Spotlight on the DEL Workshop: Dance for Students with Special Needs

Diane Duggan has 40 years of experience as a Dance Therapist and is teaching the DEL February Intensive. She shares how one person taking the time to ask her a very simple question led to a gratifying career in dance therapy. Read more below about Diane and what you will have the opportunity to learn during her upcoming course!

How did you become a Dance Therapist?

After I graduated college I was looking for a job, and I went to New York State Unemployment.  I didn’t realize it was the place to go when you had lost your job, not when you were looking for a job.  Instead of telling me I was in the wrong place, the worker asked me what I liked to do.  I told her I liked to dance and I liked to help people.  She said “Dance Therapy,” and gave me the name of a dance therapist who was working in Bellevue Hospital, Lee Strauss.  Lee told me that Hunter College was going to be starting a masters program in dance therapy.  I went for the interview and audition and was accepted into the program in its first year. I am so grateful to the worker at NYS Unemployment for asking me that simple, basic question and to Lee for her direction.  They enabled me to train and work in a field I care passionately about.  I’ve been a dance therapist for 40 years now, and I am still excited and gratified by the work I do.

Why do you think Dance for Students with Special Needs is so important

Many youngsters with special needs have challenges that can be worked on directly through dance.  These might include challenges in self-regulation, getting along with others, understanding nonverbal communication, balance, and gross motor coordination, to name just some of the areas that dance can address.  The interventions that dance educators and dance therapists provide can be beneficial to the child’s development and improve their functioning.  For other students with special needs, dance may be the only area where they can interact as equals with typically developing peers.  That’s a very important opportunity.

What most excites you about teaching this course?

The thing that excites me most about teaching the course is that I have an opportunity to help dance educators and dance therapists to be more effective in their work.  This enables me to have a positive impact on the lives of children and teenagers and to make dance available to all youngsters, whatever challenges they may have and whatever settings they are in.

What do you plan to cover in the three days?

I will cover basic principles of how to support positive behavior in children and adolescents, so that classes and sessions run smoothly; how to identify youngsters’ strengths and needs; and how to develop activities for students who have special needs.

What do you hope students will take away from this course?

I want to help dance educators and dance therapists to really see the youngsters in their classes and sessions so that they can gear their work to their strengths and needs, not just to a lesson plan or theory. Although I will talk about various activities, my goal is not to present a cookbook of things to do. I want to give participants in the intensive course some lenses to assess their students so they can develop activities that are suitable for them. I also want to help participants to be aware of their leadership style and to move forward in developing their own unique voice as a dance educator or dance therapist.