Deaf Aboriginal dance group sees the music, feels the beat, dances in silence

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Being deaf does not prevent Patty Morris Banjo, wife of Kuku-Thaypan Yalanji, from feeling the music.

Disclaimer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following content contains the names of those who died.

Ms. Banjo first learned to dance jazz and ballet and first took the stage at the age of 10. She has now danced for her culture at one of the biggest events in the country.

“There were all hearing people, we were just two deaf girls, but we danced perfectly and to the beat,” Ms. Banjo said.

“Our teacher came over, our ballet teacher, and she said please clap the two deaf girls in the dance group.”

She remembers that the crowd “lost her” and at that moment, looking at the crowd, she saw her foster mother applauding passionately.

“I started ballet at a young age and my adoptive mother put me in ballet lessons,” Ms. Banjo said.

Ms Banjo is a survivor of Stolen Generations and says that at the age of two she was taken from her parents.

Patty Morris Banjo is a Stolen Generations survivor who now has her own business and runs the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group.(ABC Grand Nord: Carli Willis)

“My mother is completely indigenous and she was not allowed to be with a white European at the time, that was the law,” she said.

“I was a little sick at the time, maybe from the mumps, but they didn’t know what it was.”

Living in the remote rural town of Laura, Ms. Banjo attended the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival from an early age.

“My aunt, whose last name is Banjo, I would come with her and I wouldn’t see so many family members for such a long time and we would all end up here,” Ms. Banjo said.

“It was a meeting place for us.

In 1998, she founded the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group (DIDG) with Priscilla Seden, who has since died but to whom Ms. Banjo credits the group’s success.

Usually the group is practicing on a wooden stage so that they can feel the drums and the tapping of the sticks.

“Some of us have residual hearing so we can follow the clap sticks.”

“But others are feeling it, it’s just a rhythm.”

AN Aboriginal moves his hands like a crocodile in a dance performance, fixing his gaze on another dancer.
Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile and Paul Coleman-Norman perform at the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.(ABC Grand Nord: Carli Willis)

Indigenous Deaf Advocate and President of the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group Wagadagam and Badulgal’s wife Sue Frank said she had organized fundraising events so she could take the group to the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.

“It doesn’t matter which tribe we are from, we all share and dance together as one crowd,” Ms. Frank said.

“We are individual deaf people, native deaf people, and we share the same language, our sign language.

Ms Frank said it was important for them to be connected to the community and that isolation could have a negative impact on mental health.

“It is very exciting and it is a real eye opener for everyone here to think about Deaf Aboriginal children and their future as well,” said Ms. Frank.

Close-up portrait of a man who has a white feather and white face paint, and a woman in a black shirt.
Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile and Sue Frank have known each other for years and now they lead a Deaf Aboriginal dance group.(ABC Grand Nord: Carli Willis)

Yidinji’s man Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile was not born deaf, but when he started to lose his hearing he started to feel sad and isolated, like most people with hearing loss.

“I get a lot of teachings from some of the older people in the dance group and I learned a lot from them… I learned a lot from Cliff who is an older native man who is also deaf,” said M Murray-Fourmile. noted.

“Seeing that – wow – there’s a deaf native man dancing and getting involved, I can do that too.” “

Murray-Fourmile, who has been dancing with his family and in public since the age of seven, leads the group, providing mentorship and visual cues to members.

A group of native dancers wearing white and black paint and a feather headdress take a photo.
Deaf Native Dance Group (clockwise from left): Patricia Morris, Paul Coleman-Norman, Amelia Patterson-Credic (center), Joanne Samuel, Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile, Clifford Johnson (with lance) and Aviu Ware.(ABC Grand Nord: Carli Willis)

“Sometimes it’s very difficult for a deaf person to dance because we can’t hear the music,” Murray-Fourmile said.

“So we really have to use the visuals and look at ourselves as prompts because we’re going through the dance in silence, so to speak.”

Mr Murray-Fourmile said it made him proud when the dance ended and the group ended on the same beat together and put their spear in the ground.

“This way we all feel connected,” he said.

These interviews were translated by Suzannah Jackson and Gary Moran who have been part of the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group for a few years.

Nathaniel dancing
Yidinji’s man Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile has been dancing since he was seven.(ABC Grand Nord: Carli Willis)


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