Teachers' Tools: Diane Duggan

Duggan teaches Dance for Students with Special Needs at NYU.

At the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, teachers advocate for dance for all children. Nobody embodies that idea more than faculty member Diane Duggan, who has been a dance therapist and expert on teaching children with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities for more than 40 years. Currently juggling her roles as DEL teacher and NYU professor, Duggan teaches aspiring dance therapists and educators the ins and outs of working with disabled children.

“You have to start by working with their strengths," says Duggan. “You don't start with 'this is where you should be.' It's 'OK, this is where you are, and this is how we'll proceed.' You have to be able to see their strengths, because often children with disabilities don't know what's good about themselves." Duggan provides movement prompts, observes the children's responses and then expands on what they're doing.

Classroom management is key to Duggan's success. She says there are four main reasons that children act out in class—to get attention, to escape, because something feels good or to get something they want. In her dance therapy seminars, she provides strategies for working with those four motivations rather than in conflict with them. Many times it comes down to quick thinking and a change of plan. “When I started working with my teenagers in a circle, they kept making lines. So I said, 'OK, line up,'" she explains. “They didn't want to see each other. That was the optimal formation for them."

Dancers are at an advantage when working with disabled children. “There are things that we have available to us: the barre—you're anchored in space, music—you're anchored in time and you're organizing yourself in relationship to others on the beat," Duggan says. “These are very powerful tools that are part of our repertoire." DT

TO WARM UP: a sun salutation to stretch before class.

FAVORITE FOOTWEAR: Capezio E-Series Jazz Oxford or Capezio Dansneaker, depending on the surface. “The sneakers give excellent support, even on concrete."

IN-CLASS PROPS: “I may use floor spots, hoops, beanbags or stretchable fabric to show students how to use these with children. Mostly I just use movement and music."

RECOMMENDED READING: Island Possessed by Katherine Dunham. “I was inspired by Dunham's intelligence and courage."

OUTSIDE INTEREST:Afro-Cuban culture. I've been to Cuba five times to research the healing elements of Afro-Cuban dance and the pedagogy of dance educator Juan de Dios Ramos Morejon."

Photo by Carla Flores, courtesy of Duggan; Thinkstock (3)

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.