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Choreographing lived experience: dance, feelings and the storytelling body
  1. Karin Eli1,
  2. Rosie Kay1,2
  1. 1Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Rosie Kay Dance Company, Birmingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Karin Eli, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, 51-53 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK; karin.eli{at}


Although narrative-based research has been central to studies of illness experience, the inarticulate, sensory experiences of illness often remain obscured by exclusively verbal or textual inquiry. To foreground the body in our investigation of subjective and intersubjective aspects of eating disorders, we—a medical anthropologist and a contemporary dance choreographer—designed a collaborative project, in which we studied the experiences of women who had eating disorders, through eight weeks of integrating dance practice-based, discussion-based and interview-based research. Grounded in the participants’ own reflections on choreographing, dancing and watching others perform solos about their eating disordered experiences, our analysis examines the types of knowledge the participants used in choreographing their dance works, and the knowledge that they felt the dance enabled them to convey. We find that the participants consistently spoke of feeling as guiding their choreographic processes; they also said the experiences they conveyed through their dance works were centred in feelings, rather than in practices or events. Through dance, the participants said they could communicate experiences that would have remained unspoken otherwise. Yet, notably, dance practice also enabled participants to begin defining and describing their experiences verbally. We suggest, therefore, that through engaging participants in contemporary dance practice, we can begin to identify and address embodied experiences of illness and recovery that may be silenced in speech or writing alone.

  • Mental health care

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