involves both a mental effort and social interaction which helps reduce the risk of dementia. We are now realizing that dance has so many benefits outside of physical health. Here are 7 ways that dance impacts our brains.

Dance makes us smarter.
Engaging in dance has the ability to improve processing and executive functioning skills which correlate to greater intelligence. Studies have reported that dance even helps with focus, productivity, and mental acuity.

Dance helps create new neural connections.
When we engage in movements that cross the midline (or center) of our bodies, we actually allow one hemisphere of the brain to “talk” to the other. This essentially creates new neural connections that enhance our neuroplasticity or, in other words, our brain’s ability to change.

Dance reduces stress.
When you dance, your brain releases serotonin- a “feel good” hormone. Participating in dance on a regular basis has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in the brain and the body as well as play a role in stress management.

Dance helps maintain and even improve memory.
Practicing a dance or choreography enhances procedural memory which in turn supports the brains ability to quickly instruct or carry out a task.

Dance allows for greater empathy and compassion.
Finding new ways to move and expanding our “movement repertoire” allows us to move from a place of greater acceptance and understanding. We can enhance our tolerance and create space for differences by trying on new movements, essentially getting a feel for what it is like to move in someone else’s shoes.

Dance increases creativity.
If you have ever prepared for an audition, showcase, or merely marked some choreography, you most likely used your hands to symbolize a larger movement. Using our hands and engaging in gesturing actually increases our creativity.

Dance fosters social interaction.
Dance lessons can help improve social and communication skills. Dance can help people learn how to work as part of a team, develop a greater ability to cooperate and even assist people in making new friends.

A Dance Major’s Return to the Stage

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Megan Chiu, now 19, was a stand-out at the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and impressed at the Chicago High School for the Arts. When she left for Point Park University in Pittsburgh to pursue a ballet dance major, she was determined to excel. Yet, an ambiguous injury during her junior year of high school left her with nagging pain in her lower leg and foot that only grew more intense as she began dancing at the college level.

Megan continued to practice and compete, but the demands of regular pressure on her toes, feet, and ankles, forced Megan to seek attention from her university’s trainers. They were unable to manage her pain, so Megan consulted sports medical specialists in Pittsburgh. Multiple physicians diagnosed a torn flexor halluces longus (FHL) tendon. The diagnosis required grueling surgery and extended recovery away from the studio. Her mom, Susan, thought they should seek a few more opinions closer to home.

Dr. George Holmes—Foot and Ankle Specialist

On a holiday break from school, Megan asked friends at her old dance studio for advice and recommendations. It was there that she was told about the expert care and treatment offered at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and Dr. George B. Holmes, Jr., a foot and ankle specialist.

Dr. Holmes disagreed with the diagnosis of a torn FHL tendon, but determined Megan exhibited an entanglement of the FHL tendon which extends from the calf, around the ankle and under the foot. In other words, the stress from hard work had inflamed and snarled the tendon but hadn’t severed it. The prognosis was more positive and filled Megan and her family with hope that she may be able to get back to performing at the same level sooner than anticipated.

After undergoing surgery with Dr. Holmes last summer, Megan dedicated herself to physical therapy while working as a teaching assistant for children’s dance classes. A few months later, she was back in her university’s studio for her sophomore year and working hard to get back in shape to perform.

Back On Stage

Today, Megan is thriving. In fact, she earned the lead part in cast A of her university’s spring concert. When the lead dancer in cast B suffered a stress fracture, Megan stepped up to perform in all five shows for both casts.

Megan’s mom Susan shared her family’s pride and joy in Megan’s recovery and their trust in Midwest Orthopaedics for future injuries.


“We were so impressed with Dr. Holmes and his work with Megan’s injury that we took our son to him to address a shin injury just last week! He comes highly recommended by our family.”


To schedule an appointment with Dr. George B. Holmes, Jr., call 877-MD-BONES. For more information about keeping your ankles healthy, visit www.anklesforlife.org.

5 Ways Movement Enhances A Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

By Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT; CEO Chicago Dance Therapy

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I’m not here to tell you why exercise or a certain type of activity like dance or yoga, is beneficial.  Anyone can type “PD and exercise” into Google and read one of 63 million results. What I would like to share are the psychosocial implications that arise from engaging in movement.  How movement enhances our emotional, social, and cognitive well-being is imperative following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Movement, our earliest form of communication, seems to be taken for granted only until we see it deteriorate or are faced with a degenerative disease that reminds us that our movements are so much more.  They are a connection to ourselves and our environment. Engaging in movement is not just about maintaining our physicality, but about preserving our existence.


Assists in symptom management: Research has shown that movement can help manage problems with gait, balance, tremors, flexibility, and coordination.  Improved mobility has been shown to decrease the risk of falling as well as other complications from PD. This often occurs because the brain is learning to use dopamine more efficiently.  

Promotes self-awareness and identity: Every person has a different way of moving and certain affinities toward movement.  It is those differences that promote a capacity for introspection and the ability to stand out as an individual.  Muscle memory even has the ability to tap into memories stored in the brain. Movement has the ability to retain our memories and create new ones.  

Maintains a sense of control: Connection to our breath, the most primitive form of movement, enables us to control our pulse rate, circulation, and even our thoughts.  This is so important for when we feel like things are out of our control or when our body is not functioning the way we would like, we have the power through our own breath to take back a sense of control.  

Builds psychological resilience: Movement has the ability to actually increase our adaptability to stress and adversity.  Reinforcing our own connection to the body empowers our psyche and encourages inner core strength.  This core I’m referring to isn’t your abdominals, but rather your identity. Connecting to the muscles in your chest, torso, and pelvis tap into your belief system, identity formation, and personality.

Maintains social connections: From early on in human existence, there is documentation of celebration and rejoicing through song and movement.  Movement has the ability to connect us with others without verbal communication. We can join in someone’s experience just by witnessing and empathically embracing their body language.


These 5 ways in which movement enhances our mind body connection are just the tip of the iceberg.  Movement is more than just exercise and physical fitness. Movement is body language, expression, and creativity.  Movement is an innate part of being human and just because that ability changes when diagnosed with PD, that does not mean that we should give up all that it entails.  It is even more imperative that we engage in movement to preserve that very part of who we.

Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in psychology from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.  

Erica is the founder and president of North Shore Dance Therapy and Chicago Dance Therapy. As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica specializes in working with older adults who are diagnosed with dementia and movement disorders. Her work has been highlighted nationally in Social Work Magazine, Natural Awakenings, and locally in the Chicago Tribune as well as on WCIU and WGN.  


Parkinson’s Awareness Month: #StartAConversation

Every April, the Parkinson’s Foundation engages the global Parkinson’s community to support Parkinson’s Awareness Month. When we raise awareness about Parkinson’s and how the Foundation helps make lives better for people with PD, we can do more together to improve care and advance research toward a cure.