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Growing old gracefully: social dance in the third age



This paper examines the meaning of social dancing for older people. It is based on a one-year qualitative research project, which is seeking to explore the experiences of social dance for people aged 60 years or more who attend various dance events in Essex and south-east London. The findings suggest that the social dance experience is not only or simply a beneficial physical experience for older people, it also bestows other significant benefits for those who enter the third age and beyond. It can provide continuity within change. It offers an opportunity to be sociable and have fun in ways that both reflect, and avowedly move beyond, the dancers' teenage years. It promotes a welcome sense of a community spirit. It is a way of becoming visible and aesthetically pleasing, and it bestows a sense of worth and achievement in skills learnt through dancing. Last but not least, dancers can experience the joy of a fit and able body in both real and mythic senses.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Lesley Cooper, Department of Health and Human Sciences, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex, C043SQ. e-mail:
Helen Thomas, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths' College, Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW. e-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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