Joan Wiegers looks back on the program she created and ahead to new challenges.
by Barbra Alan
According to Joan Wiegers, founding director of the dance program at Plymouth State University, dance “was something that was in my soul—I was born with this desire [to dance].” While she took dance classes off and on throughout her childhood and adolescence, she deferred her dream of pursuing dance full time in favor of earning a college degree. “I came from a family where you had to get a degree before you did something ‘frivolous’ like dance,” Wiegers notes.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Wiegers moved to New York City and studied at the renowned Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. From there, she taught dance in the Boston area, at such prestigious schools as the Boston Conservatory and Harvard House School of the Arts. Eventually, Wiegers relocated to New Hampshire and joined the faculty at New Hampton School, where she founded the dance program and taught dance for ten years, all while performing both as a solo artist and with dance companies. “I never stopped performing,” Wiegers says.
In 1986, Wiegers began teaching dance at PSU at the invitation of Dot Diehl, then chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education. At the time, dance courses were few and only offered as electives. Under Wiegers’ guidance, the dance program flourished and, in 1993, the dance minor was introduced—a milestone Wiegers credits Diehl with helping to achieve. “She was there every step of the way to help get the dance minor going,” she says.
Over the years, Wiegers introduced performance events including the Plymouth State University Dance Premiere, a conference where dancers of all ages come to the university for a day of dance workshops. The event culminates in an evening performance. In 2004, in response to the increasing popularity of the dance minor, the Department of Music and Theatre was renamed the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance.
Far from merely happenstance, the growth of the dance program reflects the hard work, dedication, and vision of Wiegers herself. “My vision was that there would be more than one person teaching, and now there are four teachers teaching three techniques, three levels, and over 20 courses. There is a concert series, a guest artist series, and a faculty dance concert that I hope will continue.”
After two decades of teaching dance at PSU, Wiegers—eager to challenge herself as a dancer—took a sabbatical for the 2007-2008 school year. During this time she studied aerial dance at the New England School for Circus Arts and taught dance at several schools. It was during her sabbatical that Wiegers decided she wanted to continue to challenge herself in news ways as a teacher, dancer, and choreographer. While the decision to leave Plymouth State wasn’t easy, Wiegers is enjoying the time she now has to devote to building on her training in aerial dance, performing, and teaching. And she’s always on the lookout for new challenges. “I’m excited to see what else will come my way,” she says.
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