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Study Dance in Australia

Julie Dyson Australian Dance Council

There are many reasons to consider studying dance in Australia - the teaching and facilities are superb, and the wide variety of career options now on offer include an opportunity to study dance as part of a fascinating and unique cultural environment. 

Australia's tertiary (or third tier) dance  education history is relatively recent, and yet its setting has always been part of the study of the arts, rather than as  an adjunct to the study of physical education. This was due largely to the vision of Professor Shirley McKechnie, who travelled widely in the US and the UK in the 1970s to study existing university dance courses, before setting  up Australia's first dance degree in Melbourne in 1976.  Professor McKechnie had founded her own dance company in the 1960s and  worked for many years as a choreographer and dancer. In establishing a degree course at the then Rusden Teachers College (now Deakin University), she was convinced that she needed to successfully argue that dance was worthy of its own status as an art form, alongside music and the visual arts, if a uniquely Australian dance culture was to develop.

Simultaneously; her friendship with the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, Dame Peggy van Praagh, and British dance educator and advocate Dr Peter Brinson, led to the formation of Ausdance, a dance advocacy and professional service organisation. The vision for Ausdance was to unite all sectors of the dance community and provide it with a voice to governments ~ on issues of concern. Its aims included the development of the tertiary dance sector,  and in its eighth year - soon after it received its first Federal Government funding - Ausdance established the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia (TDCA) in 1985, under the chairmanship of Professor McKechnie. The late Anne Woolliams, then Dean of Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, was a founding member.

By 1985, there were tertiary dance courses in most States of Australia, and the " , Rusden campus had been producing , graduates for more than five  years. As a result, small dance companies and groups were flourishing, and grants from the Australia Council and State funding bodies were beginning to support this growth. The TDCA meets annually and the current chair is prominent Australian choreographer Nanette Hassall, who also ! heads the Dance Department at the Western Australian Academy of Performing  Arts at Perth's Edith Cowan University.

Dance Education in Australia

As well as assisting with the formation of the TDCA, Ausdance continued its  work to establish dance as a separate Iarea of study in schools. It was also a prime mover in the formation of the ! National Affiliation of Arts Educators! in 1989, and since then the arts (including dance) have been included as one of the eight key learning areas in all Australian schools. However, by the mid-1990s, following Ausdance's landmark research into injury prevention and management of Australia's professional dancers (Safe Dance Report 1990 by Tony Geeves) it was obvious that the dance teaching profession needed minimum standards. The Australian Guidelines for Dance Teachers (1997) and the Interim Competency Standards for Dance Teachers (1998) are a direct result of a co-operative process undertaken by major teaching organisations such as the Royal Academy of Dancing, the Cecchetti Society and other teaching organisations. All tertiary dance courses have now adopted the standards as part of their own teaching strategies.

Six major courses focus on performance and choreographic development, and all are headed by former artistic directors of dance companies and/ or professional dancers: The Australian Ballet School (Marilyn Rowe), The Victorian College of the Arts Jenny Kinder), the Queensland University of Technology (Cheryl Stock), the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (Nanette Hassall), the Centre for Performing Arts (Gillian Rae Roberts) in Adelaide and the Footscray Institute in Melbourne (Libby Dempster). Other specialities include community dance (Nepean - Sydney), teaching (Deakin, QUT and WAAPA) and arts administration (QUT). Cross-cultural studies are available at QUT and WAAPA, and these two universities are especially interested in developing links with Asia-Pacific dance courses through cultural exchanges. Most Australian dance courses offer performance and choreographic opportunities with major choreographers and directors, and students can choose from a range of postgraduate research opportunities and exchanges.

Options Tertiary Dance Festival

Every two years, the final-year students from tertiary dance courses meet to consider their career options at a special festival. In a country the size of Australia, It is normally difficult to meet one's peers, so the TDCA organises a special week for senior students to share performances, workshops, panel discussions and showings of work. Lectures and classes are given by senior members of the dance profession, former graduates and faculty members from other universities. The networking opportunities are unique, and many exciting projects have grown out of these initial meetings between the students. The festival rotates every two years, and in 2002 will coincide with the Adelaide International Festival to enable students to take master classes and attend forums with the world's leading dance companies. The issue of 'choreography as re- search' is one of major significance in Australia at present, with Professor McKechnie recently attracting almost $200,000 from the Australian Research Council to study the 'choreographic mind' in a project entitled 'Unspoken Knowledges'  http: //  This is a partner- ship involving the University of Melbourne, the Choreographic Centre in Canberra and Ausdance. Other major research has been undertaken by choreographer Dr Cheryl Stock, head of dance at QUT, in her study of cross- cultural choreographic processes, particularly between Australia and Vietnam. Tony Geeves continues his re- search into injury prevention and management in the Australian dance profession, and there are many other Australian dancers and academics currently studying for higher degrees, including a high proportion of PhD candidates.


Studying dance in the Australian tertiary environment is exciting and challenging. There are superb learning spaces, teaching standards are high and there is an emphasis on choreographic development and cultural exchanges. Although the country is geographically and culturally diverse, there is excellent communication between course directors, and with the dance profession as a whole. Ausdance provides a unique link to advocacy processes with governments and their bureaucracies, as well as with all sectors of the Australian dance community. It also provides an information infrastructure through its professional staff, databases and publications. Students' interests are well rep- resented by both student union activities on campus and Ausdance as the national service organisation.

Contact Ausdance at PO Box 45, Braddon ACT 2612, Australia;  Phone: +61262488992; Fax: +61262474701; http: //

The Australian Dance Collection: Author Julie Dyson; National Executive Officer Australian Dance Council: Ausdance 

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 PO Box 45, Braddon

ACT 2612, Australia; 

Phone: +612 6248 8992 Fax: +612 6247 4701