Let’s Dance at Mardi Gras 2016

The First Nations float, which leads the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, this year includes a tribute to David Bowie, who passed away in January, and his Let’s Dance music video. The First Nations LGBTQI community chose to make the tribute in recognition of the global exposure Bowie's clip gave to discrimination experienced by Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The parade is an opportunity to celebrate culture, resilience, creativity and diversity while also highlighting the health, education and economic inequality experienced by First Nations people. Let's Dance is part of the history of activism. 

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 got to know the community and 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.

The Let's Dance video featured two Aboriginal dancers, Joelene King and Terry Roberts, who were cast while studying at NAISDA Dance College. Bowie also donated financial support to the college, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. In the 2016 parade NAISDA students will once again dance to the song. 

In 1993 the Let’s Dance album reached No. 1 in the UK, US and other countries. Bowie 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”. 

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald this January, the video clip’s co-director, David Mallet recalls that 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.

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

The First Nations Mardi Gras float each year is conceived and led by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI community with support kindly provided by ACON, a leading HIV and GLBTQ health organisation. Mod has been engaged once again to facilitate and coordinate production. Being community led, the production process involves months of community consultations, volunteer engagement and collaborative development. The float itself is a combined protest, celebration and impressive piece of travelling street theatre, involving 100 participants, including drag performers, Elders, young dancers, VIPs and diverse community members, some with special needs, plus props, choreography, technical crew and vehicles, all moving at 3km per hour from Sydney's Hyde Park to Fox Studios. 

Mod is very proud to have worked once again with the community and ACON to produce First Nations 2016. 

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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