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Dancing through trauma


“Dance. It’s a channel that you can use to express so much; joy, pain, sadness, you can express so much through it…”

– Kelechi Okafor, Twerk Instructor on BBC News


Now we all know that dancing is great for both our bodies and mind. Not only do we get physical exercise but it also makes us feel happy, excited and uplifts our spirits. However dancing is now being used in treating people who have been through some sort of trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as depression and other forms of mental health.

Kelechi Okafor, a UK based twerk instructor teaches twerking not only for female empowerment, but as form of healing from trauma. Okafor, who was a victim of abuse herself when she was younger and suffered from trauma, found that she found healing from dance. As Okafor says in an interview with the BBCI started to use that [dance] as a way of really communicating the things that I felt there were no words for”. She continues to say that “dance to me is a form of healing... I teach it from a perspective of using it as a vehicle to heal oneself.

Twerk is a dance form that came from New Orleans in the 1980s, through the hip hop “Bounce” scene and the LGBTQ scene in the area at the time. While it is seen by many as a sexually provocative dance, with its emphasis on trusting and throwing the hips and shaking of the buttocks usually in a squatting position, there is thoughts that the dance can trace its roots from West Africa, with twerking having a similarity to the traditional Ivory Coast dance called mapouka, as well as other buttock shaking dance in other parts of Africa. Mapouka is traditionally danced by women in Ivory Coast. Okafor herself in the interview also mentions the root of twerking comes from enslaved West Africans, and from there evolved into something else. She also mentions that it is not hypersexualised in Africa, and more of a cultural activity that is traditionally danced in funerals, weddings etc. much like kizomba – see our previous blog on kizomba here.


Soldiers don’t dance. They are too cool to dance… After they get their first lesson, usually they loosen up and realize that this is more for fun. They enjoy it and next thing you know, they stick around.”

- Antonio Medina on News4Tucson KVOA


Other forms of dance has also helped people heal from other traumas. As reported on kvoa.com, Antonio Medina starting dancing salsa while serving abroad to help deal with his PTSD. Medina served in the U.S. army for 20 years and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple tours. However, he was only really able to deal with his PTSD when he started salsa, and quickly found that learning salsa helped in uplifting his mood and to feel less anxious. Seeing salsa was a great way for him to deal with his PTSD, Medina decided to quickly advise his fellow soldiers to join in with him. Medina now co-ordinates a salsa/bachata festival where people who suffer from PTSD are given access to the festival for free.

There is many more stories of how dance has helped people deal with emotional periods and trauma in their lives. It just goes to show that dance is not just for fun and entertainment, but is also a powerful activity to help uplift and bring positivity to your life!