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Research
How various ‘cultures of dance’ construct experiences of health and growing older

This comparative ethnographic and narrative style interview study explored how two Circle dance groups and two Scottish Country dance groups, including a Ladies’ Step dance group, constructed experiences of health and growing older for dancers and dance teachers in the 50 plus age range. The dance ethnography provided thick descriptions of each particular ‘culture of dance’ and the processes of embodying dance for older dancers in the ‘here and now’. The 37 narrative style interviews provided an opportunity for individual older dancers to reflect on the meaning of dance in their lives and whether the dance influenced their experiences of health and growing older in terms of embodiment.

Four main narratives emerged:- forming a sense of belonging through dance as an older person; learning to dance as an older person; psychological health, sense of belonging and growing older as a dancer and physical health, sense of belonging and growing older as a dancer. An emotional analysis was conducted through listening to interview tapes. These emotional analyses revealed the importance of dance for emotional expression in older individuals’ lives. Although the pre-dominant emotion expressed was pleasure and laughter, older dancers expressed a range of emotions, including sorrow, particularly when facing illness and bereavement.

Scottish Country dancers enjoyed their dance form so much that they would continue dancing even after having suffered severe injuries from the dance and when the floors were slippery or hard, and some older Scottish Country dancers were literally dancing themselves to death. Older dancers positioned the dance as beneficial for their health in terms of physical, psychological and social factors.

This study shows that it is important for critical health psychology to consider how such existing dance groups can be supported in the future, as a complement to recent initiatives to promote creative or contemporary dance for older people living in the UK.

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