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Birrang Program Develops Confidence and Collaborations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dancers

Applications for the first two 2015 programs to be offered through Birrang, the creative and professional development program for NSW based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers and choreographers, are open.

From Monday June 1 applications will open for the Creative Lab at Carriageworks and the Creative Residency at the NAISDA Dance College. Applications for the two programs close on Friday 17 July and Friday 31 July respectively.

Focused on expanding Indigenous dance horizons in NSW, Birrang is funded by Arts NSW, coordinated by Ausdance NSW, Regional Arts NSW and Bangarra Dance Theatre in partnership with NAISDA Dance College, Carriageworks and the Australian Film, Television & Radio School. This year Bankstown Youth Development Services joins the partnership.

Past recipients of the Birrang Creative Residency at NAISDA include Rayma Johnson and Ian RT Colless. Colless used his 2014 residency for a first development of his new work, Kangaroo Study.

‘Birrang was a great opportunity for me to put my choreographic movement into country. It allowed me to understand the climate of where my information comes from, and to readjust what I was doing,’ Colless said.

This exciting collaboration between peak arts bodies and organisations provides a professional platform for NSW based Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander dance professionals aged over 21.

The Birrang initiative is designed to build capacity for emerging and mid-career and established dance artists through creative exploration, new work development and focussed business and market development workshops.

Shane Carroll, Bangarra Dance Theatre Education Consultant and coordinating partner for Birrang, said the aim of the third and final year of the initiative is to maximise and consolidate the outcomes and strengthen the partnerships created through the program.

‘Birrang has generated a visibility and connectedness that is so positive.  There is more work being produced, more confidence in the sector, and more collaborations being initiated,’ Shane said.


Birrang participant Jo Clancy’s experience supports this view.

A descendant of the Wiradjuri people of Western NSW, Jo was raised and still lives on Gundungurra and Darug country in the Blue Mountains with her family. A former student of NAISDA and Graduate of the University of Western Sydney, Jo was the first Aboriginal person to gain a Bachelor of Arts in Dance in NSW. In 1998 Jo was appointed Artistic Director of Katoomba Dance Theatre where she remained for seven years, advocating strongly for youth dance.

While she has broad experience as a dancer and choreographer, Jo said she would encourage people to apply for the Birrang Creative Lab at Carriageworks, and for the Market Development Workshop to be held later in the year.

‘The Creative Lab is a terrific opportunity to develop and maintain your professional networks and skills. So many of us work from project to project and it can be very isolating. The opportunity to come together in this environment is invaluable for supporting each other, giving strength to our practice and to share culture, stories and skills with each other,’ Jo said.

‘I did the Market Development workshop in 2013 and it really helped me think in other ways about myself as an artist. Two years later I am still referencing things I discovered in that workshop,’ she said.

Although unsuccessful in gaining a Birrang Creative Residency at NAISDA last year, Jo will apply for the residency again this year.

‘There are so few opportunities available to make new work. I see the Birrang Creative Residency as a way of supporting an artist with precious studio time and space to creative. This is imperative for the growth, development and maintenance of our artists and their practice,’ she said.

Bankstown Youth Development Services Residency

However, Jo has received support in the form of a residency through a new Birrang partnership with Bankstown Youth Development Services. She will use the residency for a final rehearsal period for her new work, Sum of my Ancestors, to be performed by her dance company Wagana at the Dance and the Child International in Copenhagen, Denmark in July.

Through fundraising including barbecues, trivia nights, performances and market stalls Jo and the dancers have raised $35,000 to fund the trip. Jo also received a Quick Response grant from Arts NSW to cover some expenses.

Before their departure the company will conduct an informal showing of the work at the Bankstown Arts Centre, 12.30pm, Friday 5 June and ‘Kindlehill, Wentworth Falls, 5pm Saturday 27 June.

Jo said Sum of my Ancestors explores and confronts issues related to Aboriginal culture and identity. The young dancers involved in the project are aged 11 – 13 years, and are all Aboriginal girls with mixed racial heritage.

‘They all have fair skin, some have red hair and lots of them have freckles. This presents challenges for them mainly due to stereotyping and labelling from others: what should an Aboriginal person look like, sound like, act like. You can’t measure our spirit, our connection to culture or our Aboriginal identity by the shade of our skin. I practice and share culture everyday through dance, and Wagana girls are learning every day who they are, where they come from and their role in the community.

‘They have fair skin, they dance, they weave and they share stories passed down from generation to generation. They are all the sum of their ancestors,’ she said.

Jo lives in the Blue Mountains but over the past 10 years has been a regular visitor to the Central West of NSW teaching at schools and through community programs including working with the Regional Arts Boards, Orana Arts and Arts OutWest. A particularly strong relationship has developed between Jo and dancers from the far west town of Condobolin. She was also a  choreographer and performer at the 2013 Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Taree and the 2014 Festival in Coffs Harbour.


Eligibility criteria and key dates can be found at:


Applications are currently open for the following two programs.
Creative Lab
10 -14 August at Carriageworks
5 day intensive lab which provides dance artists with time space and resources to focus on making work and sharing creative ideas under the leadership of experienced professionals. Applications close 17 July.

Creative Residency
21 September – 1 October at NAISDA Dance College
12 days residency for one choreographer and up to three collaborators, including studio space and technical support, for a creative development project that works towards a proposed performance. Applications close 31 July. 


Applications also are open for Quick Response Grants (Quicks) for successful Birrang applicants who live in the areas covered by Regional Arts NSW’s 14 Regional Arts Boards.

Made available under the Regional Arts Fund allocation for NSW, the grants offer funding of up to $1,500 for regional artists, arts organisations and communities to respond to unique arts opportunities that present themselves at very short notice.

All applicants must contact the Funding Manager, Ben Sibson on 02 9270 2502 before applying.

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