2011 National Dance Forum

Some of Australia’s most exciting dancers, choreographers, curators, critics and collaborators met to discuss and reflect on the state of dance practice in Australia now, and to chart a course for the future.

Project Status

The March 2011 National Dance Forum (NDF) at Arts House North Melbourne Town Hall was the first national forum of its kind since Greenmill.

What was its purpose?

The National Dance Forum 2011 was an Australia Council for the Arts and Ausdance National partnership. The Forum’s aim was to reflect on the state of dance practice in Australia now, and to chart a course for the future. The depth of forum presentation and discussion provided many opportunities to do this. We also wanted to give artists the opportunity to focus on their practice rather than on survival issues such as funding and touring. The NDF also provided an opportunity for artists from all over the country—often separated by vast geographic distances—to share ideas, network with others and see performances.

What happened?

With the advisory panel and producer Kath Papas, we identified important principles of diversity and inclusivity, and of privileging dance artists’ voices. They came up with ideas for keynote discussions, chairpersons and panellists. We then gathered together some of Australia’s most exciting dancers, choreographers, curators, critics and producers who provided many lively discussions over two days at the Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. 

Dance topics explored included career development, dramaturgy, new media and the digital technologies, hybrid and interdisciplinary practice, dance on film and dance in local communities.

Facilitated by Kristy Edmonds and held against the backdrop of the contemporary dance festival, Dance Massive and Ausdance Victoria's Industry Day and Masterclasses, the NDF inspired these comments:

“Being able to get together in such a hothouse environment will lead to new collaborations and different ways of thinking about and enacting practice.”

“… inspired moments listening to artists talk about their work and their processes, considering and reviewing our own creative processes, and finding synchronicities and differences within practice and process.”

“… it provided an opportunity for networking—not only with peers and colleagues but (importantly) with national and international presenters, producers and representatives. I came away from the event with numerous new contacts and relationships.”



The partners engaged Leigh Tesch to evaluate the 2011 National Dance Forum, and these extracts show that it had a significant impact for the dance sector, providing an opportunity to discuss and share practice.

Dance practice

Feedback showed that the NDF contributed to individual’s dance practice through a number of key opportunities that it provided.

  1. Networking: Opportunities for developing new networks, valuing old connections, reaffirming and expanding relationships within the sector were of key importance to participants. This was particularly relevant to independent artists and emerging artists. Making contacts at this event will lead to future collaborations and partnerships. “Often we work in the isolation or within the sealed environment of our own studios..............While ‘networking’ is often perceived to be dirty work, it’s the relationships we form with other artists that support us throughout our careers. This was vital part of the NDF”.
  2. Learning from other artists: A clear need to talk about practice with other artists, choreographers and practitioners was identified. Responses described the importance of the exchange of information, for example, between those experienced and established practitioners with new graduates, and between different age groups. The exchange also enabled consideration of different approaches to thinking and making, and the exploration of new fields. “I learnt so much information that will be of value in the future. Hearing from other artists was really valuable ... often inspirational”.
  3. Reflecting on own practice: Many people described the forum as providing a key opportunity to reflect on and validate their practice. They described thinking more deeply about their work and that such processes were vital to artistic development. “...helps me reflect on my practice and what is essential to me , where I want to go, how I might develop, [the] idea of finding a mentor, and that I am part of a dance ecosystem”.
  4. Sharing and profiling practice: The opportunity to showcase and explain one’s own practice to one’s peers in the sector was described by many as significant to their artistic growth. This was particularly true for independent artists. “While my conversation with other artists was an invaluable part of this weekend, speaking at the public forum ...... not only clarified my past practice, but placed my current work in a wider national context”.
  5. Ideas, Inspiration and confidence: Dance practice was a timely and important focus for this Forum. Participants articulated in their feedback how the sharing of ideas and practice was a source of inspiration and increasing confidence in partnerships and in their own ideas. The forum was....“Inspiration, information, refreshing networking”, a “...fresh perspective on my own work”

The dance sector

This meeting of performers, choreographers and practitioners was a catalyst for discussion and development for the dance sector. The Forum was an opportunity to meet “.... our need for a shared knowledge, deeper understandings of the many new directions and connections between dance artists that characterize our dance culture in the 21st century”

“Being able to get together in such a hothouse environment will lead to new collaborations and different ways of thinking about and enacting practice."

  1. The ‘dance community’: There was clear evidence that many people valued connecting with peers and sharing knowledge and understandings as a sector. This was described as “sense of community and fraternity with peers and colleagues" that fed practice and engendered support for their work. However one external observer challenges this concept and called for “...an end to talk about ‘the dance community’ or (worse) ‘the dance family’. This positions the dance sector as a village, with a common history and purpose, long-standing relationships and enmities, and a close horizon. When it is, in fact, a city, big enough to include multiple streams, different origins, contradictory voices, strangers, chaos, rubbish and beauty.”
  2. Understanding the Australian dance scene: Meeting key people within the dance industry was a benefit cited in the feedback. The forum served as an entry point to the Australian dance scene for those less familiar to it and a chance to see the “big picture”.
  3. Dance sector history: The forum did acknowledge the history of dance in Australia, and placed this forum in its trajectory. It was noted by observers and feedback that many practitioners had little understanding of this history and that it can contribute to the sector’s development. “Our shared history is what makes us an ‘Australian’ dance community. Let us make it know, broadcast it, and celebrate it."

The diversity of practice

The program included a range of topics and a diversity of speakers, and this was valued and rated by participant feedback. Some feedback highlighted a need for further diversity at future forums and raised questions about representation from the whole of Australia. Some felt that dance in areas other than the East coast of Australia remained ‘unsaid and unrevealed’.

Participants reported that the forum had a strong sense of inclusivity and many participants expressed that they were able to engage and contribute.

“I felt encouraged that I was still valued as a senior artist......[there is] space there for people like myself to contribute.”

Related Projects

2013 National Dance Forum View this project

Exploring the unique qualities of dance as an artform and why we choose it as our mode of expression, communication or storytelling, this forum embraced views from multiple perspectives: maker, dancer, educator, audience member and the broader community, while focusing on a central question, 'Why dance?'