Why Dance? The Motivations of an Unlikely Group of Dancers

  • Helene M. Lawson University of Pittsburgh at Bradford
Keywords: dance, emotion, identity, gender

Abstract

This article explores the motivations of adult amateur tap dancers to gain insight into how they construct their social reality, what is the significance of this activity to the dancers, and how does it relate to the dance “culture” more broadly. The research was done as a participant observer amongst a group of primarily middle-aged women in six different locations over a period of five years. These amateur tap dancers are strongly motivated in spite of their minimal talent and the lack of support they might experience when compared to professional dancers. Their often-labored explanations, while unable to enunciate the essence of the sensation they experience, describe what they are doing as a group ritual of emotional renewal. By examining what is said and not said, I additionally uncover social constraints that shaped their explanations. Performance emerges as a game in which the amateur challenges the socially constructed norms of legitimacy in art culture. This “scary” feat of performing is worth the effort because of its innate thrill and the expectation of applause from an audience largely outside the group.

Author Biography

Helene M. Lawson, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Sociology Department

Professor and Director of Sociology

Published
2009-03-25
Section
Articles