Sarita Devi Ram Singasan’s MA Thesis Proposal

Title: “Aerial Dance: Exploring Diversity, Inclusivity and Space”

Supervisor: Dr. Moss Norman
Committee Members: Dr Patricia Vertinsky, Dr Brian Wilson

Abstract: Aerial dance came into prominence in the late 1960s and continues to evolve within the arena of postmodern dance (Bernasconi & Smith, 2008). The art form is growing in popularity among women as a choice of physical activity. This underscores the value of conducting research in this area as there is evidence showing that the rate of physical activity is declining among people of colour, particularly women in Canada.  For instance, studies show that only 15% of Canadian women met the recommended target of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week (Clarke et al., 2019) and that women tend to engage in less physical activity compared to men (Koezuka, Koo, Allison, Adlaf, Dwyer, Faulkner & Goodman, 2006). With regard to race, one study found that while 49% of white Canadians engaged in moderate to high levels of physical activity, only 38% of Black Canadians and 34% of South Asian Canadians did the same (Bryan, Tremblay, Perez, Ardern & Katzmarzyk, 2006). The Public health Agency of Canada (2018) found that barriers such as “feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed” and “discrimination leading to exclusion and disengagement” were among the causes of poor take-up of physical activity among Canadians including racialized individuals. These findings lend support to a growing discourse that traditional fitness spaces such as gyms, fitness studios and dance spaces tend to be white and exclusionary to people of color (Polish, 2020; Cardoza, 2019; Morris, 2019). Therefore, it is imperative to identify spaces that are culturally safe and inclusive to increase the physical activity levels amongst racialized girls and women. Research has shown that exercise incorporating artistic movements such as dance is a popular activity among women (Kosma & Buchanan, 2018) and a study by Kosma & Erickson (2020) showed that aerial practice was viewed as a fun and motivating activity among women. Despite the increased popularity of aerial dance (Ward, 2019), it remains an under researched arena of both bodily and movement discourses. Few dance studies have contributed towards exploring how people of color navigate the power dynamics embedded in dance spaces, especially those in aerial dance. To investigate whether people of colour find a sense of safety and comfort in the pursuit of non-traditional dance forms, I will conduct one-on-one interviews with five to seven female aerialists from Canada. This will be complemented by a critical content analysis of the websites for the aerial dance studios that the participants attend(ed). In so doing, both the textual and visual representations of bodies on these studio websites will be examined. The study will be guided by three over-arching research questions: 1) What are the experiences of women of colour in aerial dance spaces? 2a) In what ways are aerial dance spaces empowering and inclusive for women of colour? 2b) In what ways are aerial dance spaces constraining and exclusionary for women of colour? 3)How can aerial dance spaces specifically and physical activity spaces in general be transformed into more inclusive and empowering spaces for women of colour? In answering these research questions, I will contribute to both the existing literature on gender and race in dance, as well as fill an identified gap in the research on women of colour in aerial dance. Developing a greater understanding of what makes for safe and empowering physical activity spaces may serve as an avenue for establishing safe and inclusive spaces for women of colour to experience physical activity in diverse contexts.