Moving Through The Years

Dena Digangi, a senior who splits her time between New Mexico and Florida, has a PhD in Child Development / Creative Arts, specializing in Creative Movement. She reflects on the role movement and dance has played in her life and work.



What was your initial exposure to movement? How did you come to use creative movement in your work?

My mother knew I would be tall, and her instinct and wisdom guided her to enroll me in “rhythmic exercise,” which helped me to feel comfortable being taller than my peers. I was four when I started dancing with Roberta Humphrey in Tucson, Arizona, and continued until graduating from high school. Roberta taught a variety of classes ranging from rhythmic exercise (creative movement) to square and social dance. I danced through my formative years and also excelled in tennis. After becoming a teacher, I quickly learned while teaching kindergarten in Harlem that my academic training hadn’t prepared me to teach skills to students arriving with limited experience in basic concepts. Desperation forced me to think “out of the box” and explore locomotor movements and sound exploration with my preschool students. Several years later, I was fortunate to get a PhD from The Union Institute (Yellow Springs, Ohio) in Child Development / Creative Arts, specializing in Creative Movement / Sound Exploration. I was employed as a specialist teaching movement to daycare students in Manhattan as well as City College, Pace University and Jersey City State College. Additionally, I gave multiple workshops to early childhood educators in the greater NY area.

What are some personal highlights of your work?

My work with adults was as satisfying as working with younger students. I was happily surprised at their receptivity for the material, and stories of successes with their students were very exciting. The activities in my college courses connected the teachers with their own creative movement and sound exploration, stimulating their creativity in many ways.

What were your greatest obstacles and challenges?

At this time, (1978 – 1986), the demand for this work was great, and I didn’t have the skills to create a larger program. Additionally, I met my future husband, moved to New Mexico, and the opportunity to continue the work wasn’t available.

How did you personally measure success?

Some of my personal success was measured by stories told by both the teachers and children (when I visited their schools) about how their experiences morphed into unique ways of being part of their broader curriculum.

What difference do you perceive you made through your work (either individually or macroscopically)?

My early experiences with movement, combined with my years of professional experience, have positively impacted becoming a very healthy senior. My daily movement practices include yoga, pickle ball, constant stretching, hiking, and continuing to be a student of anatomy and physiology. Additionally, I’ve realized my passion for movement is now related to my love of non-objective abstract art. All of the movement shown in vivid color of varying shades and shapes is simply my dance on canvas… and it is such fun! This is a new found passion and am I ever having fun!


Illustration by Tracey Turner