shannon c. mcmullan


A collection of thoughts, discussions, and experiences within the dance community, AEC industry, and yoga land.

An Independent Duncan Dancer

The topic of exclusivity among the Duncan community has been on my mind as of late. This form of culture within the community has always intrigued, yet confused me a bit. I quickly learned how dedicated other dancers were to their main teachers, loyalty at it's best, until it creates an environment of competition and subtle cold shoulders to each other.

It is not uncommon to meet another Duncan dancer and immediately ask what company they dance with, who their teacher is, and how they heard about Duncan. You will always receive the same standard answers about what coast the person dances on and who their main teacher is, more often than not, that same teacher is the one who introduce them to the technique. I too have a similar backstory as well, but I seek out as many different teachers in a variety of settings. In university, we were taught to take as many different forms of dance as we could and experience as many different teachers as well; this was extremely useful to draw inspiration from a plethora of artists and to shape yourself into a more versatile dancer. This lesson has stuck with me because I know that every Duncan teacher has their own training and perspective to offer, why would I not take advantage of this?

In our contemporary dance practices, we have unlimited options and avenues for training, so why is it that in the (arguably) most important modern technique, we are stuck in a corner of limiting ourselves to one teacher?

Why are we continuing to repeat history and stay in this cycle?

What is so different from the idea of learning contemporary practices from multiple artists, but not doing the same for the Duncan technique?

There appears to be such a sacredness within the form that must be held closely and in tight grasps. You can see this when dancers have a discussion over gestures within a piece of repertoire or how a movement should be executed. We all come from different limbs of the Duncan family tree and thus have had different influences and training. In my opinion, our family tree is what makes the work unique and special; our generational approach creates unlimited viewpoints, stories, and artistic statements we can all steal and learn from each other. Our family tree is the sacred heart of our work, this is what will grow us into contemporary practices.

I am lucky enough to have been able to learn from over 5 Duncan teachers (with the hopes of learning from more) throughout the past three years. Even though I have not worked with all of them consistently, I have spoken, danced, and learned from them all, and I still draw on their words of wisdom when I am dancing. The best part of this process is being able to pick and choose what teachings resonant with me more, and developing my own perspective and artistic stance.

The big questions I have are:

Does this take away the sacredness of the work and technique?

How would Isadora feel about this, in 2017 not in 1910?

Am I an Independent Duncan Dancer? What does this mean?