Listen now Today I want to acknowledge a significant dance and cultural movement that is celebrating its 40th anniversary. I’m talking about the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association.
The organisation first emerged in the mid-1970s and evolved to play a fundamental role in training prominent Indigenous dancers and developing a modern Aboriginal dance style.
Carole Johnson was a an African American dancer who toured Australia as part of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company of New York in 1972. At this time she was funded to run some dance workshops in the St James Church Hall, Bridge Road, Glebe. Johnson returned to New York, but realised the potential for black empowerment and cultural expression here in Sydney and returned in 1974.
A series of classes at Glebe and Redfern led to a display of Indigenous Dance in 1975 at the Black Theatre. The workshops generated a demand for professional training and a three-year professional course, called ‘Careers in Dance’ was created. In 1977 the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre was formed as a professional arm of the school, to enable students to develop performance experience. The students also gained experience through performances at festivals and community programs.
Students of NAISDA who have gone on to prominent careers in dance include Stephen Page and the late Russell Page, who became prominent in the Bangarra Dance Company and performed at the Opening Ceremony at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
The Dictionary of Sydney’s article on the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association is just one of a series of articles that we have on the Dictionary which chart the evolution of Aboriginal cultural organisations here in Sydney. Check out our subject listing for more details.
The anniversary is being celebrated with a social history exhibition at Carriageworks at Redfern. Naya Wa Yugali (translating to ‘We Dance’ in Darkinyung language) features oral histories, a new commission by Vicki Van Hout and Marian Abboud and the work of artists including Tracey Moffatt, the late Michael Riley, Juno Gemes, Lee Chittick and Elaine Kitchener.
There are some great photographs and film footage, so I encourage you to get along to this free exhibition. It opened yesterday and will be at Carriageworks until 11 December.
There are other events and performances planned for the celebrations as well – go to the NAISDA website to check out the full program: http://www.naisda.com.au/productions/circle-of-cultures/