World Dance Alliance–Asia Pacific communicating through dance in our region

In This Article

When Carl Wolz set out to create an alliance of dance practitioners, teachers and advocates in the Asia-Pacific region, he faced what appeared to be unsurmountable odds. With diverse cultures and practices, a lack of industry standards and few international professional opportunities—let alone communication networks—there appeared to be little existing infrastructure on which to base his vision.

Wolz had had years of experience in dance in Asia and the Pacific, having studied first at the Julliard School in New York, and later as a postgraduate student at the University of Hawaii. He then became a full-time lecturer in dance at UH, where he developed a particular interest in Japanese dance, and “worked assiduously always to include dance offerings that would reflect the ethnic diversity of Hawai’i’s community”. 1

His arrival at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts in 1983 heralded a new era, both for the Academy and for dance in the Asia-Pacific region. Wolz became the Academy’s first Dean of Dance, and quickly established a dance program that managed to combine the study of modern and traditional techniques. He worked with local dance communities and built communication networks with China, eventually sharing teaching staff with the Beijing Dance Academy.

These experiences in dance diplomacy confirmed Wolz’s belief that dance could be a unifying factor in world peace, that successful communication between individual practitioners, companies, teachers and communities would provide a focus for cultural understanding and greater tolerance of diversity. He had a particular interest in dance research, and sought to bring research communities together to increase dialogue and understanding. He was also a creator—a choreographer, notator, writer, performer and playwright—and these experiences as a practitioner were invaluable in this context.

In 1988 Wolz founded the Asia Pacific Dance Alliance in Hong Kong, which brought together his creative energy, his skills as an administrator and his experience as a diplomat in the region. He modelled his new organisation on one already established, which at that stage had begun to develop networks throughout the Americas and in Europe.

1990 Hong Kong Dance Conference. Hilary Trotter (L) and Julie Dyson from Ausdance National

These groups had met in Essen, Germany, in 1988 and had begun discussions with the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and the Conseil International de la Danse (CID). A ‘world dance alliance’ began to emerge, although without specific commitment from the two latter organisations.

In 1990, having already established the International Festival of Dance Academies in Hong Kong—a combination of performances by leading academies in the region alongside an academic conference stream—Wolz began the work of formalising the structure of the Asia Pacific Dance Alliance and changing its name to reflect its more global ambitions, capitalising on the communication and passion generated in Essen.

1990 Hong Kong Dance Conference. L to R: Mayumi Nagatoshi, Carl Wolz, Valda Craig, Lee-lee Lan

At that seminal 1990 meeting held at the Hong Kong International Dance Conference, discussion raged about the purpose, vision and aims, structure and future viability of the World Dance Alliance. There was discussion about how the new organisation might join or interact with the ITI and the CID, and some tense moments as Wolz and other participants negotiated around what were seen to be those organisations’ intransigent agendas. At the same time, the structure and aims of Ausdance were considered as a model for the new organisation.

It was finally agreed that the WDA–Americas and WDA–Europe would be joined by Asia Pacific Dance Alliance, and that the goals of this global organisation would embrace all dance forms, all cultures and all sectors, from professional artists and teachers to those working in communities. The organisation would be nonexclusive and non-political, and its official language would be English.

The first goals of the World Dance Alliance were:

  • To serve as a primary advocate and support group for dance worldwide.
  • To establish a center of information and communication for dance organisations and individuals, a forum for the exchange of information, ideas, expertise and resources in all areas of dance with the publication or presentation of information in several languages. (Note: The American spelling for center is used throughout, as this is how the organisation was registered in Hong Kong.)
  • To encourage an awareness of, access to, and understanding of dance as an art, a ritual or traditional expression, and a leisure time activity in communities throughout the world.
  • To assist in the identification and promotion of all dance traditions in recognition of their cultural importance.
  • To encourage the protection of dance repertoire in all forms by preservation in notation, film, and media to be devised.
  • To coordinate and enhance the work of existing dance organisations through international meetings.
  • To assist in international exchanges and to encourage dialogue among people working in dance regardless of affiliation.
  • To build through dance a saner, safer world through cooperation on global projects.

(In 1993 the Asia Pacific Dance Alliance changed its name to the Asia–Pacific Center to reflect its relationship with the Americas and Europe Centers of WDA. The word ‘center’ was later dropped and they are now World Dance Alliance–Asia Pacific, World Dance Alliance–Americas and World Dance Alliance–Europe.)

The challenges for the Asia-Pacific region were immense, and it was obvious that only Wolz could lead the Asia Pacific Dance Alliance through diplomatic and cultural minefields as it took its place as part of the new WDA—he would have to drive his vision and inspire its members if it was to become part of an internationally respected force for dance. He was duly elected as the first President, and over the following years established several major principles to ensure the new organisation’s sustainability:

  • The organisation would be run by a representative Executive Board (President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer), democratically elected by the membership.
  • There would also be four regional Vice-Presidents, one each for East Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. Those elected to the Executive Board in 1990 were Carl Wolz (President); Nestor O. Jardin (Philippines – Vice President); Farida Feisol (Indonesia – Secretary) and Lee Lee Lan (Malaysia – Treasurer).
  • There would be ‘area associations’ of WDA–AP, organised by country (eventually to be called ‘chapters’). This proposal was duly adopted in Beijing in July 1994, and it was agreed that where a country already had a dance organisation (such as Ausdance in Australia) that organisation would also assume the role of WDA chapter. The list of suggested ‘members-at-large’ included China, which at that stage had four individual members. (Although the issue of China’s membership remains unresolved, individual Chinese dance representatives have regularly attended meetings and conferences. Membership of the WDA–AP has since expanded to include New Zealand, Cambodia, Fiji and Singapore, with representatives from Vietnam and Thailand attending meetings and contributing information.)
  • There would be ‘networks’ focused on the major areas of concern for the dance community: Education & Training; Research & Documentation; Welfare & Status; Creation & Presentation; Management & Promotion. These networks would be chaired by prominent dance people, and become the focus of the organisation’s major activities.
  • There would be regular communication across the region. Between meetings, this would take the form of a newsletter (Asia–Pacific Channels) to which all regional chapters would contribute. (Asia–Pacific Channels has become the main written forum for the exchange of news and information in the region—it has been compiled, edited and produced by Ausdance since 1997, and its editors have been Carl Wolz (until 1997), Hilary Trotter (until 2002) and since then the Ausdance National staff, who also designed and distributed it in print and online until 2011, when Bilqis Hiijas (Malaysia) joined the Ausdance team as editor. A similar WDA magazine is produced in the Americas.)
  • It was hoped that a regular international calendar of events and directory would be produced by each Center, and the first of these was published in 1994.
  • Annual general meetings would be held at same time as the Festival of Dance Academies or other local dance festivals, and there would be a conference component to promote dialogue and stronger networks. (The main activity of the Asia–Pacific Center has been an annual international dance event which has included a conference with scholarly paper presentations, panel discussions, lecture-demonstrations, workshops, open classes, and a festival of performance by groups from around the world, mostly students of professional dance schools.)

From 2004, it was agreed that ‘founding members’ would make up 50% of the elected WDA–AP Executive Board, identifying a special role for them in the governance of the organisation. Founding members were the nine national or regional entities that assembled in Hong Kong in 1990 to establish the World Dance Alliance–Asia Pacific Center. These were Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.'

The notion of establishing active ‘networks’ as a driver for the organisation was first introduced in 1996, and Carl Wolz ensured that these were finally enshrined in the rules at his last meeting in Singapore in 2001; similar networks also operate in the Americas and Europe Centers.

The networks became the backbone of WDA–AP’s activities, particularly in the areas of research, choreographic development and education. More recently there has been a strengthening of WDA–AP’s publications program, most of which emanates from the work of the Research and Documentation team. (Note: The Welfare & Status and Management & Promotion networks are no longer active.)

For five years, from 1986–1990, the international event was held at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Since then the Asia–Pacific meetings and Global Summits (meetings which include the Americas and Europe Centers) have been hosted mainly by Asia–Pacific countries in combination with local festivals: 1991 in Manila; 1992 in Taipei; 1993 in Tokyo and Akita; 1994 in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing; 1995 in Seoul; 1996 in Jakarta and Melbourne; 1997 in Hong Kong; 1998 in Manila; 1999 in Philadelphia (Global Summit); 2000 in Tokyo (Global Summit); 2001 in Singapore; 2002 in Dusseldorf (Global Summit); 2003 in Kuala Lumpur; 2004 in Taipei (Global Summit); 2005 in Kuala Lumpur; 2006 in Hong Kong and Toronto (Global Summit); 2007 in Singapore; 2008 in Brisbane (Global Summit); 2009 in New Delhi; 2010 in Hong Kong; 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, and 2012 in Taipei in partnership with dance and the Child international (daCi) (Global Summit).

Left: 2001 Singapore WDA Conference. L–R: Carl Wolz, Miki Wakamatsu, Urmimala Sarkar, Maggi Phillips. Right: 2000 Global Assembly, Tokyo. L–R: (standing) two unknown, Caren Carino, Cheryl Stock, unknown, Nanette Hassall, Mohd Anis Md Nor (seated) Sal Murgiyanto, Lee-lee Lan, Basilio Esteban Villaruz, Shirley Halili Cruz

When he moved to Japan in 1993, Wolz continued his work in developing the WDA–AP, eventually passing the presidency on to Prof. Miki Wakamatsu (Japan), then to Prof. Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz (Philippines), to Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor (Malaysia), and finally to Prof. Yunyu Wang (Taiwain) who is the current President. (From 1997 until his death in 2002, Wolz was Executive Director of WDA International, a title that has been replaced by WDA Secretary–General, currently held by Dr Cheryl Stock of Australia).

At the last WDA–AP meeting he attended in 2001, Carl Wolz was honoured by the organisation with a special tribute called Walzing with Wolz. His close relationships with international dance organisations such as the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), the International Council of Kinetography Laban, WDA Americas and Europe, the International Theatre Institute and others, were given prominence in the tributes, and these relationships particularly emphasised his wish for a ‘United Nations of Dance’ where peace and understanding were achieved through dance.

Carl Wolz died in New York on 2 January 2002, leaving an enormous legacy, particularly for dance in the Asia–Pacific region. The September 2002 edition of Asia–Pacific Channels was devoted to tributes, and at the Dusseldorf Global Assembly in June that year, Carl was remembered by World Dance Alliance members for his friendship, leadership, vision and dedication to dance in all its forms.

This legacy continues, and the WDA–AP is now governed by a very effective and committed Executive Board, led by its President, Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor (Malaysia) and Vice-President Prof. Yunyu Wang (Taiwan). Secretary is Julie Dyson (Australia) and Treasurer is Mew Chang Tsing (Malaysia). Area Vice-Presidents are: Pacific, Dr Cheryl Stock (Australia); South-East Asia, Prof. Basilio Esteban Villarus (Philippines); East Asia, Prof. Kui-In Chung (Korea); and South Asia, Dr Sunil Kothari (India).

The work of the Asia-Pacific Networks also continues, and in 2008 the Chairs are: Creation & Presentation, Nanette Hassall (Australia); Education & Training, Dr Ralph Buck (New Zealand); Management & Promotion, Fred Frumberg (Cambodia); Welfare & Status, Tom Brown (Hong Kong; Research & Documentation, Dr Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (India) and Dr Stephanie Burridge (Singapore/Australia).

Current goals of the World Dance Alliance–Asia Pacific are:

  • To promote the recognition, development and mutual understanding of all forms of dance.
  • To facilitate communication and exchange among dance individuals, institutions and organisations interested in dance.
  • To provide a forum for discussion of matters relating to dance.
  • To encourage and support the research, education, criticism, creation and performance of dance.
  • To liaise, co-ordinate and participate in activities with other dance organisations in the world.
  • The WDA–AP hosted the Global Assembly of the World Dance Alliance in Brisbane 2008, with program committee chair, Dr Cheryl Stock. The event was hosted and administered by Ausdance Queensland and included the launch of a new dance journal, Transcending Borders, a series of international Dance Dialogues each evening, and 153 presentations representing 191 individual national and internationals presenters.


In 2012 the WDA–AP  is led by President Yunyu Wang (Taiwan) and Vice-President, Dr Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (India), Secretary, Julie Dyson (Australia) and Treasurer, Jefferson Chieh-hua Hsieh (Taiwan).

The 2012 Network Chairs are

  • Creation and Presentation: Nanette Hassall (Australia) and Nirmala Aeshadri (Singapore)
  • Education and Training: Dr Ralph Buck (New Zealand) and Jeff Meiners (Australia)
  • Research and Documentation: Dr Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (India) and Dr Stephanie Burridge (Singapore/Australia) stepped down in 2011

In 2008 Dr Stephanie Burridge initiated a new publications program with Routledge, with five titles now published in the Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific series. By 2012 Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan had contributed to this series, with others in the preparation.

Download Asia-Pacific Channels.

Read more about Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific.

Find out more on the WDA website.

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