The beginning of Dance & Arts Therapy NZ

the team at Dance Therapy New Zealand
Contributor: Alice Rich

Anaia Treefoot 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 she completed her Clinical Arts Therapy Masters thesis with a dance movement focus from 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 this can be enhanced through dance movement therapy.

In preparation for her final Clinical practicum year, Anaia started looking for dance movement therapy groups she could observe and learn from but found nothing – 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.

Fast forward ten years – all about moving creatively together we now run 20 weekly programmes in Auckland and Christchurch empowering vulnerable individuals and communities with a focus on children and adults with special needs and disabilities and at-risk children from low income backgrounds. Excitingly, we’ve recorded over 20,000 attendances since we started and have already achieved several major organisational milestones.

In 2013 we registered as a Charitable Trust and moved into our office at the Onehunga Community Centre. We launched our first arts therapy-based programme, ‘Arts 4 Us’, in 2014 and formed an Advisory Board the same year. In 2018 we gained ACC sensitive claims provider status enabling us to begin supporting people of all ages whose lives have been/are being impacted by trauma.

“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.”

In addition to founding DTNZ, Anaia (along with fellow dance movement therapist Jacquelyn Jung-Hsu Wan) created a Certificate programme for aspiring dance movement therapists and has 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 and has spent the last two years as DTNZ’s Programmes Manager. Alice loves how movement and creative expression can have such a profound impact on people’s lives.