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PURE Award winners 2016: Debbie McDougall

Dance major looks to yoga practices for inspiring and creating modern dance choreography


Debbie McDougall is exploring the choreographic process through the lens of yoga. Photo courtesy of Debbie McDougall

By Jennifer Robitaille
September 21, 2016

The University of Calgary’s Eyes High strategic statement reads “students will thrive in programs made rich by research and hands-on experiences”. The integration of teaching and research is a priority in this vision and the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience-also known as PURE- is an important initiative that reflects this commitment.

Each year undergraduates can apply for the prestigious PURE Awards, which provide financial research support to some of the university’s most promising students over the spring and summer months.

The program is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how to develop research projects, undertake independent research and contribute to knowledge in their respective fields.

In this Q&A series, we hear from the 2016 PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts.


Name: Debbie McDougall


Degree sought: BA Dance major, with Religious Studies minor

What is your research topic?

The title of my research topic is: The Deeper Aspects of Creating Modern Dance Choreography: Utilizing Yogic Practices and Teachings for Inspiration and Innovation.

Common practices in creating dance choreography involve finding a structure, purpose and/or meaning for a work of dance by looking externally at issues that arise in society at large, the atmosphere or influences of cultures, and/or the extraordinary qualities held in nature. In my research, I hope to uncover the potential for dance to manifest both thematically and kinaesthetically, by departing from those externally reliant practices.

I wish to look at the choreographic process through the lens of yoga, specifically the process of involution, which, in the context of this research, refers to the process of focusing on the self inwards towards clarity, knowledge, inspiration and innovation.

What attracted you to this particular research project?

For a few decades now, yoga has been part of the dance community. This first occurred because dancers found the practice of yoga to bring comfort to the body from the intensity and rigours of a dance career. Subsequently, dancers also found yoga to be a therapeutic way of reducing injuries and aiding the rehabilitation process. On the whole, it appears to me that yogic practices and their benefits have only run a parallel course to dance’s own in the West. I hope to bring the two arts (yoga and dance) together in an integrated manner through the creative process.

Why is this research important?

For 26 years, my career has been based within the professional folds of the dance world, and, over that time, I’ve observed the constants of dance and the tendencies of dance artists. I ‘ve noticed that it is easy to be swept away by external influences; unconsciously drawn into the creative ways of those artists we admire, or even to let dance become a superficial medium.
I’m passionate about the creative process, and about what can be unleashed from each artist’s unique mind. This research affords me the platform and time to delve into uncharted artistic exploration, and to utilize my past experience in search for original expression. The more I learn, the more I can share. I’ve been blessed with long‐term dance mentors throughout my career, and I hope to carry on that lineage. By taking my imparted knowledge, and continuing to seek and decode artistry beyond what is already known, I hope to benefit future generations of dance artists and educators. Art is so important to the heart of the world.

What do you hope to achieve with this research?

Through this research, I hope to find the pain, pleasure, wisdom, and enough artistically and scholarly clarity to communicate the depths of what is studied with articulation. I hope to discover an entry point derived from yoga practices into dance research that may inform other dancers, and the externalization of their dancing. I aspire to present my findings through means of publication, and performance and academic presentation.

What do you like most about your field of study?

Returning to University after many years to finish my degree, and finding ways to involve ‘motion’ in my academic pursuits is divine! I have a long history with yogic practices and philosophical studies in relation to yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and to be able to integrate these with scholarship is a dream. Because the world in its current state–seeming more and more extroverted and fast‐paced–is not always conducive to invention, I’m excited to shift a small droplet of my awareness into the qualitative opposite, and to see how I might grow as a person and innovator in the process.

What advice would you give to other students considering applying for PURE awards next year?

When you are so focused on academic classes, papers, and tests it can sometimes be challenging to have an original thought. Now and then, notice what is really inspiring to you in class, on campus, etc., and make note of it on a scrap or a ‘sticky note’ –my life seems surrounded by sticky notes. Then, when you have a quiet moment to yourself, revisit those notes. They may germinate into ideas for the perfect PURE research.