Ageism and the mature dancer

Research statement: 
 
The research will investigate the role of dancers who extend beyond the western ballet and contemporary dance industry expectations of acceptable age, and analyse the contribution that they make to current dialogues relating to ageism in the field.
 
 
Appendix for DVA submission 2019
 

Principal Supervisor: Dr Laini Burton

Associate Supervisor: Dr Heather Faulkner

 Abstract:  
             
This research questions the taboo issue of ageing and its relationship to the early retirement of professional dancers in Western dance culture.  


My personal experience as a dancer informs this research which examines the contribution that Older Experienced Dancers (OEDs) make to current dialogues relating to performance and ageism in the field of dance. The dancers within this study have chosen to extend their careers beyond the Western ballet and contemporary dance industries’ expectations of an acceptable age to perform. They endeavour to retain visibility despite entrenched discrimination, which begins at around the age of thirty-five, curtailing careers before they have had the opportunity to mature. Thus, I observe from a European-Australian standpoint, addressing endemic ageism and a lack of value of these under-represented dancers within Western dance culture.  

To meet the aims of the research, an interdisciplinary and practice-led approach has been employed to investigate dancers and ageing through surveys, interviews, and by producing dance films in collaboration with a cohort of OEDs. This research places importance not only on the performances of the dancers but also on their verbal accounts of their practice. Their observations offer unique insight into their physical and mental endurance at a challenging time of life and give voice to the issue of ageism in dance.   

The practice-led outcomes result in a series of short dance films that feature nine OEDs, including myself, as visual documentation demonstrating their craft and representing a life of dance experience, nuance and embodied memory.  Through the form of screendance, I intend to create an inclusive space for OEDs by ensuring they remain visible. In doing so, this research demonstrates a new understanding, professional appreciation and empathy towards the OED. By using the form of screendance, the OED is acknowledged, not only for their corporeal difference but also for how their practice, rather than their age, defines them.