Our rating
Dance Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
Dance movement therapy 1 smiley:  This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

Dance involves movement of the body rhythmically to music. There are many different styles of dance, which can be performed alone, in a pair, or in a larger group.

Dance movement therapy is a type of therapy that combines dance and psychological techniques under the guidance of a therapist.

How does it work?

There are many ways in which dancing might help to improve mood.

  • Dance is a type of exercise. Exercise causes a change in the levels of neurochemicals in the brain, which might improve mood.
  • Dancing usually involves listening to music. Listening to music is thought to influence emotions and may lift mood, though how this occurs is not understood.
  • Dancing can also involve social contact, which may be helpful for improving depression symptoms.

Is it effective?

There are a small number of studies of reasonable quality that have looked at the use of dance for depression. However, there are big differences in how the studies are designed and the type of participants.  Some studies have found that dance can be an effective treatment for depression, while others have found that it had no effect. A review of a small number of studies which looked at the effect of dance and other forms of exercise in college students with depression symptoms found that dance was effective in decreasing depression symptoms for these students.

More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of dance for depression.

Additional studies have looked at the use of dance movement therapy for depression. Several reviews have found evidence that dance movement therapy can be an effective treatment for depression in adults, especially when added to other treatments such as antidepressant medication.

While dance movement therapy seems to be a promising treatment, more large scale studies are needed to better understand its effectiveness, especially for people who are not also receiving other treatment for depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some dance styles can be more strenuous than others. You should choose a style that is appropriate to your fitness levels. Some dance classes may be costly, but there are free alternatives.

Where do you get it?

Dance classes are offered through dance studios, fitness centres and community groups. If there are no dance classes available in your local area, you should be able to find tutorials online for a wide range of styles. Dance Movement Therapists can be found on the Dance Movement Therapy Association of Australasia  website.


Dancing can be recommended as a positive lifestyle activity and as a form of exercise, but more research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for depression. Dance movement therapy appears to be effective for treating depression, however there is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend it as a stand-alone treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Guo S, Liu F, Shen J, Wei M, Yang Y. Comparative efficacy of seven exercise interventions for symptoms of depression in college students: A network of meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2020; 99(47):E23058-e.
  • Hyvönen K, Pylvänäinen P, Muotka J, Lappalainen R. The Effects of Dance Movement Therapy in the Treatment of Depression: A Multicenter, Randomized Controlled Trial in Finland. Frontiers in Psychology. 2020; 11.
  • Karkou V, Aithal S, Zubala A, Meekums B. Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy in the Treatment of Adults With Depression: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analyses. Frontiers in Psychology. 2019; 10.
  • Koch SC, Riege RFF, Tisborn K, Biondo J, Martin L, Beelmann A. Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Dance on Health-Related Psychological Outcomes. A Meta-Analysis Update. Frontiers in Psychology. 2019; 10.
  • Meekums B, Karkou V, Nelson EA. Dance movement therapy for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015 (2).

Last reviewed and updated: 7 September 2023