Experiences with social support among older adult women participating in gay square-dancing


Social support is important for health and well-being, and is associated with physical activity behaviour and positive experiences in physical activity contexts. Because of historical oppression of the LGBTQI2S community, opportunities for social inclusion and social support are important and may be fostered through participation in gay square dancing.The aim of this research was to understand the lived experiences of older adult female-identified participants in a gay square-dancing club, with attention to social support, social relationships, and social barriers. Fourteen self-identified female square dancers belonging to a gay square dance club participated. Most were white and all were over age 55. Participants self-identified as heterosexual (7), homosexual (3), pansexual (1), bisexual (1), and 2 did not identify with existing terminology. Semi-structured interviews were conducted during a gay square-dancing festival and thematically analyzed. Themes suggested participants experienced intentionally provided support which included both tangible (e.g. helping with transportation) and emotional support (e.g. offering words of encouragement). There was an emphasis on making connections and dancing with many people. First-time participants described overcoming shyness and feeling comfortable attending alone, which they noted was not always the case in heteronormative square dance groups. Perhaps novel to this context where touch is inherent to the activity, physical touch (e.g. hand holding, dance holds, hugging) was perceived as mostly supportive but at times was uncomfortable. Findings highlight the importance of exercise contexts with intentional acceptance of individuality, which can foster an inviting and supportive environment and contribute to positive experiences with participation.