How Various 'Cultures of Dance' Construct the Health of the Ageing Body

Susan Paulson and Carla Willig

The ageing body has been neglected by the critical health psychology literature. Dance movement therapy is extremely valuable for older people but tends to construct ageing as a pathological process. The existing research literature in sociology considers the effects of ageing for professional ballet dancers or the meaning of ballroom and modern dance sequence in the lives of ordinary older people. Many of the baby boom generation have not learnt ballroom or modern sequence dancing, and with the death of a male partner, such dance styles can become redundant. So it is useful to evaluate the health benefits of other dance styles, such as Circle and Scottish, for the ordinary older person in the 50 plus age group. This comparative ethnographic study considers the actual processes whereby specific 'cultures of dance' become embodied in the older person, besides the various health problems and benefits associated with the particular dance styles. Different interpretations of the togetherness of dance and the ageing body are provided by Scottish and Circle dance. The Circle dance teacher preaches a philosophy of the healing power of dance for the ageing body whereas the Scottish dance teacher challenges the ageing body to perfect ballet steps and dance in complex patterns.