Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Women on the Move: From the Ghost Dance to Urban Parks


Comprised of historical and empirical research, this dissertation addresses conceptions of health, movement, and behavioral norms in public spaces. While dance and rhythmic activities are vital to social cohesion, communication, and cultural reproduction in human societies worldwide, they have been subject to many forms of suppression--as is the case of American Indians on reservations in the 20th century. The Ghost Dance among the Lakota in 1890, along with other examples, together reveal the role of dance and music in offering resilience and hope for renewal. The experiences of women in America in the late-19th through mid-20th centuries is also discussed: The interactions of race and gender pertinent to women's experiences in public, American Indian assimilation, dance, city parks movement, physical education, and physical culture are highlighted.

The historical context is complemented by contemporary observations of municipal parks in the San Francisco East Bay. Municipal parks with similar design features are found in cities and towns throughout the United States. As public commons, they reveal a great deal about social values, norms, and power. This study utilizes an environmental justice framework and a modified System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities method to evaluate park conditions and usage. Forty-seven parks, most less than seven acres in size, located in census tracts reporting populations at or above the California averages for Asian, African American, or American Indian residents in the cities of Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland, California were visited at various times throughout the day and week.

Observations confirmed previous studies that found predominantly sedentary uses with limited variety. Among adult and teen park users, there were fewer women than men, which also corresponded with previous studies in other cities. Most parks had low levels of use considering the population density of the surrounding neighborhood. Access to sanitary infrastructure and drinking water was limited, as was equipment for adults. Facilities for competitive sports were common, while alternative outdoor facilities for group rhythmic, creative, or coordinated movement were rare.

It is recommended that municipalities could address environmental inequalities and increase park usage by providing free or very low-cost programming that incorporates creativity, expression, and cooperation. Access to equipment such as hoops, wheels, musical instruments, ropes, and spaces for community dances or presentations should be explored as additional ways to increase active park use. Enhancing sanitation infrastructure, negotiating sound policies, and facilitating active transportation to and from parks are other suggested ways to increase use of urban municipal parks.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View