The Australian ritual of bush dancing

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Every year generations of school children will be condemned to hours of shuffling around doing the heel toe heel toe polka, bouncing around the hot and smelly school halls of Australia.

Bush dancing seems to be one of those odd rituals in Australia that seem to resemble something we can call an identity and culture but oddly never really has become part of the collective imagination. Funnily bush dancing is not particularly Australian, nor is it really carried through into any real cultural practice or into a career unlike ballet, drama or fine art.

Our nation that is famous for it’s masculine obsession and prowess for sport seems to take the time to ‘indulge’ in bush dancing. Primary school children in between the grueling ordeal of having to try every sport that is humanly possible take a break and learn a highly organised form of dance, something seemingly feminine and creative.

For those of you who are unaware of  Bush dancing, it is essentially square dancing for retards.

“Bush dance – in general has less emphasis on complex foot work and more about people being in the right place.” -Wikipedia

There is no succinct explanation of why it is called bush dancing, other than the obvious fact that people first danced in halls surrounded by the Australian bush. One might surmise the influence of colonials who encountered Aboriginal tribes who had complex mating and courtship dances. The bush dance could be a European reaction to the courtship rituals seen by the Aboriginal people, a benign form of the mating dance.

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The music of Bush Dancing is essentially folk music with songs like “Bound for South Australia” many have a sea shanty feel about them, many of the songs sound similar and they are rigged to sort of ‘fit’ the rhythm of organised dance.

Many ideas from our colonial past linger here, Australia once a proud, prim and proper nation believing in strict Victorian christian principles. In this environment dances and courtship rituals took place under the watchful eye of a local moral enforcement agency. For some insight it’s good to read a paper from the time to get an idea of just how far people penetrated into others personal lives.

This may explain why we still have these rituals in our schools, a country which still has Queen as the head of state and who is steadfastly glued to it’s murky European convict past, it should be no surprise that a Victorian courtship ritual remains there as well.

There is no harm in this cultural practice, but what is the relevance to kids today? These days Australian youth trundle off to rock festivals every year hammering themselves into mosh pits, dancing up a sweat at bush doof’s fueled with alcohol and drugs finding themselves grinding up against each other in their first sexual encounters.

This experience of Australian youth today is so remote from quaint organised Victorian world of bush dancing.

Bush dancing is resolutely daggy but in a strange way this could be in someways its savoir. Modern hipsters have a knack of finding outdated and daggy practices and making them cool again.

I put the gauntlet down, hipsters take on the bush dance.

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