Walking in Sydney Looking for Dancing


Walking in Sydney Looking for Dancing applies a self-reflexive auto-ethnographic fieldwork methodology to the previously uncharted world of the independent dance sector in Sydney. At my own historical point, I map the places and spaces where independent dance-making and presentation occurs, while also remembering the sites where dancers used to work. The starting-point for this research was a concern, shared by many in the performing arts, that the small-to-medium dance sector in Australia had been in a state of crisis for at least a decade. This thesis applies and demonstrates the relevance of complexity theory to an understanding of the way in which the independent dance sector as a unique self-organizing system, adapts, survives and repositions itself in times of crisis.

This thesis examines the decreasing number of independent dance studios in Sydney over the past two decades and argues for the importance of these places for supporting innovative dance practices and the community networks that support them. It analyses the way in which the construction of arts precincts has altered independent artists’ perceptions of their identity and their sense of belonging within the community, and in which these precincts dictate certain kinds of interaction between artists and institutions. Underpinning my view of material places and animated spaces where dance is made and presented are the conceptual tools of Michel de Certeau’s notions of place and space, and of strategy and tactics, together with Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopia. Drawing on these theories and ideas of complexity, place and space, this thesis argues for urgent need to maintain a range of places ‘to see dance’ and spaces ‘to make dance’.

This project contributes to an examination of the status and dynamics of the independent dance sector in Sydney and to the discussion, which is necessary if innovative dance practice is not only to survive, but also to contribute to the maintenance of a vibrantly diverse culture. Through a blending of written voices and genres, reflecting a particular time and place, this thesis aims to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about the way in which the processes of artistic work—especially those of the independent dance sector in Sydney—are managed and fostered in Australia.

Walking in Sydney Looking for Dancing: An Auto-ethnographic Mapping of the Place of Independent Dance, School of English, Media and Performing Arts, The University of New South Wales, May 2010

Research & Writing: PhD Abstract