New steps forward: Integrating aboriginal dance into Australian education

By Our Reporter

A collaborative effort is underway to integrate Aboriginal dance and knowledge into the curriculum, addressing a long-standing gap in cultural representation and understanding. The University of South Australia, in partnership with Adrianne Semmens from the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), is pioneering a program aimed at empowering pre-service teachers with the skills and confidence to incorporate First Nations dance into their teaching practices effectively.

Despite the rich and diverse tapestry of Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the inclusion of First Nations content in the educational curriculum has historically been limited and often approached from a predominantly western perspective. This gap is particularly evident in the arts, where dance, a vital expression of culture and tradition, has been underrepresented. Recognising this imbalance, the partnership between the University of South Australia and ADT seeks to remedy this by offering pre-service teachers unique insights and methods to incorporate First Nations dance into their curricula.

Kerrin Rowlands, an arts education expert at UniSA, underscores the importance of equipping future teachers with the necessary tools to transform their teaching methods. Rowlands highlights how dance is deeply embedded in the stories, ceremonies, and cultural expressions of First Nations Peoples. It serves as a conduit for understanding their ways of knowing, being, and connecting with their heritage and the land. However, she notes the current dominance of western approaches in the primary school arts curriculum, often leaving First Nations Australian dance overlooked or undervalued.

The initiative aims to overhaul teaching practices through a lens of culturally responsive learning design and curriculum delivery. By increasing pre-service teachers’ confidence and knowledge, the program seeks to foster a more inclusive and respectful approach to First Nations knowledges among young Australians. Teachers are encouraged to consider culturally responsive methods when teaching dance, ensuring that the diversity and richness of First Nations cultures are appropriately represented and respected in the educational sphere.

Adrianne Semmens, a descendant of the Barkandji People of New South Wales and the ADT’s learning manager, plays a pivotal role in this transformative project. She provides pre-service teachers with an immersive experience in First Nations dance, helping them explore concepts of connection, place, and expression. Through engagement with these ideas in a school setting, teachers can make thinking and feeling visible through movement, drawing, expression, and reflection. Semmens emphasizes the need for teachers to gain a deeper understanding and confidence in teaching First Nations dance, given the explicit content descriptions and elaborations in the Australian Curriculum regarding investigating and exploring First Nations artists and dance practices.

This collaborative project marks a critical step in enriching the Australian educational landscape. By integrating First Nations dance into the curriculum, it not only enhances the learning experiences of students but also contributes to a broader respect and awareness of the diverse cultures that make up the Australian community. It represents a move towards a more inclusive and culturally aware education system, one that acknowledges and celebrates the rich heritage of its First Nations peoples.

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