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The one stop shop for dance artists

Richard Watts

From belly-dancers to ballet, contemporary dancers depend on their peak body for professional support.
The one stop shop for dance artists

Ausdance member Vanessa Marian with fellow Groove Therapy instructor Hena Memishi offers hip hop classes for all levels in Melbourne and Sydney. Photo credit: Kurt Davies. 

In May this year, on the day now known as Black Friday, 53 arts organisations discovered they had lost their organisational funding. Among them was the national office of the peak body for dance, Ausdance. But the dance sector is resilient. Across the nation the Ausdance network is thriving, thanks to the support of a range of state and territory funding bodies. 

‘It’s an incredible shame that our national office didn’t receive funding in that round, but they will rise from the ashes – I’m calling it the Phoenix Model – and we will work through that as a network. Ausdance has a very strong network and both Ausdance NSW and Ausdance Victoria have good core funding from their state funding bodies as do Queensland, Western Australia and ACT,’ said Michelle Silby, Executive Director of Ausdance Victoria and Ausdance NSW.

Learn more about Ausdance Victoria

Independent choreographer Zoee has recently returned to Australia after working overseas, and has been shocked by damage the cuts have done to the sector.

‘I left before the cuts to the Australia Council; it is like I have arrived into a different world. I have a lot of peers who I personally believe are so talented and they are sadly now stunted because of this. Being in the UK, I saw street, commercial and contemporary all have equal weight in the sector, there was an even amount of support and respect for everyone’s intellectual craft. The massive difference I saw in UK is I felt so many organisations support the independent artists. I feel with the cuts , it is harder for all genres of dance to receive funding equally,’ she told ArtsHub.

In the face of such challenges, having a peak body which celebrates and advocates for all dance artists has become more vital than ever, said Zoee.

‘I feel when I have a question, Ausdance will have the answer. If I am stuck in a pickle, whether it be about public liability or professional pay rates, I know Ausdance … will lead me in the right direction ... Ausdance fills my void for not having an agent. I feel I can confide in Ausdance to give me the low down on the rates that I deserve and how to work in this arts world without funding,’ she said.

Still from Yukino McHugh’s Dance Artist in Residency with Ausdance NSW/Catapult Dance Choreographic Lab in Newcastle, NSW. Photo credit: Jessica Coughlan.


A membership based organisation, Ausdance works with dancers from every genre and style. In Silby’s words: ‘Ausdance is genre-blind. Whether you do bellydancing, breakdancing or ballet or any form of dance at all – whether it’s in a cultural context, a classical context – we really do work with anyone who is interested in dance.’

The diversity of the organisation was a major drawcard for Ausdance NSW member Vanessa Marian, a lawyer who pursued her passion in street dance and social engagement to establish Groove Therapy, an organisation which aims to make dance accessible to everyone.

‘The most important thing about Ausdance for me is their inclusivity, as street dance is often trivialised or disregarded by dance organisations in favour of classical and contemporary movement,’ said Marian. ‘Ausdance isn’t some namesake dance organisation that provides tokenistic support muffled under layers of bureaucracy. They champion dance in Australia by making us visible through their platform, offer opportunities and guide us through the industry with informative forums, articles and events.

‘Groove Therapy can make dance accessible to refugees, dementia sufferers and the everyday person with the support of an established Australian dance platform that respects us and takes us seriously. We are able to push boundaries, apply for grants and practically implement our programs far more easily when respected organisations like Ausdance give us that credibility.’

Learn more about Ausdance NSW

The backing of Ausdance has assisted Groove Therapy in its mission of bringing dance to the broader community, and has allowed Marian to observe the benefits of dance firsthand: Whether this be an instant emotional reaction from a dementia sufferer who recognises a song they danced to in their yesteryears, a mode of escapism for our young refugee girls’ class, or simply the promotion of mental wellness in our community by offering dance classes to beginner adults, we are about liberating, appreciating and feeling the joy that only a dancer knows,’ she said.

Educators gather at the annual International Dance Educators Workshop 2015 in Melbourne. Photo Credit: Ausdance Victoria.​

Uniting the sector

Perhaps uniquely in the arts sector, Ausdance Victoria and Ausdance NSW works across state lines, advocating for and supporting dancers in Australia’s two most populous states. Silby leads teams based in Sydney and Melbourne, ensuring the organisation can identity and address issues which impact on dancers regardless of their location.

‘It’s also about innovation in leadership models,’ Silby said. ‘Funding’s not getting any easier so this was a way of going, let’s consolidate the strategic planning and thinking and feed what resources you do have into the rest of the team on the ground.

‘It echoes the fact that all of our artists now often move and are transient; they work in different states, and so I feel often as organisations we’re a little bit behind the times. If our artists are going from state to state working on different projects, they also need us to be flexible and have that overview of different states … And the other thing around this is it’s simply efficient – we can consolidate some of the organisation’s back-end processes, which means our resources go into the projects and the artists and providing them with resources rather than unnecessary admin costs.’

Become a member of Ausdance NSW

This cross-border approach will be reflected in many of the organisation’s projects in 2017, which include a trans-Tasman program focusing on career management and choreographic workshops; a grant auspicing service for  members of Ausdance NSW; the Australian Youth Dance Festival, featuring social events, exhibitions, masterclasses and workshops; and the 20th anniversary of the Australian Dance Awards, which next year will be held in Melbourne, with performances and public programs showcasing the outstanding contributions to dance in the past year.

What Ausdance offers

Membership of Ausdance has many benefits, including opportunities for one-on-one meetings with staff to discuss everything from health concerns to touring challenges; discounted tickets to dance performances; promotion of one’s own events and performances; through social media and photographic partners; discounts to discounted health services including osteopathy and myotherapy; and access to the organisation’s ever-growing library of online resources, including interviews and podcasts.

Dance Artist in Residence participant Yukino McHugh shot by Flukemedia, photographic partner for Ausdance NSW members. Photo Credit: Frace Luke Mercado, Flukemedia​

Additional benefits will be introduced in 2017, the organisation’s 40th year, ensuring the Ausdance is, in Silby’s words, ‘a one-stop shop’ for dance artists.  

‘Next year is the 40th anniversary of Ausdance … and over that 40 year period, obviously needs shift and change, but some of the fundamental aspects of dance still remain the same. And in terms of our working in partnership very strongly between NSW and Victoria – and our other network offices together. We’re really working towards being that one-stop shop, and really raising our profile so that people know they can come and talk to us,’ said Silby.

Become an Ausdance Victoria member

To that end, she stressed the value of being an Ausdance member for those working in the dance sector.

‘It’s incredibly important to us that we get to really and genuinely engage with the sector, and one of the ways that happens best is when people become an Ausdance member, because then we get to promote them more, we meet with them more. And there’s literally tens of dozens of benefits from being a member – everything from having cheaper tickets to a show, to completely free workshops like the one we organised with Arts Centre Melbourne and Nederlands Dans Theatre, through to “come and have a one on one coaching session about your grant”,’ said Silby.

‘So I’d really like to encourage people to become members if they’re not, to be part of the dance community – essentially helping us to help you.

‘And when we’re engaging with potential partners, funders, or sponsors one of the things they ask about is our membership – so it’s really important that we can demonstrate that yes, people want dance. They can also show they need our services by becoming a member – it’s really quick, simple, and the prices haven’t changed in 14 years – so it’s not bad!’

There is an Ausdance office in most states and territories. Please go to your state’s website to become a member in the state you live or work in:

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging and on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre. He is a former member of the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel, a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts