“I’ve wondered why am I here?” Expectations of old age and the ageing body in a longitudinal study of a dance group

Anna Goulding*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mainstream expectations of older age place pressure on individuals –– both negative discourses focused upon frailty and isolation and successful ageing narratives that emphasise physical and mental exercise. This paper considers whether older people can challenge damaging narratives through participating in the practice of modern dance. Over the course of four years, action research and ethnographic-based methods were used as the author worked with a dance company of seven members aged 69-89 as they created a modern dance piece. Data included fieldnotes, transcripts of individual interviews and group discussions and a video of the performance. A thematic analysis was applied. Moving away from a health perspective, the literature on ageing and lifestyle is advanced by in examining how the group’s creativity should be understood and valued. Participants went from presenting as active agers to developing a more accepting attitude towards their ageing body. The performance refashioned the space as a site of intergenerational connectivity as the dancers and audience co-produced narratives around the artistry of the older body. An original contribution to the work on embodiment is made by revealing how older men and women use dance differently to negotiate the ageing body. Findings have wider implications for research on inclusion by showing how the embodied practice of dance helps subvert expectations of older age.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Sept 2023

Cite this