"Country needs us to dance it to keep it healthy”
This single statement completely changed everything I thought I knew about dance and continues to drives my work today. It was generously shared with me by one of my teachers, Jamie Marloo Thomas, founder of Wayapa Wuurrk and respected senior knowledge-holder among the Peek Whurrung Gunditjmara and GunnaiKurnai communities.
This concept suggests that dance is a core part of our custodial relationship with Earth, rather than a practice solely for human benefit. In which case, dance is understood as an essential energetic exchange, an act of reciprocity that not only expresses our connection to the land but literally heals it.
Various cultural stories and physical markers provide anecdotal evidence of this through the ecological regeneration of degraded sites that hosted dance ceremonies in recent years.
Major Sumner, Ngarrindjeri elder and ceremonial coordinator of the Murrundi Ruwe Pangari Ringbalin (or River Country Spirit Ceremony), echoes this view stating that -
“We [Ngarrindjeri people] believe when you dance on the land, you're letting Mother Earth know you still care about her…this is about restoring the energy, dancing the spirit back into country, dancing the spirit back into ourselves”.
With this in mind, Sumner (also known as Uncle Moogy) developed the Ringbalin dance ceremony in 2010 which brought together Aboriginal Nations across the Murray-Darling Basin to heal the river from the Millennium Drought (2001-2009). This drought pushed the MDB to the brink of collapse and was the worst drought since European settlement. Yet weeks after the first Ringbalin ceremony, the drought began to break and the MDB received the most rainfall in Australia’s recorded history the following year! Coincidence or clear evidence of the Earth calling us to dance? I highly recommend watching the documentary Ringbalin and you can decide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aXRodi4SHY
Either way, I believe this concept offers a radical new way of thinking about our relationship to the natural world — one that fundamentally challenges current social beliefs (particularly within the environmental movement) that the earth would be better off without us. Instead, it boldly suggests;
That we are home on Earth and we belong as stewards who are needed and loved. And if we are able to move past modern distortions of dance and remember its true power for connection, celebration and healing — we may just possess one of the greatest tools for planetary restoration right in our bodies.