Dance has been an important part of Australian culture for centuries, with Indigenous Australians having developed their own unique forms of dance long before the arrival of European settlers. Over time, dance in Australia has evolved and adapted to reflect the changing social, cultural, and political landscape of the country, with new styles and genres emerging alongside traditional forms.
Indigenous Australian Dance
The traditional dances of Indigenous Australians were diverse and varied, reflecting the cultural diversity of the various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country. These dances were often performed as part of important ceremonies and rituals, such as initiation rites, funerals, and harvest festivals.
One example of Indigenous Australian dance is the corroboree, which involves intricate rhythmic movements and chanting, and is often performed in a circle around a fire. Another example is the Torres Strait Islander dance, which incorporates complex footwork, body movements, and costumes, and is often performed in large groups to celebrate special occasions.
These dances have been passed down through generations, with many still being performed today. The Bangarra Dance Theatre, founded in 1989, is one of the most well-known contemporary dance companies in Australia and focuses on exploring Indigenous culture and history through dance. They have performed all around the world and have won numerous awards for their work.
With the arrival of European settlers in the late 18th century, new styles of dance began to emerge in Australia. Initially, these dances were largely influenced by the traditional dances of Europe, such as the waltz and the quadrille. However, over time, new styles began to emerge that reflected the unique cultural and social identity of Australia.
One example of this is the bush dance, which emerged in the early 19th century and became popular among settlers in rural areas. These dances often involved simple, repetitive movements that were easy to learn, and were typically accompanied by live music played on instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, and banjo.
Another style that emerged during this period was ballroom dancing, which became increasingly popular among the upper classes in Australia’s major cities. These dances, which included the foxtrot, tango, and waltz, were typically performed in grand ballrooms and required a high level of skill and training.
In the early 20th century, a new generation of Australian dancers began to emerge who were interested in exploring new forms of movement and expression. This led to the development of modern dance in Australia, which was heavily influenced by the work of European modernists such as Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham.
One of the pioneers of modern dance in Australia was Margaret Barr, who established the first modern dance school in Sydney in the 1920s. Barr’s style was characterised by its emphasis on freedom of movement and expression, and its rejection of the rigid rules and structures of traditional ballet.
In the years that followed, a number of other Australian dancers and choreographers emerged who were also interested in exploring new forms of movement and expression. One of the most influential of these was Gertrud Bodenwieser, an Austrian-born dancer and choreographer who emigrated to Australia in the 1930s.
Bodenwieser’s style was characterised by its use of expressive gestures, its emphasis on the interplay between music and movement, and its incorporation of elements of traditional folk dance. Her work had a significant impact on the development of modern dance in Australia, and her influence can still be seen in the work of contemporary Australian choreographers.
In the post-war period, dance in Australia continued to evolve and diversify, with new styles and genres emerging that reflected the changing social and cultural landscape of the country. One example of this is contemporary dance, which emerged in the 1960s
The proud traditions of dance continue today, with modern and expressive forms of dance across a wide variety of genres. What we can be absolutely sure of is the dance will continue grow, change and evolutionise well into the future.