“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

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Mainstream expectations of older age place pressure on individuals––both negative discourses focused upon frailty and isolation and successful ageing narratives that emphasize physical and mental exercise. This article considers whether older people can challenge damaging narratives through participating in the practice of modern dance. Over the course of 4 years, action research and ethnographic-based methods were used as the author worked with a dance company of seven members aged 69 to 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
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalSociological Research Online
Early online date23 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Dec 2023

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