The Australian Dance Heritage

Don Herbison-Evans ,
Department of Software Engineering
University of Technology, Sydney
12 March 2008


Australia has pride in the multicultural nature of its society, and this is reflected in its dance. Australia has produced world renowned exponents of Classical Ballet, Modern Ballet, Dancesport, Latin Dance, and Linedance. However it has two styles of dance that are uniquely Australian: Aboriginal Dance, and New Vogue Dancing.

Aboriginal Dance

Each tribe of Aboriginal Australia has for over 50,000 years had its own unique set of dances. Different dances are used on various occasions, ranging from sacred ceremonies to general entertainment. Typically they are performed on rock, sand or dirt. The dances are generally a few minutes in length, and danced by various numbers of artists, ranging from one to the whole tribe. Each dance has a unique set of roles taken by different dancers. Many dances can be performed and even watched only by people authorised by previous tribal ceremonies. Each role is characterised by a different dress and make-up. Most dances are accompanied by music, often consisting of one or more digeridos, and by clap sticks, singing, stamping, and clapping. In some dances the arms of the dancers may take little part, but in others the arms have an great significance. The latter may be seen in the Emu Dances, where one arm is bent up and forward to imitate the head and neck of an Emu, and the other arm is bent behind to represent the tail. The leg movements are typically projected down into the ground. Most dances have little physical contact between dancers, although there is a constant rhythmic connection. Many of the dances have a pantomimic content. Many on the other hand are purely abstract patterns in space and time. Some can only be danced in certain places and with an absolute spatial orientation. Many of the dances are associated with the Dreamtime stories of the tribe, and bring ancestral powers to the performers (Rose, 2000).

New Vogue Dancing

By contrast, New Vogue dances originated in the 1930s and '40s, when some Australian ballroom dancers rebelled against the formal balletic foot work of the English Old Time dances and started to choreograph sequence dances based on the Modern Ballroom technique. Len Hourigan of Brisbane coined the term "New Vogue" for these dances. They have many open positions, which makes them attractive to watch, like the English Old Time, and unlike Standard Ballroom dancing in which observers see only the backs of the couples. The dances also have only the footwork, alignments and basic holds prescribed, leaving scope for the dancers to add their own shaping and styling, which makes them very expressive to dance and to watch.

The Author and partner Anna Piper dancing the Lucille Waltz

New Vogue Dancing is now very popular in Australia, being danced at social dances in clubs and public halls around the country. In the Dancesport competitions and championships held around the country, there are usually more entries in the New Vogue events than in either the Standard Modern Ballroom or the Latin & American events, and this makes Australian competitions somewhat different from those overseas, such as those of North America or Europe.

The Australian New Vogue dances are sequence dances for couples, each couple consisting usually of a man and a woman. In sequence dances, every couple on the dance floor performs the same steps at the same time, and at the end of the sequence, the steps are started again. This makes New Vogue dances relatively easy to learn, as a beginner can easily copy the movements of adjacent dancers on the floor. They typically have 8, 16 or 32 bar sequences, and so need music with a similar musical phrasing. New Vogue dances have been choreographed to all the dance rhythms including the Viennese Waltz, Modern Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Quickstep, Tango, March, Bossa Nova, Samba, Rumba, Cha Cha, and Jive (Swing). Over the years, many hundreds of New Vogue dances have been choreographed Many are presented at regular competitions which are held to provide showcases for such new choreography. In the end though, only a limited number have actually gained wide popularity. Over the years, a number geographical variants of many of the dances evolved, and so in 1967 the Australian Dancing Board of Control started standardising a subset of the dances for competitions and dancing championships.

The following New Vogue dances are used for DanceSport competitions, and 15 of them have been approved by DanceSport Australia for championships in Australia (marked with an *) :

  • Viennese Waltz Rhythm:
  • Dorothea Waltz
  • Empress Waltz
  • Lucille Waltz *
  • Parma Waltz *
  • Pride of Erin Waltz
  • Swing Waltz *
  • Tracie Leigh Waltz *
  • Twilight Waltz *

  • Slow Foxtrot Rhythm:
  • Barclay Blues *
  • Barn Dance
  • B.G. Blues
  • Carousel *
  • Charmaine *
  • Excelsior Schottische *
  • Merrilyn *
  • March Rhythm:
  • Canadian Three Step
  • Evening Three Step *
  • Gypsy Tap *
  • Militaire
  • Tango Rhythm:
  • La Bomba *
  • Tangoette *
  • Tango Terrific *
  • Quickstep Rhythm:
  • Cassius Quickstep
  • A number of books offer tabulations of the movements for each step of each dance (Boyd, 1984a; Hesketh, 1989). An example may be seen below, showing the Merrilyn in Labanotation.

    The Merrilyn in Labanotation


  • Boyd, N. (1984a)
    New Vogue Sequence Dancing,
    165 Bobbin Head Road, Turramurra, NSW, Australia, Revised Edition.

  • Boyd, N. (1984b)
    English Old Time Sequence Dancing Guide,
    165 Bobbin Head Road, Turramurra, NSW, Australia.

  • Hesketh, R. (1989)
    Revised Technique of the Thirteen New Vogue Championship Dances,
    Clayton Dance Centre, 296 Spring Road, Dingley, Victoria 3172, Australia.

  • Rose, D.B. (2000)
    To Dance with Time: A Victoria River Aboriginal Study
    Australian Journal of Anthropology

    Dance Links in Australia