Date of Award

August 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Christy Greenleaf


Dance is an activity that is strongly associated with thinness. The idea that women who participate in dance should be thin is reinforced by dance leaders, peers, parents, and the media. The pressure placed on women to be thin has been identified as a contributor to negative experiences, such as aspects relating to negative body image (e.g., body dissatisfaction) and disordered eating behaviors. The focus on thinness may also (un)intentionally exclude and discourage curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick women, as seen in the experiences of popular culture dance icons Misty Copeland and Lizzo. However, emerging literature indicates that participation in dance can cultivate positive experiences of embodiment (e.g., body appreciation, expression and experience of desire, and body comfort). The findings of experiences of positive embodiment may be attributed to the fact that certain forms of dance (e.g., pole and belly) have been identified as more accepting of diverse body shapes and sizes. Despite the findings and potential implications, two gaps in the literature remain relevant to body inclusion and body-related experiences. First, literature has yet to explore if and how dance leaders are actively working to create inclusive spaces for curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick women. Second, the literature has not fully explored the experiences of curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick women who participate in dance. Thus, this dissertation aims to address these gaps.

Study one explored how dance leaders create body-inclusive spaces. Seven dancer leaders who self-reported that they primarily serve curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick women participated in the study. Five participated in both the initial and follow-up interviews, which were used as a form of member checking and the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the strategies to create body inclusivity. Four themes were developed using content analysis: awareness and intentional use of language, representation of diverse body shapes and sizes, community inside and outside the dance space, and personal commitment to creating spaces with and for curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick folks. The study's findings demonstrate that creating body-inclusive spaces entails awareness, mindfulness, intentionality, and a genuine desire to include individuals with marginalized identities. Thus, the strategies reflected in the findings should not be interpreted as a checklist but as examples of approaches to creating body-inclusive spaces.

The second study explored positive body-related experiences of dancers who identify as curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick. Nine women who identified as curvy, fat, plus-size, and/or thick participated in the initial interview, seven of whom also participated in a follow-up interview that was used as a form of member checking to ensure their voices were accurately portrayed and understood. The data was analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. My understanding of the participants' shared experiences resulted in the development of three themes: embracing the body, connecting with the body, and resisting and rebelling against societal expectations. The themes of the study align with the positive experiences of embodiment identified by Piran (2017). Results from the study indicate that dancers experience positive embodiment in dance settings. Future research is needed to understand further body-related experiences of curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick dancers and the influence of multiple marginalized identities on body-related and dance experiences.

The dissertation aimed to add to the literature on body inclusivity and experiences in dance spaces. Based on the first study's findings, it is evident that dance leaders are actively and genuinely working to create body-inclusive spaces with and for curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick dancers. The results of the second study indicate that curvy, fat, plus-size, and thick dancers experience positive embodiment in dance spaces.

Available for download on Thursday, August 28, 2025

Included in

Kinesiology Commons