Ceremonial dancing has a very important place in the Indigenous cultures of Australia. They vary from place to place, but most ceremonies combine dance, song, rituals and often elaborate body decorations and costumes. The different body paintings indicate the type of ceremony being performed. They play an important role in marriage ceremonies, in the education of Indigenous children, as well as storytelling and oral history. The term corroboree is commonly used to refer to Australian Aboriginal dances, although this term has its origins among the people of the Sydney region. In some places, Aboriginal people perform corroborees for tourists. In the latter part of the 20th century the influence of Indigenous Australian dance traditions has been seen with the development of concert dance, with the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) providing training in contemporary dance.
The Australian bush dance, which draws on traditions from English, Irish, Scottish and other European dance styles, is also a common community activity. Favourite dances include 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.
The Australian Ballet is the foremost classical ballet company in Australia. It began in 1962 and is today recognised as one of the world's major international ballet companies. It is based in Melbourne and performs works from the classical repertoire as well as contemporary works by major Australian and international choreographers.
Traditional Aboriginal 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 Dreamtime beings. Some groups hold their dances secret or sacred. Gender is an important factor in some ceremonies with men and women having separate ceremonial traditions, such as the Crane Dance.
The term "corroboree" is commonly used by non-Indigenous Australians to refer to any Aboriginal dance, although this term has its origins among the people of the Sydney region. In some places, Australian Aboriginal people perform corroborees for tourists.
For Torres Strait Islander people, singing and dancing is their "literature" – "the most important aspect of Torres Strait lifestyle. The Torres Strait Islanders preserve and present their oral history through songs and dances;...the dances act as illustrative material and, of course, the dancer himself [sic] is the storyteller" (Ephraim Bani, 1979). There are many songs about the weather; others about the myths and legends; life in the sea and totemic gods; and about important events. "The dancing and its movements express the songs and acts as the illustrative material".
In the latter part of the 20th century, the influence of Indigenous Australian dance traditions was seen with the development of concert dance, particularly in contemporary dance with the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (established 1975) and the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA, founded 1997) providing training to Indigenous Australians in dance, and the Bangarra Dance Theatre (founded 1989).
The National Aboriginal Dance Council Australia (NADCA, also referred to as National Aboriginal Dance Council of Australia) was supported by Ausdance in their presentation of the presentation of three major Indigenous dance conferences. The second one was held in Adelaide in 1997, where cultural and intellectual property rights and copyright issues for Australian Indigenous dancers were discussed, and included a free outdoor performance in Rymill Park / Murlawirrapurka. The third conference took place in Sydney in 1999, funded by the Australia Council. Both the 2nd and 3rd conferences were attended by David Gulpilil's dance troupe.
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.
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. 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 Arts Centre Melbourne, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Robert Helpmann is among Australia's best-known ballerinos.
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 such as So You Think You Can Dance have featured on television in recent years.
The Nutbush is a classic Australian line dance—typically performed to the American song "Nutbush City Limits" by Ike & Tina Turner—was created in the 1970s disco era; it took off in Australia during the 1980s, and it is has seen sustained success to this day, including gaining viral popularity internationally through TikTok. A common way of first hearing the song is when schools typically make students dance to it as part of a physical education.
Those dance companies funded by the Major Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council and from state arts agencies are:
First published 2002, edited and revised 2007.
...funded by the Dance Fund of the Australia Council