Bringing Indigenous Dance into the Primary Classroom

This week is NAIDOC Week 2020 around Australia where Primary teachers have an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Our Arts community celebrates their contribution to our sector and the importance of all indigenous cultural and language groups in children’s education in this country.

Indigenous dance in Primary SchoolsThis year’s theme, Always Was, Always Will Be, recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years and continue to do so.  It celebrates their spiritual and cultural connection to this country and gives all Australians an opportunity to learn more about this unique culture and to reflect on our country’s history.

Bringing First Nations dance into the Primary classroom is an important part of sharing the stories and history from the world’s longest continuing culture.  It helps to encourage our children to learn more about the rich and complex history of Australia before and after European settlement.

Nicky Peelgrane, writer, Drama teacher, actor and recipient of the 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of Queensland, reflected this week on the changes within Primary education in Australia that depict a more accurate account of the past in this country.

History in schools now starkly contrasts with what I learned….(this week) I was able to share with the students historical accounts and consequences of European invasion (my curriculum this Term with Year 4 Drama), explore the map of indigenous cultural and language groups proudly posted on the wall, and invite students to engage with the display.  Whilst there are still so many things we need to do to reconcile the divide, please know that quantum changes are happening at ground level.  Nicky Peelgrane

How do we bring Indigenous dance into our classroom?

There are so many ways we can incorporate Indigenous learning through dance in our Primary and Early childhood classrooms.  It offers the potential for linking to the natural world in new ways, with new perspectives and fresh eyes.

Opportunities to read, hear, view, and share combined knowledge from First Nations elders are important to build respect for old and new knowledge about nature.  It gives teachers opportunities to provide links for children to people, place and their natural environment and to build deep connection to the land.

Books for dance activities

Indigenous Dance in Primary Schools



Little Bird’s Day by Sally Morgan and with illustrations by Warrkatorja Malibirr, combine a lovely observational story with culturally appropriate illustrations.  This is a lovely book to explore movement for younger students and gives them rich stimulus for creating their own dances based around the natural world.



Indigenous Dance in Primary Schools


Respect  by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy, is a magical introduction to Aboriginal culture.  This picture book provides themes around respect for children to investigate further and to choreograph dances that express emotions.



Indigenous Dance in Primary Schools



Wilam: A Birrarung Story  by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly, once again illustrated by Lisa Kennedy, is a book that could be used in conjunction with a HASS unit as it traces, through history, the Yarra River from its source to Melbourne.

This could be a starting point for students to investigate the Indigenous history of their local river.  Consulting with local Aboriginal communities will uncover the history of your local environment and start dialogues that activate real student listening.  Children need to hear First Nations knowledge through their voices.

There is a dance lesson that looks at waterways in the Free Lessons.  This could be used to create a whole unit about your school’s local environment.

More ideas for dance

Other ways to bring in Indigenous learning is to include your local Aboriginal language for the movement descriptions on your dance Word Wall .  In ballet, French terminology is used but there are no rules to say that in your classroom movement is not described using one of the 290 – 363 languages spoken by mainland Aboriginal Australians.

Bring the modern sounds of Indigenous Australia into your dance classes.  ABC Music/Universal Music Australia has released Deadly Hearts – Walking Together  as a part of NAIDOC Week celebrations.  There are some songs on this album that are appropriate in a Primary context and that capture a spirit of culture and identity in a contemporary way. My two favourites are Mitch Tambo’s Gamilaraay language version of ‘Absolutely Everybody’ and ‘Don’t Dream its Over’ by Isaiah Firebrace and Stan Walker!

Inviting an Indigenous artist-in-resident into your school is the ultimate in enriching the children’s experience of both art and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.  This gives time to immerse your students in the processes that are unique to both.

Aboriginal Dance workshops are available in many communities and, even as a one-off event, are memorable experiences for your school.  They provide children with a learning environment that connects both head and heart.

What resources will lead us to learn more?

Every State education department has links to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts content whether that is to arts organisations like Ausdance or dance companies such as Bangarra Dance Theatre.  However, your best resources are those found locally through your Indigenous community representatives.  They will give you ways to connect with dance, music, visual art and storytelling that is connected to your area.

Above all, as teachers, you need to gather as much knowledge as you can.  Read the Uluru Statement from the Heart  and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of AgricultureDancing Home by Paul Collis is a great fiction read, as is The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell.

Many schools are already making this Indigenous Arts learning a comprehensive and inclusive part of their Arts curriculum programs. Celebrating our First Nations people’s achievements and culture should not just be isolated to NAIDOC Week.  This represents ongoing recognition of how Indigenous Australians are central to what makes Australia unique and how we all benefit from the knowledge, culture and history of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

  This article was written on the lands of the Gubbi Gubbi people.  Always Was, Always Will Be.