Arts & Skills Development


As highlighted in Darung Maru Dance Pathways, the inaugural NSW Aboriginal Dance Forum Report and Recommendations from May 2011, Aboriginal dance that is “culturally NSW” is under-recognised and there is a strong desire and need for local stories and dance to be actively promoted (especially through schools and in training institutions) and more visible.

In 2012, SWFW secured funding through the Australia Council for the Arts to choreograph a new dance piece culturally representative of the Mid North Coast Aboriginal communities.  This was performed by the newly formed Saltwater Freshwater Dance Troupe at the 2013 Saltwater Freshwater Festival and will be taught to students through a series of dance camps.


Case Study | 2012 Saltwater Freshwater Dance Project

SWFW engaged Aboriginal choreographer, Johanna Clancy, to work with local

dancers, Elders and community members from across the region to choreograph a new dance work representing the Mid North Coast of NSW.

After conducting initial research to see what local dance had been recorded in the past it became clear that we would need to rely on the knowledge of our local Elders and dancers to choreograph something new.  Facilitated by Jo Clancy, a five day creative workshop was held in August 2012 with 20 local participants spanning three generations from Elders to school children.  Through the sharing of stories and dance moves, a new dance piece was created, incorporating traditional moves with contemporary styles and telling the story of the coming together of the ten Aboriginal communities of the Mid North Coast through the Land Councils.

A second workshop was held in November and the dance work, complete with a beautiful soundtrack incorporating local language, was finessed and a new dance troupe was formed.  It was decided to premier the new work at the 2013 Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Taree on Australia Day.  Distinct blue costumes, complete with feather armbands and head-dresses were designed and the group continued rehearsing to be ready for the big performance.  In the end, the new dance was performed twice at the Festival and was considered a highlight of the event. The dancers lead the Festival finale parade with a canoe dance and gave dance workshops during the day to Festival participants.

Saltwater Freshwater now has a committed dance group that have come together to perform at a number of local festivals and events.  Smaller local dance groups have formed with the new dance moves being passed down to younger generations.  Three of the dancers were accepted into the national Birrang dance program in Sydney, and four were engaged to teach the new work at the 2013 Saltwater Freshwater Dance Camp for high school students.  Teaching culturally appropriate dance to our young people not only strengthens their identity, it opens up the possibility for culturally-based employment and career pathways.

Dance has been a form of storytelling in Aboriginal culture since time began; today this gathering and storytelling is just as important. What this project has done is brought dancers from across the Saltwater Freshwater region together to revitalise this tradition in a contemporary and more culturally appropriate way.


  • 6 dance groups identified in region
  • 3 dance workshops held
  • 20 Aboriginal dancers involved
  • 5 Aboriginal people employed on project
  • 10 minute dance work and soundtrack produced
  • Dance work premiered at Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Taree
  • 3 dancers attended the National Birrang dance program
  • 4 dancers employed on the Saltwater Freshwater Dance Camp project


  • Revival of dance in the region
  • Formation of a core group of 12 “Saltwater Freshwater” dancers
  • Building of confidence through learning new dance styles and techniques with a professional
  • Professional development opportunities for local dancers eg business skills, leadership
  • Opportunity to perform to a large audience at Festival and other events
  • Booking of dancers for other performances; employment opportunities


“For this dance group to happen, to involve our dancers and involve dancers from up and down the east coast is bloody unreal; it’s like a modern day corroboree.”
Ben Ferguson, Aboriginal Education Officer, Orara High School

“We have had so much input from everyone; everyone is just busting to share what they know and their stories, movement and their ideas. There is a lot of people with knowledge and there’s talent, it’s all here, so by bringing all these people together, I reckon over the next couple of years you’re going to see an explosion of dance.”
Jo Clancy, Aboriginal Choreographer

“It gives me more confidence and skills that I can take back home”
Wayne Paulson, Biripi dancer


Regional Arts NSW’s Regional Arts Fund


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