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Ageing, Gender and Dancers' Bodies : An Interdisciplinary Perspective

Schwaiger, Elisabeth (2006) Ageing, Gender and Dancers' Bodies : An Interdisciplinary Perspective. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

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Abstract

Drawing on research and frameworks from sociology, poststructuralist feminist theory, phenomenology, and social constructionism, this thesis offers- perhaps ambitiously- a much needed counter-discourse to the hegemonic cultural narratives of ageing as decline of body/self. It focuses on the experiences of ageing, and on the meaning of dancing, of practicing and retired theatrical dancers, a group who by virtue of their body-based profession face the impact of ageing earlier than most people in western cultures. This thesis critically examines the representation and experience of ageing of dancers in a western context, in which we are aged, gendered, and classed according to hegemonic- albeit historically variable- norms. I argue that dominant cultural discourses of ageing as decline-based and purportedly gender-neutral mask western consumer cultures' understanding of ageing as gendered: that is, as allied with a loss of not only physical but also sexual capital. However, the ambiguity of the 'ageing body' in its efforts to reiterate these norms in performance disrupts and challenges this discourse's cultural construction of gendered body-subjects. The thesis therefore explores how cultural body norms are experienced, enacted and perpetuated, and what possibilities exist for bodily agency in subverting or transforming them. The findings in this study are based on transcribed life history interviews conducted with 30 dancers and former dancers between the ages of 27 and 76, with a background in a range of dance practices. Participants' narratives were grouped into recurrent themes using a grounded approach. It was found that, in contrast to cultural and institutional discourses that maintain that age-related factors such as waning stamina and endurance inevitably result in cessation from dancing, physical ageing per se had less effect on the desire to retire from performing than numerous other factors to do with economic and interest factors in midlife, including 'outgrowing' the authoritarian structure and politics of mainstream dance companies, time poverty due to family demands, or the absence of challenges or peer colleagues. The lack of broad-based support and cultural valorization of independent dance in Australia was also a factor influencing dancers' decision to discontinue their practice. Participants' chosen dance practices were also related to two styles of the dancer's body-self relation, one as a dualistic distinction between body and mind, the other as a more integrated form of embodiment. Embodiment is a third term that serves to deconstruct traditional western dualistic conceptions of body-subjects. I argue that a fundamental dualism underpinning theories such as the 'mask of ageing' in a postmodern consumer context is too limiting in understanding bodily ageing, and therefore, I draw on non-dualistic theoretical orientations through which to reframe the gendered body-self of the mature dancer.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
Uncontrolled Keywords: ageing; gender; dancers; experiences
Subjects: RFCD Classification > 220000 Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts-General
Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Depositing User: Mr Angeera Sidaya
Date Deposited: 05 May 2006
Last Modified: 23 May 2013 16:38
URI: http://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/413
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