Dancing while Aging: A Study on Benefits of Ballet for Older Women


  • Rachyl Pines University of California Santa Barbara
  • Howard Giles University of California Santa Barbara




aging, Ballet, communication ecology model of successful aging, identity, social relationships


As people age, experiences of depression, loneliness and loss of physical capabilities can emerge. As with previous work on the benefits of music as an intervention for social belonging and valued social identity, dance may increase similar feelings. Although theoretical chapters have been written on dance as it relates to social identity, belonging, and health, little empirical work has been conducted on the benefits of ballet as a recreational activity for older adults. The study reported here is framed by the “communication ecology model of successful aging,” and modestly embellishes this framework based on this study’s findings. Using interviews from 24 American female recreational ballet dancers ranging in age from 23-87 in a small West Coast town, this study investigates, for the first time, how ballet is incorporated into their self-concept and physical, mental, and social experiences of aging. Findings indicate that participating regularly in ballet is a core aspect of most women’s self-concept and means of self-expression. All women discussed how ballet has improved their physical and mental wellness, helping them have a more positive experience of age-related changes. Results showed that most women regard ballet as a very social activity, such that it helps them to feel a sense of community or even kin-like relationships with the other people regularly in class. All women interviewed mentioned that ballet is so integrated into who they are that it is something they hope to do for as long as possible.

Author Biographies

Rachyl Pines, University of California Santa Barbara

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Communication

Howard Giles, University of California Santa Barbara

Research Professor, Department of Communication


Age UK. 2018. Creative and cultural activities and well-being in later life. Retrieved from: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/health--wellbeing/rb_apr18_creative_and_cultural_activities_wellbeing.pdf

Bernhold, Q. S. (2019). Older parents’ and middle-aged children’s communication as predictors of children’s successful aging. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 38, 305-328. doi:10.1177/0261927X18815929

Blacking, J. 2010. Movement and meaning: Dance in social anthropological perspective. Dance Research, 1, 88-89. doi: 10.2307/1290805

Blacking, J. 1984. The study of music as cultural system and human capability. South African Journal of Musicology, 4, 1-15.

Braun, V., and Clarke, V. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Chang, P-J., Wray, L., and Yegiang, L. 2014. Social relationships, leisure activity, and health in older adults. Health Psychology, 33, 516-523. doi: 10.1037/hea0000051

Cooper, L., and Thomas, H. 2002. Growing old gracefully: Social dance in the third age. Ageing and Society, 22, 689-708. doi:10.1017/s0144686x02008929

Cosco, T. D., Prina, A. M., Perales, J., Stephan, B. C. M., and Brayne, C. 2014. Operational definitions of successful aging: A systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics, 26, 373-381. doi:10.1017/s1041610213002287

Davies, K., Tropp, L. R., Aron, A., Pettigrew, T. F., and Wright, S. C. 2011. Cross-group friendships and intergroup attitudes: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 332–351. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868311411103

Dance.net. 2009, Age most dancers retire? March 23. Accessed October 17, 2018. http://www.dance.net/topic/8075277/1/Ballet-Adult-Dancers/Age-most-dancers-retire.html&replies=5

Dancespirit. 2012, The age equation. Dancespirit, October 7. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.dancespirit.com/the-age-equation-2326145152.html

Daniluk, J. C. 2003. Women’s sexuality across the life span: Challenging myths, creating meanings. New York: Guilford Press.

Delgado, Á. A. 2012. Danzar para que el mundo no se acabe. Estudio sistemático de la danza Rarámuri. Latin American Music Review, 33, 27–64. doi: 10.7560/lamr33102

Dumit, J. 2012. Drugs for life: How pharmaceutical companies define our health. London: Duke University Press.

Eyigor, S., Karapolat, H., Durmaz, B., Ibisoglu, U., and Cakir, S. A. 2009. A randomized controlled trial of Turkish folklore dance on the physical performance, balance, depression and quality of life in older women. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 48, 84-88. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2007.10.008

Fergusson, E. 1931. Dancing gods: Indian ceremonials of New Mexico and Arizona. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Fowler, C., Gasiorek, J., and Giles, H. (2015). The role of communication in aging well: Introducing the communicative ecology model of successful aging. Communication Monographs, 82, 431-457. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1024701

Fujiawar, K. 2012. Rethinking successful aging from the perspective of an aging Japanese statue of Jizō with replaceable heads. Anthropology and Aging, 33(3): 104-111. doi 10.5195/aa.2012.60

Gasiorek, J., and Barile, J. P. 2017. Associations between profiles of communication about aging and quality of life for middle-aged and older American adults. International Journal of Human Aging and Development, 87, 141-155. doi: 10.1177/0091415017724546

Gasiorek, J., and Fowler, C. 2016. Profiling younger adults’ communication about aging. Communication Studies, 67, 163-182. doi:10.1080/10510974.2015.1121159

Gasiorek, J., Fowler, C., and Giles, H. 2016. Communication and successful aging. In J. F. Nussbaum (Ed.), Communication across the lifespan: ICA theme book (pp. 35-50). New York: Peter Lang.

Gasiorek, J., Fowler, C., and Giles, H. 2015. Communication and successful aging: Profiling middle-aged and older adults. Human Communication Research, 41, 577-602. doi: 10.1080/03637751.2015.1024701

Gasiorek, J., Fowler, C., and Giles, H. 2018. Communication and successful aging: Reconceptualizing the role of uncertainty. Communication Monographs. Advance online: doi: 10.1080/03637751.2018.1538561

Gasiorek, J., and Giles, H. 2013. Volunteering as a communicative process. International Journal of Communication, 7, 1-20. doi:10.1002/9781118540190.wbeic006

Giles, H., Davis, S., Gasiorek, J., and Giles, J. 2013. Successful aging: A communication guide to empowerment. Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Aresta.

Giurchesu, A., and Torp, T. 1991. Theory and methods in dance research: A European approach to the holistic study of dance. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 23, 1-10.

Glendenning, P. 2004. Education for older adults: Lifelong Learning, empowerment, and social change. In J. F. Nussbuam, and J. Coupland (Eds.), Handbook of communication and aging research (pp. 525-543). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Goodman, W. K., Geiger, A. M., and Wolf, J. M. 2017. Leiesure activities are linked to mental health benefits by providing time structure: Comparing employed, unemployed and homemakers. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 71, 4-11. doi:10.1136/jech-2016-207260

Gonyea, J. G., Curley, A., Melekis, K., Levine, N., and Lee, Y. 2018. Loneliness and depression among older adults in urban subsidized housing. Journal of Aging and Health, 30, 458-474. doi:10.1177/0898264316682908

Hanna, J. 2008. A nonverbal language for imagining and learning: Dance education in K-12 curriculum. Education Researcher, 37, 491-506. doi:10.3102/0013189x08326032

Hays, T and Minichiello, V. 2005. The meaning of music in the lives of older people: A qualitative study. Psychology of Music, 33, 437-451. doi:10.1177/0305735605056160

Heckhausen, J., and Schulz, R. 1995. A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 102, 284-304. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.102.2.284

Human Kinetics. 2010. Dimensions of leisure for life: Individuals and society. https://us.humankinetics.com/products/Dimensions-of=leisure-for-life

Jacobs, T. 2014. Cultural activities help seniors retain health literacy. Pacific Standard, November 25. Accessed October 1, 2018. https://psmag.com/social-justice/cultural-activities-help-seniors-retain-health-literacy-95233

Jefferson, G. 2004 Glossary of transcript symbols with an Introduction. In G. H. Lerner (Ed.), Conversation analysis: Studies from the first generation (pp. 13-23). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Kaeppler, A. 2000. II. Dance ethnology and the anthropology of dance. Dance Research Journal, 32, 116-125. doi:10.2307/1478285

Keogh, J. W. L, Kilding, A., Pidgeon, P., Ashley, L., and Gillis, D. 2009. Physical benefits of dancing for health older adults: A review. Journal of Aging and Physical Activities, 17, 479-500. doi:10.1123/japa.17.4.479

Koponen, T., Honkasalo, M-L., and Rautava, P. 2018. Cultural plan model: Integrating cultural and creative activities into care units for the elderly. Arts and Health, 10, 65-71. doi:10.1080/17533015.2017.1315436

Kreutzmann, M., Zander, L., and Webstert, G. 2017. Dancing is belonging! How social networks mediate the effect of a dance intervention on students’ sense of belonging to their classroom. European Journal of Social Psychology, 48, 240-254. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2319

Kringelbach, H. N., and Skinner, J. (Eds.). 2012. Dancing cultures: Globalization, tourism and identity in the anthropology of dance. New York, NY: Berghahn Books.

Lamb, S. 2014. Permanent personhood or meaningful decline? Toward a critical anthropology of successful aging. Journal of Aging Studies, 29, 41-52.

----. 2018. On being (not) old: Agency, self-care, and life course aspirations in the United States. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. doi:10.1111/maq.12498

Leitner, M. J., and Leitner, S. F. 2012. Leisure in later life. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Lewis, J. 2013. Aging: Translation. Cultural Anthropology. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/389-aging-translation

List, G. 1963. The boundaries of speech and song. Ethnomusicology, 7, 1-16. doi:10.2307/924141

Marion, J. S. 2008. Ballroom: Culture and costume in competitive dance. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers.

McGill, A., Houston, S., and Lee, R. Y. W. 2014. Dance for Parkinson’s: A new framework for research on its physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22, 426-532. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2014.03.005

Munniksma, A., Stark, T. H., Verkuyten, M., Flache, A., and Veenstra, R. 2013. Extended intergroup friendships within social settings: The moderating role of initial outgroup attitudes. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 16, 752-770. doi.org/10.1177/1368430213486207

Murray, M., and Crummett, A. 2010. “I don’t think they knew we could do these sorts of things”: Social representation of community and participation in community arts by older people. Journal of Health Psychology, 15, 777-785. doi:10.1177/1359105310368069

Ness, S. A. 2008. Bali, the camera, and dance: Performance studies and the lost legacy of the Mead/Bateson Collaboration. The Journal of Asian Studies, 67, 1251-1276. doi:10.1017/S0021911808001770

Nussbaum, J. F. 1994. Friendship in older adulthood. In M. L. Hummert, J. M. Wiemann, and J. F. Nussbaum (Eds.), Interpersonal communication in older adulthood: Interdisciplinary theory and research (pp. 209-225). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nussbaum, J.F., Miller-Day, M., and Fisher, C. 2009. Communication and intimacy in older adulthood. Barcelona, Spain: Editoria Aresta.

Onishi, J., Masuda, Y., Suzuki, Y., Gotoh, T., and Kawamura, T. 2006. The pleasurable recreational activities among community-dwelling older adults. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 43, 147-155. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2005.10.003

Pines, R., and Giles, H. 2017. Dance and intergroup communication. In H. Giles and J. Harwood (Eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Intergroup Communication. (Vol. 1, pp. 263-278). New Yor: Oxford University Press.

Pruchno, R. A., Wilson-Genderson, M., and Cartwright, F. 2010. A two-factor model of successful aging. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 65B, 671-679. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbq051

Pyman, T., and Rugg, S. 2006. Participating in a community theatre production: A dramatherapeutic perspective. Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 13, 562-571. doi:10.12968/ijtr.2006.13.12.22473

Rakoeeviae, S. 2015. Ethnochoreology as an interdiscipline in a postdisciplinary era: A historiography of dance scholarship in Serbia. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 47, 27-44.

Rawlins, W. K. 2004. Friendships in later life. In J. F. Nussbaum, and J. Coupland (Eds.), Handbook of communication and aging research (pp. 273-299). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Reed, S. A. 1998. The politics and poetics of dance. Annual Review of Anthropology, 27, 503-532.

Rook, K. S. 1996. Support, companionship, and control in older adults’ social networks: Implications for well-being. In J. F. Nussbaum and J. Coupland (Eds.), Handbook of communication and aging research (pp. 437-464). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Royce, A. 1977. The anthropology of dance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Steffens, M. C., and Viladot, M. A. 2015. Gender at work: A social psychological perspective. New York: Peter Lang.

Sweet, J. D. 2016. The anthropology of dance: Textural, theoretical, and experiential ways of knowing. In J. Chazin-Bennahum (Ed.), Teaching dance studies (pp. 149-164). New York: Routledge.

Taylor, J. M. 1998. Paper tangos. Durham: Duke University Press.

Theurer, K., Mortenson, B., Stone, R., Suto, M., Timonen, V., and Rozanova, J. 2015. The need for a social revolution in residential care. Journal of Aging Studies, 35, 201-210. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2015.08.011

Tinsley, H. E. A., and Eldredge, B. D. 1995. Psychological benefits of leisure participation: A taxonomy of leisure activities based on their need-gratifying properties. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 123-132. doi: 10.1037//0022-0167.42.2.123

Vitols, M., and Lynch, C. 2015. Back in the saddle again ethics, visibility, and aging on screen. Anthropology and Aging, 36(1): 11-19. doi:10.5195/aa.2015.85

Wullf, H. 1988. Ballet across borders: Career and culture in the world of dancers. New York: Oxford International.

Wylie, R. C. 1974. The self-concept: Theory and research on selected topics (Vol. 2). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.