“Take the time for it”  – Holistic Dance with Sabine Panzer


Dr Virág Suhajda

My journey to the area of somatic approaches started several years ago, as a personal journey, however later it turned into a chosen professional way too. During this long journey, one year, in a Contact Improvisation Festival, in the Three Treasure Valley in Hungary, among beautiful hills, a lake and wondering horses, I met Sabine Parzer, holistic dance teacher, the head of the Holistic Dance Institute. Since then I have been a learner of her, studying also at the Institute the approach of holistic dancing.

As Sabine has said, to understand an approach it is always important to hear the story behind. Sabine Parzer comes from a professional dancer background. She studied in the US modern dance in the 1980s, then she danced and choreographed there for about 10 years meanwhile she has met many techniques approaches. During professional dancing she always had the “yearning for something more, for  something that went into a deeper realm, more into a self-reflective practice”, and therefore she also started investigating different kinds of bodywork methods and different kind of healing methods. This journey finally led to getting to know two of the main forms, that are now the basis for holistic dance, which is authentic movement and contact improvisation.

Meanwhile at the end of the 90s Sabine went back to Austria to work in a rehabilitation center for people after severe traffic accidents, and also started to study more in different therapy forms as a body therapist and also gaining further knowledge around dance therapy. She wanted to understand, “how much as a dancer I could work with, and support the healing process of people both on a physical level and also on an emotional level”, which finally led to the creation of her own approach and the setting up of the Holistic Dance Institute 13 years ago.

VS: Dear Sabine, would you introduce us Holistic Dance? What is it, who is it for?

SP: So holistic dance is a crossover, or a compilation of different forms and methods that I combine to work with people who want to dance, move, and explore. In HD we are working with dance, movement and touch in a holistic, transformational way.  The main difference to dance pedagogy  – teaching to dance – is that, dance pedagogy is mostly focused on performing arts or presentation. In holistic dance, we use elements of dance pedagogy, but we go deeper inside.

In HD we use methods that work within inner reflection or self-reflection and/or with psychological aspects and/or spiritual aspects of the person. These methods help to explore the benefits of wellbeing, of health, of resilience, of transformation within the person.

We work with healthy, or what we would call “normal neurotic” people, who are usually not pursuing a professional dance carrier (although it is also possible), but want to learn/experience more about themselves, and therefore it is located in the field between dance pedagogy and dance therapy. While dance pedagogy is usually geared towards performing, and dance therapy usually works more with people who have psychiatric diagnoses, more severe issues, in holistic dance we work with a clientele that is stable, healthy, and that still wants to learn more about their bodies and their body identity, and about, staying healthy and about developing their relationships and developing their personal resources.

However in holistic dance we use elements from both dance pedagogy and therapy, combining several methods, like contact improvisation, authentic movement, contemporary dance, improvisation, somatics and applied anatomy, and dance in nature or eco-somatics.

VS: What are the main areas holistic dance develops for their practitioners?

SP: Their self-confidence and their relationship to other people, as well as to the world or to nature.

VS: Do you think that holistic dance can be used to enhance positive emotions of people and how do you think it can help the rediscovery of unexpressed positive emotions of people? Do you think holistic dance can bring JOY and how?

Oh yes, definitely. First of all, through movement. Movement, so I’m not even talking about dance, but any movement will help people. Activate their bodies and therefore also their brain. So any movement will help people to get out of from even a mildly depressed state. Any movement will help people feel more alive, feel more connected to themselves, to their environment. It wakes them up. Even just walking or even doing a household activity, like cooking or knitting or something, activates the brain. So any movement is stimulating and therefore healthy both for the body and for our brain. Dancing, as a way of movement, is just this miraculous thing,  that has been present for all of humanity.  Even if we don’t have it documented, but it’s an archaic form of expression. Native tribes have used dancing as a way of celebrating, of calling on the spirits for mourning, grieving, or any sort of ritual that was connected transitions of a young girl becoming a woman, a youth becoming a man, or people getting married. Actually, celebrating any sort of communal activity is usually accompanied by dancing in our cultures. It is a universal way of communication and celebration – even somebody who doesn’t know how to dance, might move their leg a little bit back and forth at a wedding.  Dancing is something that’s just sort of innately present in us humans and it brings joy.

It’s just so simple. It’s really hard to be depressed or to be sad when you are moving and when you are dancing. So at the core of it, dancing makes people more alive, and also activates their brain connections, their blood flow, their heart.

It also helps the interconnection with another person. So oftentimes when people, even in a social dance, interact. They touch each other, their faces are much closer to each other, or they smile towards each other. So there is a level of interaction that is deeply social and usually brings joy.

If we are looking more specifically at what I’m doing in my institute, I would consider joy to be one of the aspects of the work. I think there is a deeper joy that comes from connecting to yourself on a deeper level, however connecting to yourself on a deeper level might sometimes mean that you also connect to sadness or grief or anger or numbness or confusion. So when you dive deeper into the mind, of course there is our unconscious, of course, which has an enormous amount of information from our childhood, from past stories, may it be traumatic or even joyful.

Our unconscious contains all of our dreams and our wishes and our resources. Maybe it contains information from our ancestors or even past lives, which we can connect to through dance, especially with the practice of authentic movement. Through any sort of touch-related movement, we tap into a deeper level of ourselves where there’s a lot of information that we don’t really have access in a verbal, normal, everyday situation.

So when I say dancing brings joy, I think joy is also in a larger sense of becoming more,  becoming more of ourselves.  Joy is a much more authentic feeling of feeling whole with yourself. And it is connected with all other, other, other feelings.

By now I was mostly talking about in the relationship to ourselves. But, of course, moving together includes my relationship to somebody else. So if I am exploring my full self, that also means to be able to set boundaries, to have and resolve conflict in a healthy way, or to be able to deal with tensions between people. To have resources to connect with somebody else.

At the same time it is also connecting or engaging with my environment. My environment, that can be a group or a community or the space that I am in, or also nature or even the earth.

So holistic dance is holistic in a sense that there are these three layers to become a whole, connecting not just to ourselves, but also to others, and our environment.

VS: So altogether it helps to become more confident, doesn’t it?

SP: For sure. However it may be a process to get there, because, as I always say, healing is a bitch. If we say healing as a the process of becoming whole, or of growing more into ourselves, the process can sometimes mean that we feel like we are losing self-confidence,  because maybe the self-identity that I had of myself before, disappears, or changes.  I might have a self-image of myself that changes during the process of connecting with my unconscious, connecting with some shadow aspects of myself, connecting with a more authentic sense of my deep self.

So sometimes there are periods when there is a confusion or there is the sense of “okay, I don’t know, who I am anymore”. But when you come back, then that is where a new sense of self develops, and that is where a new self-confidence also develops, which is usually more integrated and more authentic, because it is also more embodied, so it is less mental and less conditioned, while more true to where the person is actually at their lives.

VS: In Holistic Dance how much do you build on the previous experiences and learning of people? How much you accept and validate it?

Well, as about previous learning, I don’t think it has anything to do with previous training or schooling. The life experience of people is the raw material for their holistic dance exploration. That is one of the reasons why we include a lot of different people in the training programs, because I feel like it’s so important that as many people can participate as possible. Just because somebody has less “dance experience” doesn’t mean that they are less embodied or that they are less aware of themselves.

So I think it is great that people use their real life knowledge. Like in my teacher training we have school teachers who bring their pedagogy knowledge with them, and then there are psychotherapists, bringing their psychological training with them, and there are nurses who bring a deep sentence of caretaking and compassion.  There also can be a visual artist, who comes with a compositional sense, while just another person can have experience in all of the above. So, you know, it is always about connecting all of your resources that you already have and deepening them. Maybe finding a new language for it or finding a new container for it.

It is often the case, especially with people coming from the arts, that they have experiences in moving, but they don’t have this kind of container for it, like a safe container or a more concentrated, spiritual container or a more holistic container. So while that is new to develop, they fill it in with all their previous knowledge and experience.

VS: Do you think that holistic dancing can also be used with young people, who have difficulties?

SP:  I think it depends on the level of maturity. It partly depends on their age, but it also depends on mature they are. You can definitely use some of the methods, maybe not all of the methods, with younger people. So for example authentic movement is not something, that we use with children or even, or even with teenagers, but with young adults from around 20 or 21, we can already use it. Maybe, you know, just with the amount of awareness that the ability to self-reflect might still be rough. You need to be aware of what younger people need, but I think that for example younger people more easily  get comfortable with improvising, because that’s what we do as children all the time. You can reconnect to a sense of playfulness, and get aware of what their talents are, their resources are, and invite them to play with these or to create with these resources.

Usually young people are still quite healthy and they are still quite able bodied. Building on their strength and help to channel it into creating something with their bodies, can often be very helpful. However, the issue of touching is always a question of maturity, but you can always modulate any of the exercises to the age that you work with.

VS: What suggestions would you give to a person who decides to undertake a path of self-awareness through this method? So to somebody who is just new to this method and would like to start.

SP: Well, I would suggest, that it is good if you are in a relatively stable life situation. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have challenges, but if you are in a crisis situation, then maybe therapy will be a better option in the beginning. (Even dance therapies exist – VS) You can also do it parallel with holistic dance.

In case if you are in a stable situation in your life and you want to learn something new or you want to further explore your resources or your movement, or your artistic self, or just find out more about yourself and the world, then you are welcome to this method.

I think, the one suggestion I would give people, is to really take time for it. So not just rush and do it, squeeze it in between a lot of other stuff. Give time to yourself, because so much of it is about sensing, is about slowing down, is about connecting with yourself. And that takes time. So the more time you have to integrate, then also the more effective it will be.


This is where our interview with Sabine ended, and these last sentences really left me speechless and contemplating about my carrier as a dance therapist and holistic dance teacher. Reflecting on making time to introspect, time to integrate, time to grow. Maybe this is a main message not only for dancing, but for any approach of self-development.


If you want to learn more from Sabine Parzer, visit her website (www.holistic-dance.at), and look for the following resources:

  • Holistic Dance Cardset, an English or German cardset of beautifully illustrated cards, containing somatic (movement) exercises for solo and pair work, which can be used for self-work, and also as a practitioner.
  • A resource guide / booklet supporting the use of the cardset
  • Description of the methods she is inspired from
  • Her shorter open intensives and workshops
  • The Holistic Dance Teacher Training process of 1,5 year, starting every year

… or to her Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/@sabineparzer4712/videos)  to see

  • Videos with Sabine about her work and approach
  • Video interviews with other practitioners from somatic dance approach about their work
  • Short video clips from workshops introducing the method
  • Some of her dance performances
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