Dancing against the tide: ageing and the dancer's body in Western theatrical dance

Liz Schwaiger


In this paper I will take the position that the dancer's body is socially constructed as aged, but that dancers shape selves that can not only reinforce but also subvert cultural norms, and that some dance forms enable this more than others. This permits alternative readings of older bodies than the assumption of physical decline with increasing age offers. Such forms, rather than suppressing or excluding representations of older age apart from signifying decline, offer the dancer new opportunities to develop the self through this bodily practice, opportunities where ageing assumes a function of enabling transformation of the self, rather than one of normative decline and progressive disengagement from public display. Also outlined will be two contrasting readings of the ageing body in dance. In the first, the dancer's body-as-exteriority in the course of ageing becomes defined through loss, through the imperative to conform to an external 'ideal' that erases the possibilities of the body's biological ageing. In the second, the body-as-experienced is instead one of incessant redefinition, a subject under indeterminate construction. Here it is through ageing that the embodied connections of self through movement practice emerge at the site of those dance forms that enable it.

Pub Talk | 2004

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