Therapy in Motion

In Person

Dominique Fickling MS ’17 can pinpoint the moment she fell in love with dance. As a 12-year-old perched on the edge of her seat, she watched her cousin, a ballerina, perform at Lincoln Center. Dance lessons soon followed, as Fickling’s love for the art form continued into her undergraduate years at Hofstra, where she pirouetted from ballet to hip-hop to praise dancing.

After graduation, Fickling wanted to act, and she did for the next eight years. But she found herself drawn back to her first passion. “I’d always taught dance,” Fickling says. “I went back to that world, and it began to have a deeper effect on me.”

Looking for a way to combine her passion for dance with her desire to serve others, she discovered the graduate program in dance/movement therapy at Sarah Lawrence, one of only seven such programs in the country. Now in her second and final year, she is thriving in an internship that has stretched her understanding of what dance can do.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, Fickling leads a movement session for a group of 10 children with serious medical issues—the “Groovy Girls,” she calls them—at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a specialty care facility in Yonkers. Most of the children are nonverbal, so Fickling uses any movement, no matter how slight, to develop a therapeutic relationship. “When you hear the word dance, it makes you think you have to be skillful,” she says. “With DMT, the key word is movement. It can be a blink of an eye. It could be a reach of your arm. Tapping your hands on your knees. Changing muscle tension.”

“With dance/movement therapy, the key word is movement. It can be a blink of an eye.”

Dance/movement therapy can address a range of issues, from reducing isolation and improving socialization skills to enhancing self-awareness. Elise Risher, interim director of the Dance/Movement Therapy Program, says Fickling has developed the skills necessary to connect with the children. “I think what Dominique is picking up on is that kids can be isolated when they’re not being encouraged to socialize,” Risher says. “She sees past the surface and gets who the person is.”

Some days Fickling likes to indulge the lighter charms of her practice. “You can just have fun,” she says. During her first year of fieldwork at the Mary J. Blige Center for Women and Girls in Yonkers, Fickling worked with 12- to 14-year-olds considered at risk. She once staged a fashion show with imaginary paparazzi—“to help them be seen,” she says. That sort of play-acting enables Fickling to make the connection she always seeks.

“Some girls who were hunched over and timid would start to walk more upright, with confidence,” she says. “They’d glide, with sass and pizzazz.”