A Tribute to Robert Osmotherly

In This Article

I first met Robert in 1983, when, before funding became a reality for Ausdance anywhere in Australia, we were working as volunteers to establish the National Office in Canberra, and wanted to make sure Queensland was part of a national network. He immediately saw the potential for growth in Queensland, and agreed to become the local co-ordinator for what was then the Australian Association for Dance Education (AADE).

Robert had graduated from Rusden in 1977, one of Shirley McKechnie’s first (and finest) dance students in the new B.Ed. course. By 1983 he was on the QUT Dance Department staff, after a career as a professional dancer and choreographer. He became Queensland branch President and took on the work of AADE, managing to produce newsletters, membership lists, run workshops and keep telephone contact with the growing Queensland membership.

Robert was one of those rare people who had a professional dance background and was a qualified and committed dance educator of extraordinary insight and intellectual capacity. He became a leading voice in contemporary Australian dance education, able to think conceptually about the problems of teaching, learning, understanding and performing dance, about document ing the processes, and about transmitting less tangible qualities such as inspiration and passion for his art form. He had a deep understanding of other art forms, and was excited by the challenge of his students discovering the visual arts, drama, literature and technology, and their importance to dance.

Needless to say, I was one of the many who were inspired by Robert’s intellect and vision for dance and dance education in Australia. He spent many hours, late into the night, talking to us about ideas and processes when he was in Canberra as adviser to the ACT Education Department. Here he led workshops for teachers at all levels of schooling, introducing them to dance making and giving them the confidence to find their own movement vocabularies. His students found his classes and tutorials intellectually challenging when they were encouraged to think beyond the immediate physical concerns of their art form.

Robert was commissioned by Ausdance National to write a position paper on dance education for the National Arts in Australian Schools project in 1990. Entitled Dance Education in Australian Schools, it is still widely read and referred to by dance educators.

Robert’ s final years were spent in a very happy environment teaching the arts and literature at a Brisbane high school. His death at the age of 38 seemed impossibly unfair, but his short life inspired many to look beyond the known in dance and to challenge the boundaries set by conventional practice. He is still greatly missed by Ausdance—we remember him often with admiration and great affection.