Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors


Anthropology & Dance

First Advisor

Deborah Blom

Second Advisor

Paul Besaw


Age/Aging, Ability, Older Women, Dance, Movement-Improvisation, Vermont


Drawing from the fields of dance and anthropology, my research examines how older dancers use movement-improvisation to sustain participation in Vermont’s arts, education, and performance community. I argue this dance form provides an opportunity to reframe the culturally constructed patterns and ideas about ability and dance, specifically in the conversation of older bodies. Existing scholarship demonstrates the need for cultural considerations in dance and age research; it specifically calls for a restructuring of the ageists constructs in the United States, in and out of dance contexts. The literature recognizes the power of movement- improvisation to create age-critical narratives in performance settings, but does not address everyday dancing, aging, and living. Using interviews and shared movement practices, this collaborative ethnography investigates how ten Vermont dancers navigate the age-centric cultural structures present in the United States through engaging dance-improvisation. While anonymity is typically used in ethnographic research, my participants shared their artistry and craft as collaborators. This contributes new methods of data collection and provides a model for ethnographic studies in the time of COVID-19, specifically with high-risk populations. This research additionally informed the construction of an improvisational performance that I presented in April of 2021 with my fellow student dancers and musicians. My research reveals that, for my participant-collaborators, there is an overarching belief in the lifelong applicability and accessibility of improvisation. They apply improvisational principles in other areas of their life; it is seen and used as a foundation of life, both in movement and social exchange, that supports dancing while aging. My collaborators disperse and navigate the aging confines of the United States centered on the visibility and participation of older bodies in dance; they simultaneously perpetuate these confines through continuing to dance in a form that has not historically excluded older bodies, but has embraced all ages and abilities. Additionally, all of my participant-collaborators found that living in Vermont bolsters and inspires their artistry through its landscape, safety, and isolation, in addition to the dance community’s sharing of information and opportunities. I posit that improvisation is a movement form that supports aging and shifts in ability because it meets each dancer in their own body. It is deeply personal and has no physical prescription or measurement. Furthermore, movement-improvisation can be a shared physical and intellectual practice that utilizes the intention, creativity, and agency of its practitioners, in and out of dance contexts.