Founding life members
Dame Peggy van Praagh, DBE
Peggy van Praagh was the founding Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, having arrived in Australia in 1960 to take over the Borovansky Ballet, following the death of its founder, Edouard Borovansky. She had had a distinguished performing and teaching career in the UK with Ballet Rambert and The Royal Ballet, and was a close friend and colleague of Dr Peter Brinson, with whom she co-authored The Choreographic Art.
Peggy had a particular interest in choreographic development, and was instrumental in initiating the first of the four choreographic seminars held at the New England University in Armidale NSW in 1969. Together with Bernard James, Shirley McKechnie and Keith Bain, she worked to ensure that these seminars became the focus of choreographic dialogue between contemporary dance and classical ballet, eventually leading to the formation of the Australian Association for Dance Education (now Ausdance) in 1977, after the final Armidale seminar in 1976. Peggy’s interest in dance education was ongoing until her death in 1990, when she bequeathed funds to four organisation—including Ausdance—for choreographic development.
Dr Peter Brinson
Peter had a long and distinguished career as dance producer, animateur and scholar from the early 1950s after meeting Dame Peggy van Praagh. He was the author of many books, television programs, articles and dance reports, a consultant for numerous arts bodies around the world and a major advocate for dance and dance education. He designed Ballet For All, a very successful Royal Ballet touring program for schools, and was Chairman of the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Although he was an Englishman, Peter visited Australia several times between 1975 and 1993, establishing valued friendships in the arts community and encouraging young Australian dance artists to broaden their experience both at home and overseas. He will be long remembered for his generosity and dedication to dance in Australia, as a founder of Ausdance, and for his inspired vision of a dance-literate, dance-loving community served by a national dance network.
Professor Shirley McKechnie, AO
One of Australia’s foremost dance educators, Shirley’s career in dance has spanned five decades. A dancer, teacher, choreographer and director, she founded and directed the Australian Contemporary Dance Theatre from 1963-1973. Soon after, Shirley founded and directed the first degree course in dance studies at Rusden College (now Deakin University). Shirley has been an Ausdance National President, was the founding Chair of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia, founder of the Green Mill Dance Project and initiated the Australian Research Council-funded research, ‘Conceiving Connections’.
Shirley is the recipient of an Order of Australia Medal, a Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts, the Ausdance 21 Award for outstanding and distinguished service, and two Australian Dance Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award (2001) and Services to Dance Education (1997). Shirley has been on the boards of many arts and dance organisations, training and research programs, and has been a leading advocate for dance in Australia. In 1998 she was elected an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
Keith Bain, OAM
Keith is a much-loved and respected Australian dance artist/teacher who has served on Ausdance state and national boards for many years. Keith trained with Gertrud Bodenwieser in Sydney and danced with the Bodenwieser Ballet before taking over the Bodenwieser Dance Centre, with Margaret Chapple, after Bodenwieser’s death in 1968. Keith founded the Australasian Teachers Contemporary Dance Association (CDA), and the Society of Dance Artists (SODA).
Keith has been chairman of the dance panel of the Australia Council for the Arts, he founded the Dancers’ Picnic (later to become the Australian Dance Awards), and has received two Australian Dance Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award (1999) and the award for Services to Dance Education (2003). Other awards include the Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee Medal for services to dance and theatre, and a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1985. Keith Bain established, and was for many years, head of the movement studies course at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA).
Dr Warren Lett
Dr Warren Lett established the first Master of Arts in counselling (Creative Arts Therapy) at La Trobe University. He has worked as a counsellor in private practice; as a consultant to organisations, and a Director of Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy (MIECAT). In 1974, Dr Lett was invited to the Dance Residential School and Choreographic Workshop at New England University, Armidale. He attended as a psychologist, working with the choreographers on the creative process, and in 1977 he was involved in forming a steering committee with Dame Peggy van Praagh, Shirley McKechnie, Keith Bain and Donna Greaves, from which the Australian Association for Dance Education was formed.
As an educator, Dr Lett’s involvement in dance has helped gain a more prominent and credible academic profile for the dance profession and has provided a stronger voice in the community for dance. He has made a lasting contribution to Ausdance publications about the use of the arts and dance in, and for, therapy.
Johanna (Hanny) Exiner
Dancer, teacher and choreographer, Hanny Exiner danced with Gertrud Bodenwieser and was greatly influential to the development of dance and dance/movement therapy in Australia. Born in Vienna, Hanny became a student of Bodenwieser there, eventually emigrating to Australia in 1939, where she set up a creative dance school in Melbourne. In 1970 Hanny became a full-time dance lecturer at the Kindergarten Teachers College in Melbourne (later the Institute of Early Childhood Development), and in 77 she introduced the graduate diploma of movement and dance—Australia’s first postgraduate dance qualification.
Hanny was a founding member of Ausdance, and the Victorian Branch’s first President in 1977. She continued to teach and publish throughout the 1980s, and the Hanny Exiner Fund was established in 2001 to provide financial assistance for people undertaking research in the field of Dance-Movement Therapy. The fund aims to encourage a broad range of research and to increase understanding of Dance-Movement Therapy methodology and its effects.
Donna was the Dance Officer on the Theatre Board for the Australia Council for the Arts when the Australian Association for Dance Education was founded in 1977, and she formed part of the founding steering committee.
National honorary life members
Ralph is a strong advocate for an arts experience for all children through dance. He has been President of Ausdance Queensland, and both National President and Vice-President of Ausdance from 1994 – 1998. With an inspired vision for dance education, Ralph and has promoted many facets of dance education with his teaching and writing. Ralph has provided sustained support to Ausdance over many years, and his personal generosity, optimism and unconditional dedication for the dance community at all levels has earned him love and respect throughout Australia.
With great knowledge, understanding and insight, Lee is unrivalled as a dance educator, broadcaster, writer and advocate. Lee served as a National Vice President of Ausdance from 1996 – 2004 and as curator of many large dance events, has been instrumental in raising the standard of dialogue and debate about dance in Australia. Lee’s special skill is in articulating the achievements of dance, as well as its concerns, and he has used these skills in the wider service of the whole Australian dance community, and particularly in the service of Ausdance.
Shane’s commitment to Ausdance and his care for its people have been much valued by the organisation. He was President of Ausdance WA for several years before serving as the National President from 2000 – 05. Shane brought perspective and vision to Ausdance, with his strong sense of political judgment, a respect of federal and state bureaucracies, and a wide knowledge of the dance industry. His wisdom, experience and exceptional communication skills have made a wonderful and long-term contribution to the network.
Valda was one of Australia’s most highly qualified and active dance educators and advocates during the 1980s and 90s. She made dance experiences possible and enjoyable for hundreds of people, worked passionately on the Dancers’ Picnic and many other Ausdance activities. She was Chair of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia from 1986 – 93 and has been an ambassador for Australian dance with her involvement in the World Dance Alliance and the American Dance Festival. Valda received an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance Education in 2011.
Julie Dyson AM
As National Director of Ausdance since the very beginning, Julie has been a powerful advocate for dance and a visionary leader for over three decades. She has been an inspirational and influential figure in the growth and development of both Ausdance and Australia’s diverse dance community. With her strong leadership and clear-sighted vision, her passion for research and choreographic development and her tireless advocacy for arts education, Julie’s contribution to the dance sector both at home and overseas leaves an important legacy. Her passion, generosity and diplomacy have made her one of our great mentors and a respected elder in the dance community. Julie moved on from her position as National Director in December 2012, but she continues to work through the political and education systems to promote Australian dance. Read more about Julie Dyson.
Annie has been part of the Ausdance family since the very early days. She was one of the earliest paid officers of Ausdance NSW, an Ausdance state President in both NSW and Tasmania and a National Vice President from 1998 – 2004. Annie also has great commitment to Indigenous dance education and worked from 1986-1990 as Course Coordinator, and then Director, of the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA College). As the artistic director of one of Australia’s leading dance companies—Tasdance—Annie’s work as an educator and public advocate for dance continues.
Nicki Lo Bianco
Nicky is a dance educator and librarian who helped to establish the National resources library. She worked with the state Directors to implement methods for storing, cataloguing and making the vast Ausdance collection of papers, manuscripts, reports and books more accessible. Nicki undertook this huge task on a voluntary basis with extraordinary commitment, professionalism, patience and generosity.
Sandra joined Ausdance National in 1991, at a time when the organisation was taking on a greater leadership role, particularly as an advocate with a higher political profile in Canberra. Sandra made a valuable contribution to the development and growth of Ausdance as the peak body for dance in Australia. She established new financial and reporting mechanisms for the Ausdance network and developed financial management systems that provided much-needed stability to the organisation. Her influence and spirit are now part of Ausdance history.
Professor Susan Street AO
Susan served as Ausdance National President for six years from 2006 – 12, generously sharing her knowledge and leadership. She was Dean of the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT, head of the dance departments at QUT and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and is currently Executive Director, QUT Precincts and Chair of the Queensland Art Gallery board. Sue has an outstanding record in senior leadership positions in dance, both within the university sector and in the broader arts community. Sue received an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance Education in 1999.
Dr Cheryl Stock AM
Cheryl was a founding member of Ausdance, serving as a Vice-President for four years, and then as National President from 1996 – 99. A dancer, teacher, performer, director, choreographer and writer, Cheryl has devoted her life to dance and to ensuring that her skills are used to serve the wider Australian dance community, and particularly in the service of Ausdance. Cheryl received the Australian Dance Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2003.
Paul has been a valuable Ausdance board member for more than a decade, first as President of Ausdance Victoria, and then as National Vice-President until 2008. He has made a significant contribution to professional dance over many years, particularly in Melbourne, where he has produced and promoted the work of independent artists and small companies, and been a valued mentor to emerging artists. His wisdom and great personal integrity have been important in shaping many careers, and he is well known as one of the most honest observers of the Australian dance environment.
Hilary worked tirelessly and efficiently for Ausdance from the very beginning and helped to draft the first Constitution. She initiated many Ausdance projects and accomplishments and was the National President from 1980—1986. Hilary also served as National Executive Officer for five years and although she retired officially in 1990, she continued to be indispensable to the organisation because of her fine skills in writing, editing and publishing. Hilary’s generosity and ongoing commitment to Ausdance has been invaluable.
Margaret Walker, OAM
Margaret was a champion in the cause of dance of every kind, and of a dance for everyone. She studied ballet with Borovansky in the early 40s, but as a motivated humanitarian and political activist, she chose to dedicate herself to a seemingly more egalitarian form of dance. She was a passionate pioneer of folk and character dance, and always maintained her conviction of the importance and power of giving every child the opportunity to dance. Her legacy will live on.