Discover how history can be traced through dance.

Take a fascinating journey to see history in an unique light – through the pastime which invigorated the lives of our ancestors and was a key social activity.

This collection reveals the history of dance in early colonial Australia 1770-1850 by exploring significant social and historical links.

Our history can be brought to life in a unique way by experiencing music and dance – a living link to our heritage.

What’s in a dance?

Statement of significance

In the modern age of intense electronic social networking, these dances shine as genuine, warm, social pleasures.  Words are unnecessary while dancing; other skills are required – a smile, a glance, a touch.  Could it be more different to social media on your smart phone?
In an evening of country dance one may have a dozen partners and dance with every person in the room; a group of individuals synchronised in the pattern of the dance.

Dance rates as one of the most beneficial forms of recreation:  it involves so many different aspects in such an enjoyable way.  The exercise of moving through the dance, remembering the figures, listening and responding to the music, and above all, the myriad of friendly  interactions.


The information on this website may be copied for personal use only, and must be acknowledged as from this website. It may not be reproduced for publication without prior permission from Heather Clarke.

This resource was created on the lands of the Gubbi Gubbi people.
We pay our respects to their elders past and present.
Sovereignty was never ceded.

19 Responses to

  1. Heather says:

    What people are saying:

    • Heather, the importance of what you are doing can scarcely be quantified. What a jewel for coming generations, and what unique insights into Australia’s spectacular history! May you and your Team be guided every step of the way!
    Denise Puttock, Director of Studies at School of Dance Therapy. Torquay, United Kingdom

    Thankyou for such diligent dedication to sourcing this material and sharing it. It is beautifully presented and engaging from start to finish. Congratulations Heather!
    Magaret Winnett

    Excellent work, Heather! Thanks so much for your inspired sleuthery!
    Kate Van Winkle Keller

    It looks fantastic – as always, you’ve done a very beautiful job of putting together interesting and informative resources.
    Millie Weber

  2. Ruth Maittlen says:

    Hi Heather,
    I am in the process of creating an authentic Georgian style parlour which is located in an historic building located in the grounds of the Hawkesbury Regional Museum in Windsor NSW.
    We have a piano insitu and would like to have authentic sheet music of the period to go with this display. It has been reported that Windsor was the location of the first ever polka to be danced in the colony and it would be wonderful if you could assist me with finding sheet music from the 1820-1840 period.
    Any advice or assistance would be greatly appreciated such as where to purchase or gain copies of sheet music from this particular time in Australian history.
    Thanks very much,

    • Heather says:

      Hello Ruth,

      I visited your museum last year and was impressed by the lovely displays – particularly the beautiful pub sign of the running horse from the very early 1800s, and Dr Arndell’s set of china.
      Yes, there is certainly sheet music available for this era. The best place to start would be Graeme Skinner’s Austral Harmony site
      I would be interested to read the full account of the polka being first danced in Windsor. The polka came to Australia in the early 1840s – the latest dance craze and made popular by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.


  3. Allen Davis says:

    I enjoyed your teaching of colonial dancing at Pennant Hills on Monday night for the Bush Music Club Heritage Ball …I am the bloke who answered you question regarding Lord Castlereagh

    Best wishes and thanks
    ( Treasurer, Bush Music Club)

    • Heather says:

      Thanks Allen, it was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching your dancers something new. Have a lovely time at the ball.

  4. Maryrose says:

    This is a fantastic site, really informative and interesting. It has a very broad range in this area, and covers a lot of different dances in lots of detail. It is really brilliant.
    Well done, I appreciate having such a reliable source.

  5. Mark St Leon says:

    Well done, Heather. A simple, accessible and entertaining site. Keep it that way!

    From my perspective as a circus historian, the importance of “dance” to circus cannot be overlooked. In the 18th and 19th centuries, young apprentice circus performers were taught to dance in order to “secure gracefulness”. Thus did the best bareback riders “dance” upon the backs of their horses, and the best tightrope and tightwire walkers “danced” on their ropes/wires.

    Exhibitions of dancing had a legitimate place in early circus programs. My great-great-grandfather performed in Australia’s first circus, Radford’s Royal Circus, in Tasmania during 1847-48 as an equestrian, acrobat and tightrope walker, but he also gave solo exhibitions of dance: A Highland Fling and A Sailor’s Hornpipe.

    To see how a wire walker “danced” on a tight wire, you can see my clips on You Tube of the great Con Colleano, at account “stleonm”.

    All the best, Heather!

    Mark St Leon
    Circus: The Australian Story (Melbourne Books, 2011)
    The Wizard of the Wire: The Story of Con Colleano (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1993)

  6. Hamish Darby says:

    I am delighted to meet Australians interested in musical heritage. I have synthesized a few works, like your quadrilles, posted on soundcloud and youtube in case they are of interest.

    • Heather says:

      Hello Hamish, thanks for you interest. I would like to know more about your synthesized works – could you send the links?

  7. Isabel Clarke says:

    Dear Heather,

    Thank you for such a wonderful site. It is perfectly set out and makes your pages easily to access. It has made a valuable resource for my answers to my Japanese inquisitors.

  8. Tatum says:

    I need find info on dance for a HPE assessment but there is none her the genres are Early European 1770-1850
    Gold Rush 1850-1860
    Pastoral period 1860-1950
    Revival 1950-1960
    Recent popularity 1970-1980
    Can anyone help me with this?

  9. Maureen says:

    Hello Heather,
    Could you please advise if the bush dance is still scheduled for jan 26th 2019 ?

  10. keith says:

    A culture of a country is reflected in their national dance

  11. It’s nice to come back to our dance culture. thank you so much for your post I learned a lot here.

  12. Mazza Verdante says:

    Hello Dr Dance/Heather!

    I’ve come across your site, via The Folklore Transmissions, (National Library), and I’m delighted to see how well received and appreciated your work is. Your contribution to our Folk History is precious, well done you!

    Yours in the Muse,

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, Mazza. Great to know the path you took to find me! A sticky time for historians at the moment – we need to be sure to tell the whole story as well as we can.

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