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Erica Hornthal: “Practice embodiment of emotions”

There is movement in stillness; our breath, our heartbeat. It is imperative that we take time to be still so that we give space to the voices and thoughts that get suppressed when going about the day to day routine. This supports resilience because it allows hardship and gratitude to be experienced and expressed. In […]

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There is movement in stillness; our breath, our heartbeat. It is imperative that we take time to be still so that we give space to the voices and thoughts that get suppressed when going about the day to day routine. This supports resilience because it allows hardship and gratitude to be experienced and expressed.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Hornthal.

Known as “The Therapist Who Moves You” Erica Hornthal, a licensed clinical professional counselor and board-certified dance/movement therapist, assists clients in making lasting changes by learning to harness the power of the body for improved mental health. As CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, Erica has worked with individuals from all backgrounds ranging in ages from 3 to 107. Erica is highly sought out by media outlets to comment on the power of the mind body connection. Erica knows that everyone has a body and mind… it’s time everyone learned to use both to achieve greater resilience as well as potential.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up dancing since the age of 3 and when it came time to choose a career I knew that dance would be central to that. The more I researched careers in dance, the more I felt discouraged because nothing seemed to truly fit my passion. It wasn’t until I was in college that a professor turned me on to the field of dance/movement therapy. It married my passion for dance with my love for helping people. I have been a dance/movement therapist for 12 years; my hope is to mainstream the principles of dance/movement therapy to bring positive mental health through body movement to the world.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

An interesting story that stands out for me is from graduate school when I was pursuing my masters in dance/movement therapy and counseling. I was a model student, liaison to the graduate school, and active in the student body. In my 2nd year I was asked to meet with an administrator in the department who thought that I should reconsider being in the field. While she had no tangible evidence as to why I should reconsider, it taught me several lessons. One, never let anyone deter you from your dreams. Two, while dreams are important it is vital that we are realistic and authentic with our own expectations. And three, people will try to keep you down when you don’t conform to the system. I have always thought out of the box and I do not plan to stop anytime soon.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

My company, Chicago Dance Therapy, stands out for many reasons. First the name alone makes people stop and think. What is Dance Therapy? This causes some confusion, but has always opened the door for communication and education. Second, the company is dedicated to the field and only hires dance therapists. While this has also been met with some frustration from potential hires it solidifies the brand and reinforces our commitment to the work and visibility.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

The story that stands out is the way I found out about the field of dance/movement therapy. As a freshman I was a declared dance major but not really feeling it. The chair of the dance department met with me to discuss my future, as she did will all students, and noticed that I was taking a psychology class. We had a long discussion and she asked how I would feel about merging psychology and dance. She mentioned dance/movement therapy. I had never heard of it before, but did all the research I could and never looked back.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is a capacity to handle difficult situations and to move through or beyond them. A resilient person can sit in the unpleasant and unknown, but has a desire to find the positive and lessons that can be learned. A resilient person doesn’t wait for others to take action, but finds ways to make things happen without taking no for an answer.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I think of not one person in particular but all of my clients actually. They come to therapy because something in their life is preventing them from thriving. They are the true definition of resilience because they look for assistance and the ability to help themselves through a challenging time.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yes, actually starting my own business. I wanted to do it in a different way than had traditionally been done before and many people told me it would never work. I did what I felt was authentic and true to myself and 10 years later my business is thriving.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I would say this pandemic counts as a setback. Although we are not through it I can tell I am getting stronger, looking for new ways to push the envelope, and engage with my community. I have created a virtual summit dedicated to dance therapy that included 19 presenters from 12 different countries. I have also been writing and creating webinars/workshops to reach a broader audience.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I moved in the middle of my sophomore year of high school which was quite a difficult transition. My family relocated from Florida to Illinois and everything changed; my support system, my friend circle, my hobbies. This taught me early on that for me to be resilient it wasn’t just a mindset but something I had to embody. I learned that finding a new community and connecting to my first passion, dance, allowed me to literally move through this difficult time.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Breathe

Breath is a basic movement that everyone engages in everyday. It is such a simple way to tap into the present moment and reconnect to the self. It enhances resilience because it teaches us that we can move through any situation- the rise and fall of the chest, the expansion of the rib cage- each reinforce that the body is capable of moving through and beyond.

Stretch

Exploring the space that we take up and the space around us allows us to externalize our experiences. We can gain a new perspective and again find new ways of moving in the moment.

Practice embodiment of emotions

When we are aware of our emotions we can take responsibility for our actions and behaviors. By learning where we feel and carry our emotions in the body we can increase our awareness and become more responsible. This allows us to recognize our position in a situation and work through it as needed.

Diversify movement

The more we move and the more we challenge the ways in which we move, the more elastic and flexible our minds become. The mind and body are connected, yet it can be difficult to change our mindset. We can start in the body by increasing our movement vocabulary- the movements we have at our disposal- which supports new perspectives as well as recognizing others’ points of view.

Find quiet time for reflection

There is movement in stillness; our breath, our heartbeat. It is imperative that we take time to be still so that we give space to the voices and thoughts that get suppressed when going about the day to day routine. This supports resilience because it allows hardship and gratitude to be experienced and expressed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Body Awareness for Mental Health; I want the world to understand that how we move our bodies and what we are aware or the lack of awareness greatly impacts our mental health. I have actually taken the first step by creating a workbook. You can check out more here if you are interested,

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Maria Shriver. I really appreciate her Sunday Paper, her wisdom, and her appreciation for brain health and the power of movement for overall wellness.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @EricaHornthal

Facebook: www.facebook.com/EricaHornthal

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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