Conference abstract: Appreciative Inquiry In Physical Education Research: A Positive Movement Subculture Case Study

This is the abstract from a conference presentation (presented at American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, April 2014). The work is from our Positive Movement Subcultures project, funded by a seeding grant from SSEHS, Loughborough University.

Joanne Hill and Rachel Sandford

This paper presents data from a qualitative case study into one positive movement subculture, in which we implemented a strengths-based methodological approach drawn from Appreciative Inquiry. We analyse what works to enhance engagement and investigate how practitioners and participants create shared values and gender-sensitive pedagogies within a LGBTQ-friendly and body positive space. Sport and physical education spaces have long been recognised as gendered and gendering, which has not supported positive experiences for all, especially those marginalised within gender-normative spaces.

The research was carried out in a dance school for adults, set up in London in 2012. The school offers beginners and improvers classes in a number of traditional dance styles, predominantly ballet but including also tap, Latin and swing. Twelve semi-structured interviews were carried out with dance practitioners and learners, using positive questions inspired by Appreciative Inquiry. These included, How/Why do you think this dance school is successful in engaging individuals in dance? What are your favourite aspects of the dance class? Discourse and thematic analyses were then undertaken to help construct narratives of the participants’ experiences and highlight elements of practice and culture within the classes that were felt to contribute to a positive environment for movement.

Analysis indicates four major themes contributing to a positive pedagogy: the practitioners committed to gender neutral language; looked where possible for adaptations that encouraged participation; emphasised that it is okay to fail; and worked for an environment in which participants felt safe. The studio space was adapted to assist participants who were uncomfortable watching themselves in the mirror. Emphasis was placed on individual learning progression, rather than perfection. Boundaries of acceptable practice and language were established from the start, not only to ensure welcoming spaces for fellow participants, but for oneself also: this meant committing to supportive comments and no criticism. This afforded a safe environment for LGBTQ participants to express their gender identity without fear. All participants were able to learn traditionally gendered elements of dance, such as en pointe which is typically taught to girls/women only. As a number of participants expressed their enjoyment of the dance school by highlighting the contrast to their negative memories of PE/school sport, there are elements identified in this paper that might encourage other movement spaces looking for positive and gender-sensitive pedagogical practice.

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