Dance in Australia

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Indigenous Australian dance

Australian Aboriginal dancers in 1981. 1981 event Australian aboriginals.jpg
Australian Aboriginal dancers in 1981.

Traditional Indigenous Australian dance was closely associated with song and was understood and experienced as making present the reality of the Dreamtime. In some instances, they would imitate the actions of a particular animal in the process of telling a story. For the people in their own country it defined to roles, responsibilities and the place itself. These ritual performances gave them an understanding of themselves in the interplay of social, geographical and environmental forces. The performances were associated with specific places and dance grounds were often sacred places. The Body decoration and specific gestures related to kin and other relationships (such as to Dream time beings with which individuals and groups). Some Indigenous Australian groups held their dances secret or sacred. Gender was an important factor in some ceremonies with men and women having separate ceremonial traditions.Like the Crane Dance. [1]

Dreamtime sacred era in Australian Aboriginal mythology

Dreamtime is a term devised by early anthropologists to refer to a religio-cultural worldview attributed to Australian Aboriginal beliefs. It was originally used by Francis Gillen, quickly adopted by his colleague Baldwin Spencer and thereafter popularised by A. P. Elkin, who, however, later revised his views. The Dreaming is used to represent Aboriginal concepts of "time out of time" or "everywhen", during which the land was inhabited by ancestral figures, often of heroic proportions or with supernatural abilities. These figures were often distinct from "gods" as they did not control the material world and were not worshipped, but only revered. The concept of the dreamtime has subsequently become widely adopted beyond its original Australian context and is now part of global popular culture.


The term corroboree is commonly used in general Australian culture to refer to Australian Aboriginal dances, however this term has its origins among the people of the Sydney region. In some places, Australian Aboriginal people perform "corroborees" for tourists.

Corroboree event where Australian Aborigines interact with the Dreamtime through dance, music and costume

A corroboree is an event where Australian Aboriginals interact with the Dreamtime through dance, music and costume. "Their bodies painted in different ways, and they wore various adornments, which were not used every day." The word corroboree was coined by the European settlers of Australia in imitation of an east coast local Aboriginal Australian word caribberie.

In the latter part of the 20th century the influence of Indigenous Australian dance traditions has been seen with the development of concert dance, particularly in contemporary dance with the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association and the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) providing training to Indigenous Australians in dance and the Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Bangarra Dance Theatre is an Indigenous Australian contemporary dance company. It was founded in 1989 by South African woman Cheryl Stone and Carole Johnson, an African-American and founding director of National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA). Bangarra is the Wiradjuri word meaning "to make fire".

Other varieties of dance

Sir Robert Helpmann. Robert Helpmann.jpg
Sir Robert Helpmann.

Bush dance has developed in Australia as a form of traditional dance, it draws on traditions from English, Irish, Scottish and other European dance. Favourite dances in the community include dances of European descent, such as the Irish Céilidh "Pride of Erin" and the quadrille "The Lancers". Locally originated dances include the "Waves of Bondi", the Melbourne Shuffle and New Vogue.

Bush dance is a style of dance from Australia, particularly where the music is provided by a bush band. The dances are mainly based on the traditional folk dances of the UK, Ireland and central Europe.

Quadrille dance

The quadrille is a dance that was fashionable in late 18th- and 19th-century Europe and its colonies. Performed by four couples in a rectangular formation, it is related to American square dancing. The Lancers, a variant of the quadrille, became popular in the late 19th century and was still danced in the 20th century in folk-dance clubs. A derivative found in the Francophone Lesser Antilles is known as kwadril, and the dance is also still found in Madagascar and is within old Jamaican / Caribbean culture.

Les Lanciers

Les Lanciers or The Lancers is a square dance, a variant of the Quadrille, a set dance performed by four couples, particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a composite dance made up of five figures or tours, each performed four times so that each couple dances the lead part. It exists in many variants in several countries.

Many immigrant communities continue their own dance traditions on a professional or amateur basis. Traditional dances from a large number of ethnic backgrounds are danced in Australia, helped by the presence of enthusiastic immigrants and their Australian-born families. It is quite common to see dances from the Baltic region, as well as Scottish, Irish, Indian, Indonesian or African dance being taught at community centres and dance schools in Australia.

Still more dance groups in Australia employ dances from a variety of backgrounds, including reconstructed European Court dances and Medieval Dance, as well as fusions of traditional steps with modern music and style.

The Australian Ballet is the foremost classical ballet company in Australia. Its inaugural artistic director was the English-born dancer, teacher and repetiteur Dame Peggy van Praagh in 1962 and is today recognised as one of the world's major international ballet companies. [2] It is based in Melbourne and performs works from the classical repertoire as well as contemporary works by major Australian and international choreographers. As of 2010, it was presenting approximately 200 performances in cities and regional areas around Australia each year as well as international tours. Regular venues include: the Melbourne Arts Centre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. [3] Robert Helpmann is among Australia's best known ballerinos.

The Australian Ballet is the largest classical ballet company in Australia. It was founded by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1962, with the English-born dancer, teacher, repetiteur and director Dame Peggy van Praagh as founding artistic director. Today, it is recognised as one of the world's major international ballet companies.

Classical ballet traditional, formal style of ballet

Classical ballet is any of the traditional, formal styles of ballet that exclusively employ classical ballet technique. It is known for its aesthetics and rigorous technique, its flowing, precise movements, and its ethereal qualities.

Dame Margaret "Peggy" van Praagh, DBE was a British ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, repetiteur, producer, advocate and director, who spent much of her later career in Australia.

Baz Luhrmann's popular 1992 film Strictly Ballroom , starring Paul Mercurio contributed to an increased interest in dance competition in Australia, and popular dance shows including So You Think You Can Dance have featured on television in recent years.

Baz Luhrmann Australian film director, screenwriter and producer

Baz Luhrmann is an Australian writer, director, and producer with projects spanning film, television, opera, theatre, music, and recording industries. He is regarded by many as a contemporary example of an auteur for his distinctly recognizable style and deep involvement in the writing, directing, design, and musical components of all his work. He is the most commercially successful Australian director, with four of his films in the top ten highest worldwide grossing Australian films of all time.

<i>Strictly Ballroom</i> 1992 film directed by Baz Luhrmann

Strictly Ballroom is a 1992 Australian romantic comedy film directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann. The film, Luhrmann's feature directorial début, is the first in his The Red Curtain Trilogy of theatre-motif-related films; it was followed by Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!.

Paul Joseph Mercurio is an Australian actor, dancer, and TV presenter. Mercurio is best known for his lead role in Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (1992). His father was the character actor Gus Mercurio.

Major dance companies

Those dance companies funded by the Major Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council and from state arts agencies are:

Post secondary dance education




South Australia

Western Australia

List of operating dance companies




Defunct companies

See also


  1. Dance in Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Volume 1 pp. 255-7
  4. Philip Adams Balletlab
  5. Hannah Francis, (15 Mar 2017), Temperance Hall move gives new lease of life to Phillip Adams BalletLab, Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 May 2019

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