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

  • Author / Creator
    Clark, Marianne I
  • 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.  

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Giardina, Michael (College of Education, Florida State University)
    • Goodwin, Donna (Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Taylor, Chloe (Department of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies)
    • Raine, Kim (School of Public Health)