shannon c. mcmullan


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

Why I Duncan Dance

I recently read a blog post written by a few fellow Duncan Dancers, who are located in Chicago and dance with Duncan Dance Chicago, and their words inspired me to follow their writing with my own response to the topic, Why I Duncan Dance.

It started out my junior year in college when one of my favorite professors asked me, and two other students, to work with her on an outside project. This initial project did not pan out due to scheduling circumstances, but since we had already committed to spend extra hours with her we transitioned our rehearsal time to learning the Duncan technique. At this point in my college career, I had briefly learned about Isadora but not enough to truly understand what I was about to get myself into. My initial reaction to the technique was not a revelation, I did not immediately think to myself, "I am born to be a Duncan Dancer", instead I struggled learning the barre, center work, initiating from my "solar plexus",  but found the whole aesthetic overall fun to do. I did not fall in love immediately, but I was not put off by it. I did however, find myself looking forward to attending these rehearsals and learning the many variations on skipping.

The most intriguing aspect I discovered was the structure, but free flowing, of the barre work. I am not a dancer who enjoys standing stiff at a ballet barre and repeating quick leg movements, I find it difficult to experience an emotional expression this way. Instead, I was lost within the delicate arm movements that were a reflection of the leg placement, and solar plexus which was the catalyst for the whole body to react and move. I had found a form of movement in which I was allowed to explore my own terms of expression, while having a technical structure.

I fell in love when I began learning repertoire. The experience of learning a choreographed dance piece that was created in the early 1900's and passed from generation to generation, was, and still, is the most rewarding part of the Duncan work. 'Moment Musical' was the first work I learned and since then I have learned it two more times from two different teachers. All three teachers taught the same choreography (which is a rarity because most Duncan practitioners have learned different variations), but each teacher had their own influence on how to dance the piece. This has lead me to seek out as many Duncan teachers to learn from, to create my own archival system that is full of a variety of sources.

Apart from the generational legacy, the movement language itself within the repertoire is what keeps me coming back for more. My first Duncan teacher once said to me "Why wouldn't you want to skip around with flowers in your hair, in a silk tunic, all the time?", and I am still trying to answer that question to this day, because the reality is that I cannot find another happiness. My number one reasoning for being a dancer is because it is the equivalent of flying without having wings, and I cannot find a brighter happiness and more flight than when I am skipping, leaping, calling, and lifting straight from the solar plexus. I have a strong belief that dance does not need to be complicated, but can still be beautiful in the most simplest of fashions and Isadora's repertoire brings this to life. The repertoire is not overly layered, often times there are many repeats which makes it more visually appealing to non-dance audiences; this is in part to allowing the audience not to try and figure out what the dance "means".

Isadora choreographed perfectly to compositions, creating movement to bring music alive, and being a sole tool in expressing the movement composition is what keeps me coming back to Duncan dancing.

There is more to this story about "Why I Duncan Dance", stay tuned for Part Two.

Cover photo courtesy Jon Taylor

Dance Visions NY performing at Bethesda Fountain for Isadora Duncan's birthday

Dance Visions NY performing at Bethesda Fountain for Isadora Duncan's birthday