What is “Big Dance”? This is the question I found myself asking a couple weeks ago at the 2018 Panpapanpalya Joint Dance Congress. My first thought was that it was dance aimed at larger people, and standing at 5 foot 1 inch I concluded that it was not for me. Boy was my assumption wrong!
This conference was held in Adelaide, Australia, and something that I quickly noticed and loved about this city (and perhaps Australia as a whole, I noticed the same thing in Sydney) is that there seemed to be a deep respect and reverence among the Australian public towards the Aboriginal Australians, the original peoples that inhabited the land where Australians live today. Everywhere I went, at events, shows, and shops, people shared their knowledge of aboriginal beliefs and customs, and made paying respect to the aboriginal people a pre-requisite of their events. Imagine if we did the same for the Native Americans in the U.S.!
Big Dance, as it turned out, is a testament to the wonderful collaborations taking place between non-aboriginal Australians and the descendants of the aboriginal Australians. Big Dance blends contemporary and indigenous choreography to create dances that can portray aboriginal stories and ideas as well as ideas of connecting across cultures and allow all to take part to some extent in the indigenous culture, without appropriating and commoditizing any of the original sacred aboriginal dances.
When I participated in the Big Dance workshop at Panpapanpalya I learned the RED group choreography. This section of choreography focussed on the theme of bloodlines, and the coming together of cultures, the heart of the country, and the red of the earth. There is also a BLACK and a WHITE section of choreography which I have yet to learn. At the end of the conference as part of the closing ceremony, all of those who took part in a Big Dance workshop came up to perform as a sort of flashmob dance. The number of dancers was incredible, some squeezing together on a stage at the center, others leaking over on each side dancing on the floor. The movements were incredibly heartfelt and connecting. There was an urgency and seriousness to the movements also, as if we were all moving along together on the same, somewhat trepidatious journey.