Creating Pathways National Indigenous Dance Forum

Creating Pathways was a national Indigenous dance forum for mid-career dance artists held in October 2005 at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Participants came from all over Australia to discuss issues such as identity, training, the question of contemporary Indigenous dance, career opportunities and professional practice.

As a result of recommendations made at Creating Pathways, a new position of National Indigenous Dance Coordinator was funded by the Australia Council.

Creating Pathways was managed by Ausdance National and funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board and the Dance Board of the Australia Council, and the Arts ministries of NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

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Creating Pathways grew out of roundtable discussions and individual conversations with various Sydney-based Indigenous dancers. Mid-career Indigenous dancers and choreographers were lacking support and access to career opportunities provided to emerging artists, and often more easily available to those already established.

In response to these concerns, the Dance Board and the ATSIAB contributed funds totalling $90,000 to a national dance forum with the objective of assessing the opportunities and possible obstacles in the way of sustaining a career as an Indigenous dancer or choreographer. The Australia Council hoped the forum would identify possible pathways and options to provide Indigenous dancers with the knowledge and tools to stabilise and extend their careers as contemporary dance practitioners.

The Australia Council invited Ausdance National to manage and produce the forum. All state and territory funding agencies were approached for financial assistance, and five responded positively.

Ausdance employed a practising dance artist, Wendy Morrow, as the program designer, and provided her with Ausdance National staff member Rachael Jennings to provide project managment coordination and technical support for six months leading to the forum. 

In choosing the National Museum of Australia (NMA) as the site for Creating Pathways, the organisers acknowledged the major role played by the NMA in the Indigenous and cultural affairs of Australia. The NMA offered extensive support for this project, including venues, technical assistance, advice and staff for the forum.

Project aims

The Creating Pathways brief was to invite a group of about 40 contemporary Indigenous dance artists from around the country to discuss issues associated with their dance practice, including isolation, professional development opportunities and access to existing or new resources.

The Creating Pathways program had three main aims: 

  • To reconnect individual artists
  • To re-energise the communication between the artists
  • To identify what was in existence through profiling people, case studies and discussion.

The three main issues which emerged as essential elements of the program were:

  • culture
  • skills development
  • professional networking.

Elders’ participation had also emerged early, and the need for their presence became an essential element of the program. Djakkapurra Munyarryun, cultural adviser to Bangarra Dance Theatre, was a valued participant, as was Dennis Newie from Thursday Island.

Questions such as what is contemporary Indigenous dance? and what is it to be Indigenous? were also important, and the program was designed to reflect these issues.

The forum

Creating pathways dancing in the National Museum of Australia theatre.Creating Pathways participants in the National Museum of Australia's theatre.

The participating artists came from major cities and regional communities from across Australia. Their collective experience spanned many fields of Indigenous dance, from professional choreographers and dancers to directors of Indigenous dance groups and teachers in rural and remote communities. The forum:

  • gathered national representation from regional, rural and metropolitan midcareer Indigenous dance artists.
  • heard from Indigenous artists about issues and concerns within their various fields of activity.
  • introduced existing or potential resources and relevant opportunities to support further professional skills development.
  • encouraged participants to establish at least one new relationship or partnership.
  • provided participants with a resource tool kit and ‘show bag’ of materials.

The Welcome to Country was given by Kamberri Elder Matilda House, with a performance by the Canberra-based Ngambri dancers.

The program

Creating Pathways program (320Kb PDF)

The program reflected all the issues raised by participants in the research phase of the project. There were keynote addresses by Raymond Blanco and Lee Christofis, with extensive discussion and debate following. There were group discussions, special interest groups, and the occasional departure from the program such as the lunch-time forum convened to further discuss ‘What is contemporary Indigenous dance?’

Case studies were profiled, and skills development workshops were held, such as the invaluable law and copyright session conducted by Sally Hanson and Robynne Quiggin. ATSIAB Director Lydia Miller summed up each day and provided a major focus for further discussion and action, facilitated by Anne Dunn.

As well as the Indigenous artists attending, the program included talks from non-Indigenous participants such as Lee Christofis (dance critic for The Australian), Leigh Warren, artistic director of Leigh Warren & Dancers, the director of the Australian Choreographic Centre, Mark Gordon and the artistic director of Dancehouse, Dianne Reid.

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman hosted an evening social gathering at her Mirramu Dance Centre on the shores of Lake George. The Australian Institute of Sport/Ausdance National and NAISDA/Ausdance NSW partnerships were profiled, as were Patrick McClosky’s Tennant Creek project and the Ausdance Victoria program providing Certificate IV in the workplace.


Diat Alferink, Nikki Ashby, Sermsah Bin Saad, Raymond Blanco, Phil Yubbagurri Brown, Samantha Chalmers, Danny Doyle, Fiona Doyle, Jeanette Fabila, Tamara Forester, Jasmine Gulash, Deon Hastie,
Juliette Hubbard, Kerry Johnson, Rayma Johnson, Lewis Lampton, Garry Lang, Lynette Lewis, Bronwyn Liddle, Gail Mabo, Patrick McClosky, Marilyn Miller, Peggy Misi, Djakapurra Munyarryun, Dennis
Newie, Sharman Parsons, Pauline Pearce, Dalisa Pigram, Jason Pitt, Rita Pryce, Mariaa Randall, Smilar Sinak, Monica Stevens, Simon Stewart, Rachael Wallis, Leigh Warren, Hartley Williams.

Forum keynote

Keynote: Raymond Blanco

Related Articles

Creating Pathways keynote speech by Raymond Blanco

What is contemporary Indigenous dance? When did this term become associated with our culture, our dance? Or is it Indigenous Contemporary? Have we an Historical Dance Culture or are we living a Dance Culture History? Do we make now from then or is it from then now? For some of us exposure to contemporary Indigenous dance came from television. If we were really lucky we had a group of dancers come to our town and teach and perform at our schools, and for the unlucky our only exposure came from Bangarra.

Creating Pathways—a collective vision and direction for the future of Indigenous dance

Lydia Miller discusses ongoing vision of successive generations of Indigenous artists. The cultural renaissance in Indigenous arts and culture began in the 1980s with the emergence of a critical mass of young, vibrant Indigenous artists who took to the stages and the galleries with the electric energy that is synonymous with Indigenous artists. Dance, theatre, music and visual arts emerged onto the national arts landscape with the edginess, candour, vibrancy and challenge of these young Indigenous minds, bodies, and spirits.



The Creating Pathways forum was a living demonstration of the shared commitment Indigenous artists have to their culture and the responsibility to carry that on for the next generation. Throughout the program the artists, teachers and leaders spoke with respect and understanding of the principles of life long learning. The forum also clearly identified the enormous value for artists when they can gather with their peers and the need for future programs to be centred around affirming the individual through communicating and strengthening their communities of practice.

As a result of recommendations made at Creating Pathways, a new position of National Indigenous Dance Coordinator was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.


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