Deaf Native Dance Group See Music, Feel Rhythm, Dance in Silence

Being deaf doesn’t stop Kuku-Thaypan Yalanji Patty Morris Banjo from feeling the music.

Disclaimer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following content contains the names of deceased persons.

Ms. Banjo first learned to dance jazz and ballet and first performed on stage when she was 10 years old. 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 in rhythm,” Ms Banjo said.

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

She remembers the crowd “losing her” and just then, looking out over the crowd, she saw her adoptive mother cheering passionately.

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

Ms. Banjo is a survivor of Stolen Generations and says that when she was two years old, she was taken from her parents.

Patty Morris Banjo is a survivor of Stolen Generations who now has her own business and leads the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group.(ABC Far North: Carli Willis)

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

“I was a little sick at the time, maybe with 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 so long and we would all meet here,” Ms Banjo said.

“It was a meeting place for us.”

In 1998, she founded the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group (DIDG) with Priscilla Seden, since deceased but to whom Ms. Banjo credits the success of the group.

Usually, the group practices on a wooden stage so that they can feel the drums and the tapping of drumsticks.

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

“But others feel it, it’s just a beat.”

A Native moves his hands like a crocodile during a dance performance, fixing his gaze on another dancer.
Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile and Paul Coleman-Norman perform at the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.(ABC Far North: Carli Willis)

Indigenous Deaf Advocate and Chair of Indigenous Deaf Dance Group, Wagadagam and Badulgal, Sue Frank said she had organized events to raise funds so she could take the group to the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival.

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

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

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

“It’s very exciting and a real eye-opener for everyone here to think about aboriginal deaf children and their future as well,” Ms. Frank said.

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

Yidinji’s man, Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile, was not born deaf, but when he began to lose his hearing, he began 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 elderly Aboriginal man who is deaf as well,” Murray said. -Antmile. noted.

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

Mr. 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 feather headdress take a picture.
Deaf Aboriginal dance group (clockwise from left): Patricia Morris, Paul Coleman-Norman, Amelia Patterson-Credic (center), Joanne Samuel, Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile, Clifford Johnson ( with spear) and Aviu Ware.(ABC Far North: Carli Willis)

“Sometimes it’s very difficult for a deaf person when they’re dancing because we can’t hear the music,” Mr Murray-Fourmile said.

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

Mr Murray-Fourmile said it gave him pride when the dance ended and the group finished together to the same beat and drove their spears into the ground.

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

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

Nathaniel dancing
Yidinji man Nathaniel Murray-Fourmile has been dancing since the age of seven.(ABC Far North: Carli Willis)