January 27, 2012: Well, caribberie is the closest word I could find, and it actually means “ceremony that involves singing and dancing”. At one time, there were over 250 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia, and even with just 60 still “alive”, finding one word that means dance is difficult. The Noongar culture uses the word ke-ning, and the first Europeans used the word corroboree.
Those of you who know me know that I’ve been dancing since I was a kid. I started at a very young age at the Crosby Dance and Personality School and have taken classes in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. I can’t get enough of it! In fact, I still take classes at Danceworks of Michigan, in between teaching and traveling, and some of my best friends are dancers. Therefore, I’m sorry to report that I didn’t take a single dance class in Australia. Here’s my excuse: I walked 3 miles round-trip between the ANU and Donna’s house everyday. Let me repeat that: walked 3 miles, round-trip, every day. I challenge anyone but the hardest-core exercisers to add a 1- or 2-hour dance class on top of the walking!
I, did, however, attend a few dance performances, from the casual chance-siting to the ticket-taking shows on a stage. With all sorts of opportunities to attend dance performances, I had to be choosy, so I opted to see things that I wouldn’t normally see in the United States. Therefore, I did not attend any professional ballets or any professional ballroom dance exhibitions. Chalk that up to watching too much SYTYCD (tho I loves me some Cat Deeley) and DWTS, both of which, BTW, also have Australian versions.
Canberra, ACT: During my first weekend in Australia, I happened upon these two guys in Civic – one was beating out a tune on his fiddle and the other was beating out a rhythm with his tap shoes.
Someone once told me she thought tap dancing was better than sex (YOU know who you are!) and so I always smile a bit when I see people tap dancing, especially unabashedly out in public. While not the greatest tapper I’ve ever seen, I had to give him kudos for his brazen moves!
Belconnen, ACT: Meredith is a follower of the Hilal Dance movement, which was created by Suraya Hilal in the early 1980s. Meredith has been taking classes for over 10 years and absolutely loves it. I don’t know how to describe Hilal Dance except to say it’s kind of a cross between modern Middle Eastern dance and how we think ancient Egyptians might have danced. The movements are soft and graceful and flow from one to the other, with very little hand or head movements. Some of the music can be jarring but some of it is quite mesmerizing and if the performers are good, the whole dance is hypnotic. Afterall, “Dance is music made visible.” (George Balanchine).
I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Alchemy with Meredith and her friends, my first exposure to this new type of dance. I was so relaxed that I dozed off during one of the dances (sorry, Meredith!) but I did enjoy it. Afterwards, the dancers, along with Suraya herself, answered questions from the audience.
Hobart, Tasmania: My trip to Tasmania brought many unexpected pleasantries: boating on the Southern Ocean, seeing Tasmanian Devils, wandering around the Salamanca Market, and watching the Pacific Blendz Dance troupe. These ladies shook their hips to a mix of Polynesian music and really had a great stage presence.
Alice Springs, NT: I didn’t see any dancing in Alice Springs, but I did read about a then-upcoming performance by InCite Youth Arts. Close to Me featured 70 mixed ability dancers, from various backgrounds. At the time, I remember thinking to myself that I should be more careful about planning trips around dance performances because this sounded like a good one. The reviewers loved the show and I’m sorry to have missed it.
Woden, ACT: I saw an ad for a “Timomatic” performance and was intrigued. Timomatic was the 3rd place finisher in Australia’s Got Talent and a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Australia who went on tour in 2009. He performed at the Hellenic Club, and his show was advertised as “a night full of fun, dance and entertainment”, starting at 8 pm “till late”. I want to say “he’s automatic, systematic, hyyyyyy-dromatic – he’s dance’s answer to Greased Lightening!”
But I can’t. What a disappointment. The doors opened at 7:45 pm, and the first act, Kulture Break, danced one routine at 8:30 pm. They danced again at 9 pm. And then they danced at ~9:30 pm. In between the performances, DJ Rush played hip hop dance club music. The dance routines were good – it was nice to have something to watch – but the show dragged on and the DJ music wasn’t anything special. People just stood around and drank. Nary a toe tapped – I think most were wondering when the hometown headliner would appear…Timomatic and his dancers finally appeared a little before 10 and danced (and sang) until 10:35. And that was it. The EmCee said “Thank you, Canberra! Good night!” and that was it. Hardly “until late”…hardly worth the $30 ticket. People were expecting more; people thought it was “crap” (their word, not mine) that Timomatic didn’t appear until 2 hours after the show started. Honestly, I was more impressed by the dancers, who oozed joie de la danse, than by Timomatic. I’m posting this out in Cyberland so others don’t get duped like we were… save your money – watch Timo dance on youtube.
p.s. I’m not a h8r. People who know me know that I embrace new things and I especially like to see anything having to do with dance. This was just not good.
Cairns, Queensland: In the land of rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, who would think to see a dance show? Me, that’s who! Tim and I attended the evening performance at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, which included dinner and a brief introduction to the Aboriginal culture of the traditional people of present-day Queensland. Much of the Aboriginal culture is secret but they do share “children’s stories” and simple dances. The food was good, and the dancers were fantastic! They were enthusiastic about sharing their culture through dance and happy to answer questions. I highly recommend Tjapukai by Night - it’s a lot of fun, and it’s definitely worth the money.
Canberra, ACT: Thinking about dance in all of these different ways, in all of these different areas, made me look twice at the videos that are displayed at the entrance to the First Australians gallery at the National Museum of Australia. What I realized about this video, after watching it for a few times, is that the dancers wear both traditional clothing and modern clothing, symbolizing, I’m sure, the continuous culture (60,000-ish years!) of the traditional people of Australia. The dark hallway with the overhead “stars” and benches make this a place I could sit for hours, absorbing the music and watching the dancing (even if it is just a video). There’s probably a lot more to say about this, about the dual lives some Aboriginal people live, as well as about the constant tension between the traditional landholders of Australia and its modern-day European descendants, but I’m not educated enough about it to speak on it (and this blog is not about politics). I do know, however, that like most advanced countries, Australia is working to figure out ways to right the wrongs experienced by its native people.
And so ends my post about dancing in Australia. Next time I visit - and there will be a next time - I will take the time to dance, even if it’s in addition to long walks because, to paraphrase Voltaire, dance is an amusement that will never do any harm to the world. Besides that, “we should consider every day lost in which we don’t dance.” (Friedrich Neitzsche).
Video of the Canberra tapdancer, Civic
Great information about Aboriginal culture, including caribberies and ceremonies
Suraya Hilal’s website
Hilal dance classes at the Belconnen Arts Centre, Belconnen
Hilal dance classes at the Canberra Dance Theatre, Canberra
My video of Pacific Blendz Dance Troupe
Good (professional?) video of the Tjapukai dancers
Welcome Dance at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra
Salsabar Dance Company (where I took one Zumba class), Canberra
Shout-Outs to My Dancing Friends in the USA:
Crosby Dance Studio on Facebook (Oshkosh, WI)
Stars of Dance (Clifton Park, NY)
Dancworks of Michigan (Holt, MI)
Xtreme Force Dance Company (Livermore, CA)
Educating Dancers (Heather Vaughan-Southard‘s blog)