Let’s Dance at Mardi Gras 2016

The 2016 FIRST NATIONS entry in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade includes a tribute to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance music video, in recognition of the global exposure the clip gave to discrimination experienced by Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The entry is produced by Mod, in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI people, funded by ACON’s Aboriginal Project. ACON is an HIV and GLBTQ health organisation, and it supports the entry each year as a way of increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander awareness of, and access to, its services. Away from the glitz and glamour of the parade, HIV still impacts the whole of society, including long-term effects such as AIDS-related dementia.

The parade is an opportunity to creatively highlight the health, education and economic inequality that still exists, while celebrating cultural, sexuality and gender diversity.

In 1993, the Let’s Dance album reached No. 1 in the UK, US and other countries. It featured two Aboriginal dancers, Joelene King and Terry Roberts, cast while studying at NAISDA Dance College. Bowie also donated financial support to the college, this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. In the 2016 parade NAISDA students will once again dance to the song.

Bowie later said "My idea was to present an Indigenous people in a capitalist, white - mainly white - society and the problems of the interrelationships between the two”.

Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page (pictured below with Bowie and Joelene) said the Let’s Dance clip inspired an early generation of Indigenous filmmakers and artists.

Bowie lived quietly in Sydney for almost ten years in the 80s - 90s, popping into Surry Hills’ Evening Star Hotel after recording sessions for a “pig and poke”(beer and smoke). The superstar artist impressed and inspired locals with his “unstarriness”- his politeness and genuine love of music, showing up to support local performers and chatting with people on the street.

In a January 2016 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the clip’s co-director, David Mallet recalls how during the Let’s Dance music video shoot, on a major road (Broadway) in downtown Sydney, not one car stopped or slowed down as Terry Roberts dragged a piece of industrial machinery and Joelene King scrubbed the asphalt.


While gains have been made in equality there is more work to do. In tribute to a musical genius who used his international profile to help our community, let’s celebrate this Mardi Gras and let’s dance.

References:

Sydney Morning Herald: Bowie Down Under - Star Hooked On Sydney
Sydney Morning Herald: The Album Cover That Launched David Bowie's Australia Obsession
ABC: Bowie Down Under At Carinda Pub
IMDb: Let's Dance: Bowie Down Under (2015)
NITV: David Bowie Inspired Me Says Bangarra Artistic Director Stephen Page

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