Performing Bodies: Negotiating Race and Gender in an
Indigenous Australian Performance Studies Classroom
In the history of Western thought, the body has been regarded
as a "source of interference in, and a danger to, the operations of
reason" (Grosz, 1994, p. 5). Cartesian dualism is considered by
contemporary philosophers to be responsible for the splitting of mind from body,
the prioritising of reading mind over body (McWilliam, 1996, p. 16) and
consciousness above corporeality (Grosz, 1994, p. 7). Speaking about the
appearance of black women’s bodies in mainstream classrooms, bell hooks writes
that one of the
unspoken discomforts surrounding the way a discourse of
race and gender, class and sexual practice has disrupted the academy is
precisely the challenge to that mind/body split. Once we start talking in
the classroom about the body and about how we live in our bodies, we’re
automatically challenging the way power has orchestrated itself in that
particular institutionalised space. The person who is most powerful has the
privilege of denying their body (hooks, 1994, p. 137).
She draws attention to the "legacy of repression and
denial that has been handed down to us by our professorial elders, who have been
usually white and male" (1994, p. 191) which sees us teach as though only
the mind not the body were present.
In this paper I explore what we can know when Indigenous
Australian female performers make the journey into mainstream classrooms, when
we as non-Indigenous teachers and students sing and dance alongside them, and
the processes and methodologies we engage to construct a discourse of race,
gender and performance in, of and through the body. The pedagogical context is
an Indigenous Australian women’s music and dance course offered at the
University of Queensland where students engage with Indigenous understandings of
gender and performance by becoming singing and dancing scholars alongside the
Indigenous custodians of these performance traditions. In this paper I argue
that this embodied type of pedagogy is effective in bringing an experiential
understanding of race, gender and performance.
Locating Myself and the Classroom
I have been working with Australian Aboriginal women in a
research capacity since beginning my doctorate in ethnomusicology in 1993. Most
of my involvement has been with Aboriginal people who identify as Yanyuwa in the
remote Aboriginal community of Borroloola in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria
in the Northern Territory of Australia. My relationship with this community –
my ‘field’ - is at once professional and personal. My subjectivity as wife
to a Yanyuwa man and mother to a Yanyuwa son places me in personal and familial
relationships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female singers and
dancers with whom I am speaking to and about. We have shared our selves and our
worlds in many different places in many different ways. I have sat with them by
the banks of the McArthur River, around campfires at night, in the town camps
and in Toyotas talking stories and telling lives. We have grieved together for
the loss of our children, the loss of our loved ones and we have shared the
wonder of new birth and new beginnings. They have sat with me in staff meetings,
amongst strangers and friends, in front of many students, with government
officials and alongside their Murri (Aboriginal) brothers and sisters in
Queensland speaking and singing their experiences as Yanyuwa women. I have
danced with them on country at Borroloola and they have danced with me here in
Brisbane in the classroom. My understanding of Yanyuwa performance traditions
represents my lived, shared and embodied experiences in this context.
In 1997 I began working as a lecturer in the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland and in this
capacity I have been afforded the valuable opportunity to invite Yanyuwa women
to participate alongside me in the classroom. The course is called ABTS2120
Indigenous Australian Women’s Music and Dance (hereafter ABTS2120) and
extends the understanding students have of Indigenous Australian women's music
and dance by examining performance as education for living, as a reflection of
cultural continuity and social change, and as expression, nurturance and
maintenance of identity. With gender as an overarching theme, issues covered in
the curriculum include:
§ deconstructing categories of Indigenous
Australian performance such as traditional and contemporary;
§ situating Indigenous Australian women in terms
of their social and musical roles and connections to status, authority,
ownership, power and knowledge;
§ understanding the complex relationship between
women’s performance and country; and,
§ re/presentations of Indigenous Australian women’s
The pedagogical agenda of this course is achieved by
combining traditional "chalk ’n ’talk" lecture material and the
concretised Western texts about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s
music and dance with a shared and participatory performance learning experience
which engages students in an active reading of Indigenous Australian women’s
music and dance via the body as text.
Speaking About Performance and the Body
One of the most distinguishing features of the ABTS2120
classroom then as personal, political and educational locale is the experiential
component and engagement of the performing body as an epistemological site. This
is what makes it non-standard, this is what makes it at once exciting and
confronting, and this embodied learning provides the setting for transformative
meaning making and action via a bodily "engagement with difference, not
retreat or isolation from it" (Wong, 2000, p. 69). Increasingly
anthropologists and ethnomusicologists view performance as dialectical and
bodies discursive. Henry et al. turn their anthropological gaze to examination
of dance as lived experience and view the performed moment as a "generative
site in which cultural and social identities are being performed, contested,
constructed and/or reformulated" (Henry et al., 2000, p. 257). Dance and
performance is viewed as dialogic then in the sense that the performance moment
engages each individual body in a relational experience with other historically
located, socially situated and culturally constituted bodies. Engagement with
the "other" through lived performance experience provides a space for
making meaning between shifting and differing subjectivities and further for
interpreting, legitimating, reproducing and/or resisting identity categories and
Similarly, Hastrup’s work seeks to re-instate people as
active in the reproduction as well as the transformation of culture and relocate
the body as a locus of agency. Her re-centring of the body as
"motivated" adds a dynamic dimension to the notion of the
"mindful" body and emphasises the corporeal, situated and lived nature
of social experience and the emergent quality of meaning. She writes, "One
does not have a body, one is a body. There is no manifestation of
the self outside the body, even if our senses and words help us project
ourselves outward" (Hastrup, 1995, p. 90). Marshall agrees and suggests:
When we do research about bodies in the context of how to
theorise the body, it tends to be either from a psychoanalytic perspective,
or from the external approach that takes bodies as texts . . . We do not, on
the whole, talk about how the body is experienced as a way of getting a
better hold of a theoretical concept (1999, p. 64).
In Hastrup’s framework the self and the body constitute a
unified space or stage with no boundaries where history, social experience and
culture are performed, negotiated and transformed. The body as stage enables
individuals to engage in meaning making through lived experience or as Marshall
(1999) contends, the body becomes a vehicle to "theorise" everyday
Ethnomusicologists too have long realised the value of
participant/observation, or as Hood (1971, p. 242) describes "making music
together". Cooley suggests that musical experience via "fieldwork is
the observational and experiential portion of the ethnographic process during
which the ethnomusicologist engages living individuals in order to learn about
music-culture" (1997, p. 4). Kisluik (1997, p. 23) elaborates and asserts
that renewed emphasis on experience in ethnomusicology is gradually shifting the
discipline towards reflexive, non-objectivist scholarship and further away from
historically colonialist approaches. For Rice (1994, p. 6) musical experience is
defined as the "history of the individual’s encounter with the world of
musical symbols in which he finds himself" and "the dialectical
movements between distanciation, which invites explanation, and appropriation,
which suggests a new understanding" (Rice, 1994, p. 6) enable the
researcher and/or student to expand their own music symbolic system to include
symbols referenced from the new musics studied.
Dunbar-Hall agrees and further suggests that in both music
education and ethnomusicology, combining "an ethnographic approach and a
focus on personal experience have become the means for leading students to a
position from which to theorise". Participation in music-culture as a path
to learning then has the potential to encourage students not only to theorise
about their experiences, but also to actively engage with the political and
ethical. Similarly, hooks (1996, p. 218) suggests that "The point of
performance is to engage an audience in such a way that they not only
participate but, potentially, are transformed in some way" by means of a
reciprocal dialogue between audience and performer. Together these scholars
highlight that by participating in a musical experience, engaging in a musical
dialogue with performers as lived and moving bodies, the door is opened for
students/researchers to reconsider and re-theorise understandings about that
Becoming Dancing Scholars: The Performance Workshops
The ABTS2120 classroom is a site which opens up the location
of possibility for change and transformation about what we can know when
Indigenous women sing and dance, when we sing and dance with them, and the
processes and methodologies we engage to construct discourse about those
performances. To demonstrate the way that race and gender are mediated through
performance in the ABTS2120 classroom, I will focus on the dance workshops
performed by two groups of Yanyuwa performers. The first workshop can be broadly
described as "traditional" and was performed by senior Yanyuwa women
from Borroloola Dinah a-Marrangawi Norman, Jemima a-Wuwarlu Miller, Rosie a-Makurndurna
Noble and Linda a-Wambadurnmara McDinny in October 2000 and 2001 (see Figures
one, two and three). Yanyuwa dancer Samantha Chalmers performed the second in
April 2000 and August 2001, defined loosely here as "contemporary"
(see Figure four).
Jemima a-Wuwarlu Miller prepares darladarla for class, October
Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay
Dinah a-Marrangawi Norman paints herself to dance Ngardirdji,
Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay
Rosie a-Makurndurnamara Noble and Linda a-Wambadurnamara McDinny teach
ABTS2120 students to paint darladarlas (dancing boards), October
Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay
Yanyuwa/Wardaman contemporary Aboriginal dancer
Source: Samantha Chalmers
The traditional workshops are held over a period of two
weeks. Prior to going to class, Dinah, Jemima, Rosie, Linda and I talk at length
about how the two workshops will be run. The Yanyuwa women treat the
presentation of Indigenous Australian knowledge in this setting very carefully.
They strongly adhere to their own cultural rules surrounding who has the right
to knowledge of ceremony and song and regard all of the students in the class as
young children who possess very little knowledge. As such, the type of songs
performed in the ABTS2120 classroom fall within the repertoire of Yanyuwa lhamarnda
or "public unrestricted" performance. These are referred to as fun
dances by the Yanyuwa, more specifically, walaba when composed by men and
a-kurija when composed by women. A-nguyulnguyul, a sub-set of the
song type a-kurija, are a popular form of Yanyuwa performance and figure
prominently in the Yanyuwa women’s song repertoire in the context of ABTS2120.
In the first week the Yanyuwa women and I introduce and
explain various Yanyuwa song and dance styles through demonstration of
unrestricted public fun performance. Next, the students are engaged in
preparation for the performance of an unrestricted ceremony called Ngardirdji
(Mermaid Dance) the following week by painting darladarlas (dancing
boards). In the second week students are invited by the Yanyuwa women to paint
up and dance Ngardirdji with them. This invitation marks the moment in the
traditional workshops where students are not just subject to the performance of
Ngardirdji but subject in it.
The contemporary dance workshop is a one-week class where
students are able to watch Samantha perform solo and then perform alongside her
as she teaches them a modern dance piece. The workshops are linked by a common
expression of Yanyuwa identity through performance by women who have familial
and cultural ties.
Staging the Dance: A Dialogue About Race and Gender
Here I bring the ideas I have presented thus far on
performance as a dialectical space and the transformative qualities of the
performing body in pedagogy together by examining student and lecturer/performer
reflections to the traditional and contemporary dance workshops. I have created
an ethno-drama or playlet around issues of performance and the body by weaving
together student free-write responses to all performance workshops held in 2000
and 2001, the statements of lecturer/performers gained from one-on-one
interviews I conducted with them, academic voices and my own in an interactional
dialogue. For the most part, student responses focus on those workshops that
included a large component of participation in dance; in particular the
workshops conducted by Samantha Chalmers and the Yanyuwa women. Fictitious names
represent the student voice and appear in bold, the academic voice is
capitalised and placed in a box, and italics mark the guest lecturer/performer
and my voice.
SMITH: As a teacher, I consider it very important
to "set the stage" for a student to "discover"
relationships among data and ideas . . . Rather than to be told what
they are – the student will remember the ideas better, apply them
more precisely, and gain experience in a process intrinsic to
ethnomusicological endeavor. And the student may discover something
"really new" – or at least different from the teacher’s
understanding of it (1987, p. 204).
Jane: The workshops were the defining moments where you
actually got up and danced . . . the defining moments of the course (2001).
Jenny: Participating is undoubtedly the best way to learn
everything and anything in life (2001).
Liz: The moment when the performers come into the
ABTS2120 classroom is a moment when students are placed in a position to
take responsibility for their own learning. The participation process means
that students must also physically engage with this learning, that is, to
enact agency to become a motivated and moving body.
HASTRUP: Motivated agents create theatres of self.
They stage themselves and meaning is made in the process (1995, p.
Liz: Most students respond in a positive manner to this
bodily engagement with knowledge through performance. Some students are
excited with the pleasure to be gained from moving - motion encourages
HOOKS: Excitement in higher education was
viewed as potentially disruptive of the atmosphere of seriousness
assumed to be essential to the learning process. To enter classroom
settings in colleges and universities with the will to share the
desire to encourage excitement, was to transgress (1994, p. 7).
Sandra: Beautiful! I had a wonderful experience. That
dance made me feel grounded & centred, that I was in tune with the
motions & elements. Dance is something I love very much and I can say
some of the happiest free-ist moments of my life were spent dancing (2000).
Andrea: Dancing is very therapeutic & this particular
class time was extremely engaging. Just by looking at the enthusiasm in
everyone’s face, you could tell this was a success (2000).
Anne: I had so much fun! I really enjoyed getting inside
my body and feeling movement. I loved the energy I felt as an individual as
well as what I contributed to the group energy as a whole (2001).
Samantha: Making that first conscious
identification with these images which is fluid throughout the dance and
then ultimately you just allow your, you give yourself up to it and then
there’s the ultimate spirit of the dance, lives like a river and
can feel yourself as an individual moving as well as team (2000).
Alexandra: It’s so good to get involved in a subject
in a physical way. I loved being able to participate in the dancing. It took
a little while for me to loosen up my body, must have been stiff from doing
my assignment last night. You don’t realise how tight and tense your
muscles can get (2000).
Jenny: I have participated in a lot of theatre and a few
dance performances in the past, so I am acquainted with the feelings of
creating and physically moving as a group and I have always found it
extremely powerful. This evening was no exception (2001).
Samantha: Sometimes it’s not just enough to talk about
how wonderful a sunset can be, feeling the sunset is like so beyond words
you know. So when they dance and I say "feel the water" or
"feel the sand, lift your arms up like the wings, be a brolga and bring
it down. You know they identify with those images and therefore connect even
if it’s not consciously (2000).
1. Samantha watches the students perform and encourages the class to
identify with the images they are imitating in the dance, 12 April 2000
Melissa: Because I know how much song, and performance
are imbedded in Aboriginal culture, and particularly Yanyuwa culture, I felt
so overcome with emotions. Although I do not remember what I felt like when
I first saw the ocean, I reckon to it being like seeing and sharing their
performance with me (2001).
Sandra: So it was wonderful to me to see someone use
dance as a form of self-expression. I felt as if I could know Samantha, just
by watching her movements & dance (2000).
Alexandra: Sam was so good. She really made me feel
comfortable and welcome. She’s really encouraging to be around (2000).
Anne: Although somewhat hesitant about participating, I
was largely put at ease by the enthusiasm of Samantha Chalmers and the group
Clip 2. Samantha
encourages the class, is enthusiastic and demonstrates her general enjoyment, 12
Grace: Samantha was amazingly enthusiastic and
knowledgeable and gave of herself without question (2001).
Andrea: I also felt like Samantha made the setting very
relaxed & more of a conversation with her mind than perceived learning.
She had so much energy & that was eventually transferred onto the rest
of the class & we needed it. I loved watching her movements &
recognising subtleties from other performances I’d witnessed & I
enjoyed further engaging in these movements with her (2000).
Jeff: In this class, it is always a bit nerve racking as
you get singled out a lot being one of only a couple of guys if I am lucky
Gary: I initially felt I would be uncomfortable with
attempting to perform an indigenous dance, especially with the class
demographic, but Sam managed an excellent balance between informing,
supporting & directing (2000).
Liz: Gary is the only male student in a class of
25. Samantha was very careful to ensure that Gary’s positioning as a man
was catered for according to Yanyuwa rules about women and men dancing
together, as well as ensuring that Gary would be comfortable in this role.
Samantha: By yourself? You want to do it? Are you sure?
Liz: Gary nods.
Samantha: Go . . . 5, 6, 7, go!
Liz: Gary goes through his movements from start to
finish, forgets the end so Samantha shows him from the sidelines.
Samantha: Start again? I’ll do it with you, 5, 6, 5, 6,
lift your leg!
Liz: Samantha and Greg dance together.
Samantha: Stamp your leg, want to hear your leg man! . .
. Woo hoo! That was excellent bro! Very brave, very brave, no shame job
3. Samantha dances with Gary to show him the moves, 12 April 2000
Gary: It was a real opportunity for us to get to know,
you know, together push all of our inhibitions to the side (2000).
Angela: I really loved how she layered it and mixed in
language. I fell right into it, one woman next to me bumped into me and
"Oh sorry Sis", so I think it was working. I really enjoyed the
feeling of the dance and Samantha’s honesty and expression (2001).
Jane: I was responsive to her upfront and very real
teaching style (2001).
Grace: I think what I enjoyed most was that I started to
feel the movements with the music and from watching the people moving around
Anne: There was a great feeling of togetherness and,
well, power even (2001).
Jane: Felt like a group triumph when it all came together
TRINH T. MIN-HA: When armors and defence mechanisms
are removed, when new awareness of life is brought into previously
deadened areas of the body, women [Liz: And men in the context of
ABTS2120] begin to experience writing/the world differently. This
is exciting and also very scary (1999, p. 258).
Andrea: I admit that I felt very awkward & clumsy
while participating in the dancing, and even more so trying to sing the
words. I felt very foreign and unnatural (2000).
Michelle: I was impressed with many of my counterpart’s
efforts and determination to put themselves out of their comfort zones and
Rachel: We often looked awkward wearing only a bra,
struggling to imitate unfamiliar dance steps and being painted with white
ochre that did not look nearly as striking on our white skins as it did on
the Yanyuwa women (2001).
Clip 4. Students
demonstrate a common awkwardness wearing only a bra, struggling to imitate
unfamiliar dance steps and being painted with white ochre, 22 October 2001
MORETON-ROBINSON: Whiteness is so pervasive as an
invisible norm that race, as difference, still belongs only to women
who are not white (2000, p. 110).
Liz: The act of painting white ochre on white bodies
serves to mark whiteness in this setting. The white ochre feels pasty, cold
and rough; your body feels open, expansive and exposed as the painting up
process takes place. The whiteness of your body cannot be ignored.
Corporeality shifts to intercorporeality as the physical sensations of
painting up are brought together with intersubjective interpretations of the
Clip 5. ABTS2120
students "paint up", 22 October 2001
MORETON-ROBINSON: Whiteness is not interrogated or
named as a "difference", even though it is the standard by
which certain "differences" are measured, centred and
normalised (2000, p. xviii).
HOOKS: Race is always an issue of Otherness that is
not white; it is black, brown, yellow, red, purple even (1990, p. 54).
MOORE: Black scholars continually emphasize this
point, but it is usually ignored or simply repeated as a form of
rhetoric. The dominant experience of gender for white people is one
that is deeply racialized, precisely because their race is both an
unmarked category and constructed in contra-distinction to other race
identities (1994, p. 61).
Liz: White bodies, white skins, white paint. Black
bodies, black skin, white paint. The differences between white self and
black Other are brought together in this awkward moment – the differences
must be named.
MOORE: To leave certain spaces and pass into others
is to know in your body what the differences of race involve; it is to
know oppression and discrimination intimately in a way which does not
allow for separation of the physical from the mental (1994, p. 81).
Liz: The act of performance, of dancing together, means
that a communication across differences is possible. In this "moving
about" between self and Other, students can work through the
implications of their whiteness in this setting, they can question what it
means to be a non-Aboriginal person in relation to Aboriginal people and
their own role in perpetuating racism and oppression. It may be gauche, it
may be uncomfortable, it may be confronting, but it represents a powerful
pedagogical moment for the possibility of change and transformation.
GUSTAFSON: To be critical of a knowledge system can
mean to stand temporarily outside of it, or to stand in another
location to view it. In a standard classroom the student would learn
about other knowledge systems by reading about them, questioning, and
critically reflecting upon these abstract concepts. But in doing so,
she would be able to keep that knowledge at arm’s length as Other.
Embodied learning enables students to also experience another
system of knowledge by becoming subject to it and subject in
it" (1999, p. 266).
Rachel: This awkwardness combined with the ceremonial
process itself, allowed for bonding to occur between all of the people
involved. I found the entire experience highly significant because I often
recognise an absence of celebration of life and womanhood in my own life and
in the wider Western community (2001).
Jane: I think a few people were surprised that Liz was
participating in some of the things . . . a blurring of those boundaries,
especially with the Yanyuwa when they came in and she danced which I mean
obviously she’s going to dance with the Yanyuwa women but especially
dancing in her bra (2001).
Liz: My physical participation in the performance
workshops, whether that be being instructed by my sister-in-law Samantha to
move or by the Yanyuwa women to paint up, sing and dance, is an essential
part of who I am in this setting. Dancing in a bra in the ABTS2120 classroom
in front of students who otherwise never see this physical side of you is
quite different than dancing in a bra back in Borroloola. We are trained,
shaped, "disciplined" to disassociate ourselves as teachers from
our bodies in the classroom – there are hidden dangers lurking there.
MCWILLIAM: Whether scholars come to blame Descartes
or Rousseau for the prevalence of a mind/body dualisms in Western
scholarship, the fact remains that, in the history of Western thought,
a mind/body dichotomy defines ‘human being’, while the body has
been interrogated as the excess baggage of human agency (1996, p. 16).
HOOKS: Believing this, individuals enter the
classroom to teach only as though only the mind is present, and not
the body. To call attention to the body is to betray the legacy of
repression and denial that has been handed down to us by our
professorial elders, who have been usually white and male (1994, p.
Liz: I too experience initial feelings of awkwardness in
crossing the boundaries of what is expected by a teacher to become once
again embodied. By painting up and dancing in a bra with Yanyuwa women my
female body is revealed and cannot be ignored. This display is not meant to
be voyeuristic. It is about performing my multiple subjectivities in that
setting as white, female, family member, researcher and teacher. It is about
living up to family expectations and responsibilities and it is about
acknowledging those relationships through the actions and interactions of my
body with other bodies. It is about recognising the knowledge and authority
each of the woman have about specific forms of Aboriginal women’s
performance. It is about knowing from my experiences "in",
"out" and "in-and-out" or between the field that bodily
engagement with this knowledge is one of the best ways to come to an
understanding of it. It is also about being a good
"ethnographic/participant/observer" body as role model for my
students, to show them my understanding of appropriate ways to act and
interact in that setting with "insiders".
Gary: It has been an enjoyable privilege to be able to
participate with "insiders" of Indigenous Australian music. The
opportunity to be included in the learning experience that encourages a far
stronger connection than would otherwise be the case (2000).
HIGGINS: Intercultural performance clearly engages
students in doing rather than simply watching or listening. It
encourages them to use many of their senses and to become emotionally
involved. It is pleasurable for most. It fosters collaboration and
mutual support in the teaching/learning process. It promotes personal
and social as well as intellectual development. (2001, p. 254).
HOOKS: Critical reflection on my experience as a
student in unexciting classrooms enabled me not only to imagine that
the classroom could be exciting but that this excitement could
co-exist with and even stimulate serious intellectual and/or academic
engagement (1994, p. 7).
Andrea: To be on both sides – the learner &
observer was a very good experience. I am so thankful that Annie and Jemima
& Dinah came all this way to share their culture with us (2000).
Deborah: I felt that learning the social and musical
roles of women in Indigenous dance and song was valuable, before being an
observer and a participant. Participating in the dance today was an
effective learning process as it put all this theory into context . . . as
real and existing in our face (2001).
Gary: I feel this [course] engaged and challenged me in a
way I was not expecting (2000).
Andrea: It challenged my knowledge of things and that’s
what I enjoyed about it . . . I think courses like these should be required,
or at least highly encouraged as they are the window of seeing through the
walls society puts up which inhibit open minds (2000).
MOORE: Behaviour, sets of activities conducted in
structured space, can be used to ‘read against the grain’ of
dominant discourses, to expose the arbitrary nature of their
construction. If one cannot resist by placing oneself outside dominant
structures and discourses, one can none the less displace oneself
within them (1994, p. 82).
Gary: In regards to participating on the more musical sphere, as a male,
white Australian I feel a lot of guilt & shame about the treatment of
Indigenous peoples, & I feel much of the cultural appropriation that is
carried out is almost the final insult, I’m unsure about my personal
participation in that process. I try to keep at the forefront of my mind
that it is a privilege to participate in a workshop with the guests, but I
feel my/the reciprocity of the experience is somewhat lacking (2000).
MOORE: It seems then clear, then, that body
knowledge can both refuse us and traduce us. It can insist on things
that we would like to leave behind and it can continue to guide us
when we have lost all sense of strategy and purpose (1994, pp. 81-82).
Paula: It also made you feel you were like becoming part
of her [Samantha’s] culture sort of and you got that sort of feeling like
she was letting us in on her (2000).
Gary: Yeah she [Samantha] was encouraging us to
experience an element of the culture in some way, shape of form, so yeah we
could take it away with us at the end of it. It was definitely a gift that
she gave us (2000).
KISLUIK: When we begin to participate in music and
dance our very being emerges with the "field" through our
bodies and voices, and another Self-Other boundary is dissolved (1997,
Rachel: Being a participant in Ngardirdji allowed
me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexities
involved with Indigenous performance. There is great advantage in
experiencing cultures rather than simply about them. The main reason
for this is that by learning through experience, the learner is confronted
with the living nature of the culture – with all its complexities (2001).
Melissa: What they gave to me was part of their identity,
and that effected my identity because I realized that who I am as a person
is more than my race and gender (2001).
Anne: The participation allowed us some understanding of
my own in relation to Indigenous dance (2001).
Stephanie: Being a participant of contemporary Indigenous
dance allows a small insight into a dancer’s view. Even if the only thing
one learns is the view of the stage as a performer (as opposed to a view of
the stage as an audience) then one is enriched in a small but significant
The ABTS2120 classroom is a site where the issues of gender,
race, identity and performance intersect and interact in fluid and complex ways.
In the ABTS2120 classroom, bodies become active agents in the reproduction of
discourse about Indigenous Australian women through dialogue and interaction,
that is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women performing to and with
non-Indigenous Australian students. Race is completely visible in this context -
black bodies are juxtaposed against white and white bodies collide with black.
As Wong (2000, p. 58) contends, performance in this context is "another
encounter between bodies where performance is a constitutive moment for an
activist response to racialized inequities". This dialectic provides
moments for myself and other non-Indigenous students to confront and negotiate
the way that race and gender is inscribed and performed on and through our white
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