Why Do We Dance? For Pelvic Health!

In Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy by pelv_admin6 Comments

By Maryssa Steffen, DPT, PHRC Berkeley

I am a physical therapist, but my other life is a dancer. I have danced for almost 33 years and I have no doubt that it fully connects me to myself and strengthens my empathy towards others. After working with patients and delving into the research that supports dance therapy, I wanted to share how I bridge the gap between these two worlds. 

What is dance? Dance is made up of purposeful, rhythmical, and culturally patterned sequences of nonverbal body movements. For those who dance or appreciate dance, many would argue it is much more than exercise. It involves sight, sound, touch, smell, and kinesthetic feeling. Dance is an intricate combination of movement, rhythm, and music that studies have shown involves simultaneous right and left brain usage in the complex process of self expression.

As a physical activity, dance can improve balance, coordination, strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, bone health, and proprioception (knowing where the body is in space). People talk a lot about “the core” when they are dancing and the pelvic floor is the base of our “core.” Here is an excellent blog about exercises to improve pelvic floor awareness and mobility:  https://pelvicpainrehab.com/female-pelvic-pain/3676/exercises-short-tight-pelvic-floor-muscles/

Dancing is multisensory, involves skill, expresses emotions, and is interactive with other dancers and/or musicians. Across the world, there are religious dimensions of dance that can contribute towards feelings of identification or inclusion in a culture or group. Therefore, dance potentially reduces stress and isolation. All these attributes make dance an “enriched environment” which stimulate the brain’s plasticity, causing a positive change in neural pathways and brain activity. This neuroplasticity may help a patient’s response to therapy when they are dealing with chronic pain.

Besides encouraging neuroplasticity, patients have the opportunity to gain a sense of control through dance. Arthur Kleinman, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist at Harvard University adds to this point, “there is a crucial distinction between a medical condition and a person’s experience of that condition. Although a portion of the pain comes from a medical situation, the rest comes from a person’s sense of helplessness or fear.” Evidence on dance and healing suggest that dance may provide a feeling of control for some people. This agency may reduce helplessness and fear related to pain.

Dancing can also offer a sense of control during the healing process. After practicing any dance form for a few weeks, a participant will master the warm-up, as well as simple movement sequences that enhance grace and control during daily activities. Eventually, the more complex dances will get easier. This process may not only improve physical function but also increases a participant’s awareness of their body’s responses. They will become more aware of their daily needs to stretch, walk, and take deep breaths. Dance can make us more joyfully present and embodied as we live our lives. 

On the other hand, sometimes we need an escape or distraction from stress and pain. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, you may benefit from manual therapy and exercises provided by a pelvic floor physical therapist in one of our  clinics. A good pelvic floor PT would help to decrease the musculoskeletal tension that might be contributing to your pain. 

Once the neuromusculoskeletal impairments are addressed, dance can induce positive emotional changes. Physiologically, this happens by the release of endorphins, or neurotransmitters that decrease the perception of pain. As endorphins are released, there can be a shift from pain towards pleasure. This discovery of new movement possibilities can break habits that cause pain and refocus towards new strategies of ease and comfort. By the way, Feldenkrais (https://feldenkrais.com) is a somatic education method to explore new movements that may be more effective and pleasurable! 

One of my favorite things about dancing is that it is a social activity. This feature builds up a spirit of elation that is infectious. Experiencing a strong emotion, such as joy, may block pain and thereby provide a distraction or escape from it. How therapeutic!

Lastly, dancing has symbolic value. A dancer can confront stressors by projecting them in dance and then working it out. When someone masters challenging movement sequences and their body awareness increases, they may imagine confronting life event stressors with the same tenacity, dignity, grace, and perhaps humor. With its language like quality, dance can represent past, present, and anticipated events, ideas, and feelings that evoke helplessness, anger or fear. For patients dealing with chronic pain, dance can help them unlock movement potential and find a personal process of discovery as they get their lives back.



Hanna, Judith L., “The Power of Dance: Health and Healing.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 1, Number 4, 1995. pp. 323-331.

Bidonde, Julia et al., “Dance for Adults with Fibromyalgia — What Do We Know About It? Protocol for a Scoping Review.” JMIR Research Protocols, vol. 6, issue 2, 2017. http://www.researchprotocols.org/2017/2/e25/

Kattenstroth J, Kalisch T, Holt S, Tegenthoff M, Dinse H. “Six Months of Dance Intervention Enhances Postural, Sensorimotor, and Cognitive Performance In Elderly without Affecting Cardio-respiratory Functions.” Front Aging Neuroscience 2013;5:5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2013.00005


What are pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that run from the coccyx to the pubic bone. They are part of the core, helping to support our entire body as well as providing support for the bowel, bladder and uterus. These muscles help us maintain bowel and bladder control and are involved in sexual pleasure and orgasm. The technical name of the pelvic floor muscles is the Levator Ani muscle group. The pudendal nerve, the levator ani nerve, and branches from the S2 – S4 nerve roots innervate the pelvic floor muscles. They are under voluntary and autonomic control, which is a unique feature only they possess compared to other muscle groups.

What is pelvic floor physical therapy?

Pelvic floor physical therapy is a specialized area of physical therapy. Currently, physical therapists need advanced post-graduate education to be able to help people with pelvic floor dysfunction because pelvic floor disorders are not yet being taught in standard physical therapy curricula. The Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center provides extensive training for our staff because we recognize the limitations of physical therapy education in this unique area.

What happens at pelvic floor therapy?

During an evaluation for pelvic floor dysfunction the physical therapist will take a detailed history. Following the history the physical therapist will leave the room to allow the patient to change and drape themselves. The physical therapist will return to the room and using gloved hands will perform an external and internal manual assessment of the pelvic floor and girdle muscles. The physical therapist will once again leave the room and allow the patient to dress. Following the manual examination there may also be an examination of strength, motor control, and overall biomechanics and neuromuscular control. The physical therapist will then communicate the findings to the patient and together with their patient they establish an assessment, short term and long term goals and a treatment plan. Typically people with pelvic floor dysfunction are seen one time per week for one hour for varying amounts of time based on the severity and chronicity of the disease. A home exercise program will be established and the physical therapist will help coordinate other providers on the treatment team. Typically patients are seen for 3 months to a year.

What is pudendal neuralgia and how is it treated?

Pudendal Neuralgia is a clinical diagnosis that means pain in the sensory distribution of the pudendal nerve. The pudendal nerve is a mixed nerve that exits the S2 – S4 sacral nerve roots, we have a right and left pudendal nerve and each side has three main trunks: the dorsal branch, the perineal branch, and the inferior rectal branch. The branches supply sensation to the clitoris/penis, labia/scrotum, perineum, anus, the distal ⅓ of the urethra and rectum, and the vulva and vestibule. The nerve branches also control the pelvic floor muscles. The pudendal nerve follows a tortuous path through the pelvic floor and girdle, leaving it vulnerable to compression and tension injuries at various points along its path.

Pudendal Neuralgia occurs when the nerve is unable to slide, glide and move normally and as a result, people experience pain in some or all of the above-mentioned areas. Pelvic floor physical therapy plays a crucial role in identifying the mechanical impairments that are affecting the nerve. The physical therapy treatment plan is designed to restore normal neural function. Patients with pudendal neuralgia require pelvic floor physical therapy and may also benefit from medical management that includes pharmaceuticals and procedures such as pudendal nerve blocks or botox injections.

What is interstitial cystitis and how is it treated?

Interstitial Cystitis is a clinical diagnosis characterized by irritative bladder symptoms such as urinary urgency, frequency, and hesitancy in the absence of infection. Research has shown the majority of patients who meet the clinical definition have pelvic floor dysfunction and myalgia. Therefore, the American Urologic Association recommends pelvic floor physical therapy as first-line treatment for Interstitial Cystitis. Patients will benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy and may also benefit from pharmacologic management or medical procedures such as bladder instillations.

Who is the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Team?

The Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center was founded by Elizabeth Akincilar and Stephanie Prendergast in 2006, they have been treating people with pelvic floor disorders since 2001. They were trained and mentored by a medical doctor and quickly became experts in treating pelvic floor disorders. They began creating courses and sharing their knowledge around the world. They expanded to 11 locations in the United States and developed a residency style training program for their employees with ongoing weekly mentoring. The physical therapists who work at PHRC have undergone more training than the majority of pelvic floor physical therapists and as a result offer efficient and high quality care.

How many years of experience do we have?

Stephanie and Liz have 24 years of experience and help each and every team member become an expert in the field through their training and mentoring program.

Why PHRC versus anyone else?

PHRC is unique because of the specific focus on pelvic floor disorders and the leadership at our company. We are constantly lecturing, teaching, and staying ahead of the curve with our connections to medical experts and emerging experts. As a result, we are able to efficiently and effectively help our patients restore their pelvic health.

Do we treat men for pelvic floor therapy?

The Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center is unique in that the Cofounders have always treated people of all genders and therefore have trained the team members and staff the same way. Many pelvic floor physical therapists focus solely on people with vulvas, this is not the case here.

Do I need pelvic floor therapy forever?

The majority of people with pelvic floor dysfunction will undergo pelvic floor physical therapy for a set amount of time based on their goals. Every 6 -8 weeks goals will be re-established based on the physical improvements and remaining physical impairments. Most patients will achieve their goals in 3 – 6 months. If there are complicating medical or untreated comorbidities some patients will be in therapy longer.


  1. Great article Maryssa! I so agree with you and I love all the science you used to broaden our understanding of why dance is so healing! It has been one of the most healing forces in my life.

  2. Hello, thank you for writing this article. For the past 4 years, I’ve been suffering from persistent pelvic pain, to the point I had to defer my law school admission because I’m unable to wear clothing. My welfare of living is very low and I was hoping to incorporate things like dance to improve my pelvic floor and emotional wellness. I was wondering if you had any particular dances you would suggest to someone in my situation? Thank you again.

    1. Hi Kyle,
      Before we offer any suggestions, if you have been experiencing pelvic pain for 4 years, we highly recommend you seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist in order to find the cause of this pelvic pain. When you are able to find the cause, then we can recommend exercises, since we do not want to recommend anything that might exacerbate the pain.

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