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Dance as culturally constituted

The REDE scoping review evidently illustrates that dance practice is culturally constructed. In a sociology lens, the world of dance can be considered a subculture with its own rules and regulations that offers a prototype of the narrative of ‘being’. The process of embodied internalization into the dance culture is at its core and notable in these sociological framed studies.


Kenya Parsons, masterprosjekt 2019, Foto Stephen Hutton

A socialization process

The process of embodied internalization into the dance culture is at its core and notable in these sociological framed studies. One becomes a ‘dancer’, socialized into an internal ‘language’, a type of ‘collective’ belongingness, and mutual common practices. Being a dancer is a state of being where the ‘job’ life and personal life is intertwined (Alten, 2005; Demelius, 2003).

The job is not a means to an end, but the mean in itself, and important identified aspects are discipline and training, physical challenges, self-development, self-actualization and the spiritual gratification in expressing dance (Demelius, 2003).

Furthermore, within the world of dance, different culturally constituted sub-cultures of dance practices exist (i.e., genres & specific techniques) that are linked to different aesthetics (i.e., body image, movement quality, identity categories, learning processes), ethics (i.e., power and agency), and worldviews in general (Alterorwitz, 2014; Østern, 2017).

For instance, the culture of ballet, is described in the literature as a ‘greedy’ institution and extremely time and energy consuming activity that offers an almost ready made story that is hard to ignore, like entering a convent (Aalten, 2005; Alterorwitz, 2014; Pickard, 2012). In contrast, the subculture of contact improvisation represents a sub-culture of non-hierarchical, collaborative and inquiry-based shared dance practices (Schupp, 2011).

The concept of ‘habitus’ inclines reproducing existing social structures. Habitus is the dispositions that are structured by ‘one’s past and present circumstances, such as family upbringing, educational and social experiences (Rimmer, 2017).

Bourdieu links agency with social structure, by using the concepts of capital and field, and described through the process of habitus. Physical capital, in the form of body shape, manner and posture, is socially produced, and the acquisition of physical capital is essential in domains where the body matters, as in dance.

In the dance culture, research has identified fixed ideas such as body image, behavior, gender roles, teaching style and learning processes, asymmetric power relations etc. Your body gives you more or less capital within the dance culture (Rimmer, 2017).

The concept of ‘doxa’ refers to the things that are taken for granted, as in socializing processes, whereby the natural and social world appears as self-evident (goes without saying because it comes without saying). The tacit culture in dance is evident (Dragon, 2015).

Doxa relates to a social randomness that is reproduced in social institutions, structures, and culture as in Dance, traced in minds and bodies, expectations, and behavior (Wainwright et al., 2006). The content and practice of doxa is dependent upon what are one’s habitus (Rimmer, 2017).

Foucault talks about how one came to look at the body very differently from the beginning of modernity, with the ‘Enlightenment period’ and the focus on scientific progress. The body became an instrument that could be analyzed, controlled, and scientifically explained, for example, in terms of medicine and anatomy.

Foucault addressed and critiqued the extremes of standardizing bodily behavior that has characterized institutions such as military schools, prisons, and mental hospitals; he believed that schools are primarily designed to train docile (passive) citizens, which are bodies that are self -regulated and habituated (Alterowitz, 2014, Green, 1999, 2000, 2003). Foucault shows how this strive for normality works on the level of maintaining power and control through the indirect punishment of feeling shame and non-affiliation in a hierarchy where normality is the most valued feature (Andresen, 2011).

The review includes studies that explores how dance has been taught traditionally in the institutions of dance education in relation to this instrumentalist view of the body (Andresen, 2011; Green, 2003).


A teacher, as a member of a such a profession, is socialized into traditions and power structures that may reinforce certain assumptions, worldviews, and practices. In the dance field, these assumptions, worldviews, and practices are, in addition, clearly embodied.

In teaching dance, methods of teaching and learning are found to be silently embedded into dance classrooms experiences without explicity offering explanations to students of the origins, purposes, or philosophies underlying these methods (Dragon, 2015; Haraldsen et al., 2020).

The socialization is not only about ways of seeing the world but is also about being in it in certain ways, embodying and often passing on dance pedagogies that have crossed your way. As such the social learning also indirectly shapes our ethics (Dragon, 2015, Østern & Irgens, 2018). An history of an experience based apprenticeship-learning tradition-’teaching the way you were taught’- is evident in several studies (e.g., Alterorwitz, 2014; Andresen, 2011; Green, 2003).

Anecdotal evidence from participants suggests that ballet pedagogy has not evolved at the same rate as changes in the other art forms, nor has it fully reflected the increasingly socially aware society in which the art form exist (Dragon, 2015; Lindblom, 2020; Morris, 2003; Rowe & Xiong, 2020).

Foto: Gina Grieg Risnaes


For the dance student or the dancer, the prototype of being in the specific context of dance education and training, might become the prevalent norm system for self-surveillance of proper behavior (Andresen, 2011; Green, 2003).

The dance student is expected to conform to the norm both in appearances, dress code, and manner of training the body as well as how to move and how to behave in the dance studio according to the specific dance technique in question (Green, 2017, Østern, 2017). Green (1999; 2000; 2003) concludes: “this shift towards surveillance, and particularly self-surveillance, has been effective in training docile dance performers, but not so effective in producing dance artists who take ownership of their bodies and artistic processes” (Green, 2003, p. 39).

Findings of a study from the Norwegian context confirm the existence of an unconscious docility, especially from the teachers own experiences. However, the teachers expressed they would be interested in making some changes from their own dance education, and they wished to encourage individuality and challenge existing norms (Andresen, 2011).

Aalten, A. (2005). We dance we don’t live’. Biographical research in dance studies. Discourses in Dance, 3(1), 5-19.

Alterowitz, G. (2014). Toward a feminist ballet pedagogy: Teaching strategies for ballet technique classes in the twenty-first century. Journal of Dance Education, 14(1), 8-17.

Andresen, J. V. E. (2011). Embodied knowledge in high-school dance students; communicating the bodily experience (Master’s thesis, Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet, Det humanistiske fakultet, Institutt for musikk).

Demelius, Y. (2003). Steps of a dance production: the working lives of professionals at a dance company (Doctoral dissertation, Concordia University).

Dragon, D. A. (2015). Creating cultures of teaching and learning: Conveying dance and somatic education pedagogy. Journal of Dance Education, 15(1), 25-32.

Green, J. 1999. Somatic authority and the myth of the ideal body in dance education. Dance Research Journal, 31(2): 80–100.

Green,J.  2000. Emancipatory pedagogy?: Women’s bodies and the creative process in dance. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 21(3): 124–140.

Green, J. 2003. Foucault and the training of docile bodies in dance education. Arts and Learning Research, 19(1): 99–126.

Haraldsen, H. M., Nordin-Bates, S. M., Abrahamsen, F. E., & Halvari, H. (2020). Thriving, Striving, or Just Surviving? TD Learning Conditions, Motivational Processes and Well-Being Among Norwegian Elite Performers in Music, Ballet, and Sport. Roeper Review, 42(2), 109-125.

Lindblom, E. (2020). Rethinking Classical Ballet Pedagogy: Examining Advancements that Integrate a Modern Approach.

Morris, G. (2003). Problems with ballet: Steps, style and training. Research in Dance Education, 4(1), 17-30.

Pickard, A. (2012). Schooling the dancer: The evolution of an identity as a ballet dancer. Research in Dance Education, 13(1), 25-46.

Rimmer, R. (2017). Negotiating the rules of engagement: exploring perceptions of dance technique learning through Bourdieu’s concept of ‘doxa’. Research in Dance Education, 18(3), 221-236.

Rowe, N., & Xiong, X. (2020). Cut-Paste-Repeat? The maintenance of authoritarian pedagogies through tertiary dance education in China. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 1-17.

Schupp, K. (2011). Informed decisions: Dance improvisation and responsible citizenship. Journal of Dance Education, 11(1), 22-29.

Wainwright, S. P., Williams, C., & Turner, B. S. (2006). Varieties of habitus and the embodiment of ballet. Qualitative research, 6(4), 535-558.

Østern, T. P. (2017). Norske samtidsdansutdanninger i spennet mellom modernisme og postmodernisme-tidligere dansestudenters refleksjoner over påvirkningen av en danseutdanning.

Østern, T. P., & Irgens, E. J. (2018). Interfering with the lived field of dance pedagogy from organizational and leadership studies perspectives–an explorative intervention with performing and teaching dance artists. Research in Dance Education, 19(1), 57-73.


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