Students' Experiences of Dance: a Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study
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Abstract The dominance of instrumentalism and utilitarianism in education today tends to reduce the value of dance. Research on dance in education is very limited. Recent reviews of research on the arts in education propose that research has to move from exploring transfer effects of artistic activity towards exploring the meaningfulness of the arts themselves. New researches as well as new theoretical approaches are thus called for (Winner, Goldstein and Vincent-Lancrin, 2013). Hence my research question is: what are students’ experiences of dance?
Research on experiences in the arts is contested by the problem to verbalise lived experience. Therefore, in the thesis, a new method based on hermeneutic phenomenology (HP) and arts-based research (ABR) is developed. It includes artistic activity in three forms arts: dance, poetry, and visual art. An oral interview built on a circular structure gives the students a variety of opportunities to interpret and verbalise their experiences of dance. Twenty students, 18 years old, who regularly dance in school, participated. Answers were analysed following van Manen’s (1990) method of structural analysis of themes, including poetic interpretations.
The findings reveal that dance is experienced as very important for personal exploration and transformation. Experiences of finding ‘my home’, security, freedom, authenticity, well-being, and happiness are most evident in research participants. Dance strengthens students’ motivation to take on the challenges of life and their ability to concentrate. The experience of dance is described as an extraordinary state of mind. Both participant evaluations and the analysis of results indicate that the method, phenomenology of artistic practice, was successful. Thus this thesis contributes to the development of ABR and HP.
A theoretical perspective placing artistic activity at the centre of the creation of knowledge and based on Gadamer’s (1993) ideas on Bildung is presented. Recent educational discussions (Biesta, 2012) highlight the importance of interpretative activities and understanding of self in setting future directions for education. This thesis discusses dance in relation to this context and indicates that dance is an important school subject, being based on existential values. In concluding that dance has a positive influence on the life of the students and provides a unique opportunity to explore self, this thesis argues that educationalists should reconsider the value of dance in schools.
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