National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association

2008
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National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association

Founded by Carole Johnson in 1975 as the Aboriginal/ Islander Skills Development Scheme, this organisation has played a fundamental role in training prominent Indigenous dancers and developing a modern Aboriginal dance style.

Carole Johnson toured Australia as part of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company of New York in 1972, and was commissioned by the Australia Council for the Arts to run dance classes for Aboriginal people in Sydney. [1] She set up the classes in the St James Church Hall, Bridge Road, Glebe. [2] Students from this group performed at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. When Johnson returned to the United States at the end of the year, the classes were irregular. David Gulpilil taught traditional dance and Lucy Jamawan from the Phillippines taught modern dance. Johnson returned to Sydney in 1974 and the regular classes resumed. [3]

In 1975 a display of Indigenous dance was planned at the Black Theatre, and a six week workshop was held at the theatre's Art and Culture Centre. It was here that the concept of Indigenous dance in Australia encompassing three distinct styles – traditional Aboriginal, traditional Torres Strait Islander and contemporary dance – was conceived. The workshops generated a demand for professional training and a three-year professional course, called 'Careers in Dance' was created. Preliminary funding for three months was provided by the Department of Education. [4]

The traditional and contemporary dance styles formed the foundation of the course. There were strict regulations on which dances could be performed. Traditional dances could not be performed if a traditional owner of that dance was not present. As a result, there was a large Torres Strait Islander contingent at the school from the outset. There was also an intense focus on developing a uniquely Indigenous contemporary style. [5]

In 1977 the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre was formed as a professional arm of the school, to enable students to develop performance experience. The students also gained experience through performances at festivals and community programs. [6]

Students of NAISDA who have gone on to prominent careers in dance include Stephen and Russell Page, who became prominent in the Bangarra Dance Company and performed at the Opening Ceremony at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Notes

[1] Raymond Robinson, 'Dreaming Tracks: The History of the Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Scheme, 1972–1979', MA thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2000, p 17, http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/76

[2] 'The development of a dance theatre', Aboriginal News, vol 3, no 9, 1980, pp 17–18

[3] Carole Johnson, 'NAISDA: Reconciliation in action', in Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale, Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2000, p 364

[4] Carole Johnson, 'NAISDA: Reconciliation in action', in Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale, Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2000, pp 364–65.

[5] Carole Johnson, 'NAISDA: Reconciliation in action', in Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale, Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2000, p 365–66

[6] Carole Johnson, 'NAISDA: Reconciliation in action', in Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale, Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2000, p 366

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