Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Robyn Cruz

Second Advisor

Nancy Beardall

Third Advisor

Rae Johnson


This qualitative study examined the somatic experience of White privilege in participants who were committed to developing a nonracist White identity. It postulated that there are somatic cues and expressive signatures of White privilege that, once identified, could be addressed through basic dance/movement therapy interventions used at the intrapersonal level. Awareness of these cues may help White people navigate their privilege in racialized interactions thereby reducing further enactments of racism.

Using Critical Race Theory and Whiteness Studies as conceptual frameworks and building on research exploring the impact of oppression on the body, this study sought to answer the following questions: (1) How do White people experience skin privilege? (2) What is the impact of sociocultural and institutional norms around race on the self-image, body language, and interoception of those who hold racial privilege? (3) What are the somatic markers of privilege? Interviews included verbal and non-verbal prompts designed to elicit information about how participants recognize and experience White privilege through sensation and movement. The non-verbal portions of the interviews were based on theoretical approaches from the field of dance/movement therapy. Data was analyzed using a constant comparative method with Helms’ White Racial Identity Development model as a frame of reference for sorting and coding.

The eight themes that emerged were consistent with the literature on privilege while also providing additional information about its somatic components. They were: disorientation, marked by confusion and tension resulting from a disrupted worldview; self-structuring, demonstrated through the creation of internal lists that appeared to re-establish equilibrium; polarization in self and in relationship to others; describing privilege through contrast; self-consciousness, marked by embarrassment and self-deprecating humor; seeking affirmation from others; maintaining awareness through regular engagement with one’s privilege; and seeking wholeness or reintegration.

Findings suggest the field of dance/movement therapy has existing approaches that could support White people in developing more racial stamina by supporting: increased racial self-awareness and the ability to witness oneself; tolerance for sensate experience including strong or uncomfortable feelings; access to a range of thoughts, movements, and responses; and empathy in racialized interactions. Potential applications include both clinical and educational settings.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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