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Positions in dance – on gender, agency and dance movements in primary school practice

Research project

Short description

Dissertation by Märtha Pastorek Gripson, 2016.
This doctoral thesis examines gender and dance practice in primary school. More precisely it investigates how gender influences the way dance teachers address their pupils, but also the way that pupils organize and understand themselves and carry out tasks and activities in dance education and dance composition.

Accordingly, the thesis takes its starting point in the way that participating schools in Sweden introduce ideas on dance, gender and democracy in education. Theoretically a social constructionist framework is used, mainly drawing upon Butler’s concepts of performativity, the heterosexual matrix and the gaze.

The study consists of two parts. The first part focuses on the way that dance education is organized and carried out from a gender perspective. The second part deals with the way pupils carry out a composition task that gives them relatively more freedom to make their own choices. Lessons have been video recorded and analyzed with a focus on the interaction between individuals as well as on a more structural level.

The results indicate that many boys enact a limited dance repertoire. They tend to avoid investing in “feminine” movements and they are not used to being observed as bodily symbols. Many girls, on the other hand, are informed by extracurricular dance activities, which give them tools to carry out tasks, but they are also limited by the male gaze. Most of them seem to expand their movements in space by using lines through the body and by interacting with “the audience”. Different genres and educational practices contribute in different ways to the possibility of positioning oneself as two-dimensional or three- dimensional. Dance is presented in mainly two ways, as something and about something. In conclusion, gender plays a crucial role and both restricts and opens up for girls’ and boys’ movements in school dance practice.