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Vision of dance - An Interview with Donald Enoch

Dancer, choreographer, community worker, Donald Enoch has a vision. It’s a world-class vision for kids from The Block. As an original and founding member of Bangarra, Donald Enoch knows his special training, the quality of that dance education, his style of choreography and his steely determination can win through to produce a school of dance for young people on The Block that could one day rival the extraordinary Bangarra reports Jane Barton in the October 2006 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

“My priority is to get the dance studio up and running. I’m 44, people think I’m 30, I have a young spirit and soul. But I want to get the studio up and running, get the children focussed on what they want. Out of the studio, they can become artists, they could become painters, they don’t have to dance…but they are Block children. I need to work with the mentality that is here, its Aboriginal and it’s a cultural thing here. There are so many different people coming here. They are so high energy. I wanna change a few kids… they are waiting for the dance studio, something for them to do.”

Donald’s story of success and determination is in the context of growing up in a traditional community in NW QLD. He spoke language for the first 11years of his life and only learnt English in his teens. It was obvious from a young age that he was exceptionally gifted as an athlete.

He cites his Mum, Auntie Sue, American dance teacher, the great Carol Johnson and Russian ballet maestro Mischa Slavinsky as his greatest personal and creative influences. His recalls the heady days when Carol Johnson was establishing the concept for Bangarra:

“Rosebank St Glebe where the old AIDT was and Cheryle Stone was working 24hrs a day, and we all lived together-dancers only need a small space! We talked about concepts; Carol was putting the constitution together, meeting with political people to get funding. Then we moved to Railway Square. Our first choreographer was Raymond Sawyer, he was a Black American dancer and then we worked with Eugene Rutherford Casey, he was a pianist. He even coached Patti Labelle and Diana Ross. They educated us, they took our traditional dance.”

It was a time of great excitement. It was the late 80’s and there was a new Aboriginal Dance company about to burst onto the scene. No one knew what would happen.

“So we had these gifted people working with us…and don’t forget, they’d been in the modern world for about 400 years before they got here… to us, being in the modern world just the last 40 years.”

Enoch is proud of the dance tradition he has come from. He describes the difference between the original Bangarra members and the subsequent generation.

“It’s different technique, different teachers there. We had hardcore, guttural European teachers, the ones that were the elite at that period of time - Russian ballet teachers such as Mischa Slavinsky, who defected and came here. I have a memory of his technique, how he taught the exercises, muscle balancing, muscle regeneration; I don’t think anyone else has brought it out yet. Our style is different, our technique is different.”

“I’ve always been a youth worker and a community worker. I know I have a purpose. I need to help young people, not just kids on The Block.

I want them to go onto the world stage. I want them to learn from my choreography style. I want to rival Bangarra. I want to show them (the kids) that they don’t have to be in this, that they can rise above it all to a high level, achieve a higher intelligence.”

“I’m a dancer, when I went to NAISDA, we got told we were special, we are gifts from God, no-body can do what we do, we dance for everybody. We can go into a ballet company, a dance company, a modern company. It’s our body, it’s the music, it’s the moves. Dancers can manipulate their world. To choreograph, is to give your ability, your moves to other people. You are the teacher.”

If anyone has access to industrial size mirrors, a barre or is prepared to support this project, contact Donald via the Aboriginal Housing Company, 207 Lawson St Redfern, or via the South Sydney Herald.

[Source – South Sydney Herald October 2006]