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Dancing the Self: How Girls who Dance in Commercial Dance Studios Construct a Self Through the Dancing Body Open Access


Other title
Girls' Physical Activity
Physical Culture
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Clark, Marianne I
Supervisor and department
Markula, Pirkko (Physical Education and Recreation)
Examining committee member and department
Taylor, Chloe (Department of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies)
Raine, Kim (School of Public Health)
Goodwin, Donna (Physical Education and Recreation)
Giardina, Michael (College of Education, Florida State University)
Physical Education and Recreation

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Dance has been identified as one of adolescent girls’ favourite activities (Clark, Spence & Holt, 2011; Dowda et al., 2006; Wright, Macdonald, & Groom, 2003) and the dance studio as an important site of girls’ physical activity (Harrow et al., 2009; Kuo et al., 2003). However, research on dance has largely focused on the experiences of dancers in university or academy settings and less on younger girls (e.g., Aalten, 2004, 2007; Bettle, Bettle, Neumarker, & Neumarker, 2001; Green, 1999, 2001; Kleiner, 2009). Furthermore, dance (particularly ballet), has been critiqued by health and exercise psychology researchers for contributing to eating disordered behaviours and perfectionism (Nordin-Bates, Walker, & Redding, 2011; de Bruin, Bakker, & Oudegans, 2009), and body image disturbances (Bettle et al., 2001; Green, 1999; Penniment & Egan, 2010). This literature has largely focused on critiquing the idealized exceedingly thin, delicate, and long limbed ballet body as an oppressive body. This doctoral project examines the experiences of adolescent girls who dance in the commercial dance studio. It seeks to expand the understandings and critiques of ballet that have focused on the representational ballet body. This dissertation was guided by the work of French poststructuralist philosopher Michel Foucault and his concepts of disciplinary power, discourse, and the self to address my overarching question: How do girls who dance in a commercial dance studio construct the self through the moving body? To answer this question I conducted a case study (Stake, 2005) of one advanced level ballet class at a dance studio in a large Western Canadian city. Empirical material was collected through participant observations of this ballet class over 22 weeks. In addition, I conducted two rounds of semi-structured interviews with 11 female dancers in this class. As part of my methodology I also danced with the participants in the ballet class. My analysis revealed that the dance studio was both a place of discipline and respite for participants. Disciplinary techniques (Foucault, 1979) were deployed in the dance class to train individual bodies through the precise arrangement of time, space, and movement. However, the ballet class also enabled girls to develop meaningful relationships with each other, the teacher, and their own dancing bodies. Additionally, the dance studio provided a reprieve from other complex social settings. Although subjected to disciplinary practices, participants were not rendered completely docile and actively initiated their own creative use of time and space. Through observations and interviews I examined how my participants’ understood the ballet body. They talked about their bodies as the aesthetic body, the skilled body, the careful body, and the expressive body. These results indicate that the discursively constructed idealized ballet body is negotiated alongside other understandings of the dancing body. Although participants acknowledged the desirability of the thin, aesthetically perfect ballet body, their own understandings of their dancing bodies were informed by multiple discourses. Finally, analysis revealed that girls problematized a feminine adolescent existence through the practice of dance. They also actively problematized (Foucault, 1988b) aspects of the dancing identity, particularly the need to obtain an extremely thin body, and created new ethical practices for themselves. Similarly, I located myself in this study and actively problematized my researching and dancing identities. Through this process I created an ethics that guided my research and dance practices.  
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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