The beginning of Dance & Arts Therapy NZ

the team at Dance Therapy New Zealand
Contributor: Alice Rich

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about DTNZ’s story, here’s your opportunity to find out about the humble origins of our very special charity!

The DTNZ story

Anaia Treefoot, DTNZ founder and director, had always dreamed of using the therapeutic power of dance and movement to support and transform the lives of children and young people.

In 2008, Anaia completed her Clinical Arts Therapy Masters thesis with a dance movement focus at the Whitecliffe College of Art & Design. Her thesis entitled “Moving together: enhancing early attachment using dance movement therapy” looked at the mother-child attachment relationship and how it can be enhanced through dance movement therapy.

In preparation for her final clinical practicum year, Anaia started looking for local dance movement therapy groups she could observe and learn from but found nothing available – despite being an established profession in other parts of the world, dance movement therapy wasn’t widely developed in Aotearoa New Zealand, with only a handful of dance therapists practicing privately.

Determined, Anaia decided to travel further afield, to New York City, to study intensively with renowned Dance Movement Psychotherapist, Dr Suzi Tortora. In 2010 she returned to Aotearoa and started what would become our first STARS programme –  a dance movement therapy group for children with autism and related special needs at the YMCA Recreation Centre in Mt Albert.

From there, Anaia was able to demonstrate the efficacy of this particular type of therapy and grow the interest in these types of programmes. This led to Dance Therapy New Zealand officially opening its doors as a charity in October 2013, and being able to extend our programme to include arts therapy.

Since then, we have been committed to being the nation’s leading provider of dance and arts therapy. Together with our expert team of therapists we have expanded to offer dance movement therapy programmes in Northland, Christchurch, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington and Dunedin. Excitingly, we’ve recorded over 20,000 attendances since we started and have already achieved several major organisational milestones.

We provide support to people of all ages including a particular focus on people living with disabilities, mental illness, tamariki, and survivors of sexual abuse.

These days therapists can earn their qualifications at the University of Auckland, Whitecliffe College Of Arts And Design or via Dance Therapy Training Aotearoa – and register as a member of the Dance Therapy Association of Australasia.

We’re proud to employ some of the best creative arts therapists going around as we work to empower people of all ages, and in all situations, throughout the country.

“I feel like a proud Mama – of my first baby, DTNZ”, says Anaia. “It has been humbling to witness its growth and see it take off and develop. I’m grateful for being able to help seed it, and also grateful for all the DTNZ whānau who now hold the organisation, making it what it is today.”

As the complexities of modern-day life continue to change and evolve, we’re seeing the demand and interest in our creative-based therapies grow. Our extraordinary organisation has always depended on charitable support. We’re grateful to the individuals and organisations who have seen the value in the service we offer and remain committed to our very special cause. We rely on this support to go above and beyond to provide the best care, expertise and local facilities for our deserving clients.

This is especially important as we continue to support the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing needs of Kiwis all around the country, and work to ensure our service remains relevant for individuals and communities – now and in the future.

Anaia’s contribution to creative arts therapy 

In addition to founding DTNZ, Anaia (along with fellow dance movement therapist Jacquelyn Jung-Hsu Wan) created an international dance therapy training programme for aspiring therapists and played a pivotal role in developing the University of Auckland’s Master of Dance Therapy programme. In 2019 she was awarded The Hanny Exiner Memorial Foundation Award in recognition of her dedication to developing the dance movement therapy profession in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Alice Rich has a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Therapy. Alice loves how movement and creative expression can have such a profound impact on people’s lives.