If there is any activity happier, more exhilarating, and more nourishing to the soul, I can’t think what it might be.

As soon as the First Fleet arrived in Australia, people were dancing. Dance played a vastly underestimated role in the social fabric of everyday life in the colonial era. For most people today, dance has been removed from our cultural existence and is no longer part of community life. It is difficult to imagine, in our modern lives full of technology, the essential role dance once played in life.

Our colonial dance culture encompasses a wide range of dance styles from the English country dances which were immensely popular at the time of settlement, to stately minuets, energetic jigs, flings, and reels, through to sedate quadrilles and couples dances. Currently the colonial dance repertoire focuses only on the second half of the colonial period and ignores the rich diversity of the earlier time. Through comprehensive research, I hope to enrich and expand the range of dance and music available from this former period and thus offer a more complete picture of our vibrant heritage.

On the surface, there are very few resources relating to dance in the earliest days of settlement – there are no dances cards or programmes and although there are many reports of dancing till dawn and celebrations which lasted for days, there are few references to specific dances.

Finding the relevant dances requires conscientious study. By researching newspapers, diaries, and dance manuals, significant links can be established to notable events, personalities, and places Dances can relate specifically to discovery and settlement :– The Trip to Tahiti, Transit of Venus – Captain Cook’s voyage, Botany Bay – 1788, Lord Sydney’s Fancy, Lord Howe’s Jig – men influential in establishing the colony, The Recruiting Officer – the first play staged in the colony 1789.

Dances relevant to prominent people in the colony, for instance, Governor Macquarie – Surrender of Seringapatam. Macquarie was present at this event and celebrated its anniversary, Braes of Breadalbane, the Earl of Breadalbane was Elizabeth Macquarie’s cousin and Lachlan’s friend; several places in Australia were named Breadalbane by Macquarie, Lord Castlereagh’s Waltz, patron and friend of Lachlan.

Other dances were known to be popular at the time with music and instructions readily available Monymusk, The Wild Irishman, Nancy Dawson, Tars of the Victory, Highland Reel.

Relics held in Australian libraries and museums also provide a fascinating insight into the culture of the time: a playbill for the ballet Love in Botany Bay (London, 1798), Matthew Flinder’s flute, Elizabeth Macquarie’s cello, Wheatstone’s Elegant and Fashionable Dances for 1808, and Tasmania convict Alexander Laing’s collection of music for the fiddle.

For further information visit my website http://www.colonialdance.com.au.

We hold regular sessions in Brisbane for musicians and dancers wishing to enjoy these captivating dances.

Heather Clarke 2017


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