From outback to on stage

Just two years out of high school Josh Doctor will tonight debut with Bangarra Dance Theatre. Linda Doherty reports.

Image: Immersed in culture: Josh Doctor in NAISDA’s performance of ‘yadhaba ngura’, meaning ‘get well land’ in the Darkinjung language. Photo by Lisa Haymes, courtesy of NAISDA Dance College.

It’s been quite a journey for Aboriginal dancer Josh Doctor, the 2020 school captain of remote Lightning Ridge Central School, to debut tonight with Australia’s premier Indigenous dance company.

Josh will perform in ‘Dance Clan’, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s showcase of emerging choreographers, dancers and storytellers – and his former schoolteachers in Lightning Ridge, on Yuwaalaraay Country, will be cheering from a distance 770 kilometres away.

“We’re so incredibly proud of Josh,” Lightning Ridge Central School principal Richard Finter said. “He’s an outstanding role model for all our students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal; he was a really hard-working student with a strong connection to his culture.”

Josh had no formal dance training until he joined NAISDA Dance College in 2021 after Year 12. He’s now in his third year at NAISDA, studying for a Diploma of Professional Dance Performance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and undertaking an Indigenous Dance Internship with Bangarra in partnership with NAISDA.

Asked if he was a natural dancer, Josh replied: “I just work really hard.”

“It’s very exciting to be dancing with Bangarra; it’s a very open and caring environment and space,” he said during rehearsals ahead of the opening of Dance Clan at Bangarra’s Studio Theatre, on Gadigal Country, in Sydney’s Walsh Bay.

NAISDA at Kariong, on Darkinjung Country, is a leading arts training organisation providing nationally accredited qualifications specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Chief Executive Officer Kim Walker said there was no prerequisite for dance training for entry into NAISDA “but the students have to have the passion” for dance, performance and culture.

“Josh is a very deep thinker committed to learning and being an artist,” he said.

“The embedding of cultural and creative learning at NAISDA helps our students grow as people, artists and the storytellers of tomorrow.”

Josh’s family ancestry is Bigambul, Gubbi Gubbi, Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay.

His interest in Aboriginal culture and dance was sparked in Year 6 when he began attending workshops and performing with Moorambilla Voices, a multi-arts program that travels to remote towns in NSW and develops cultural stories into original songs, dances and visual arts co-created with young people.

While there were limited arts opportunities in the remote outback town where rugby league is the favoured activity, Josh remained determined.

“I kind of sensed the arts were for me,” he said.

“I was engrossed by learning various stories from Moorambilla Voices and understanding those stories from many directions.”

NAISDA, which has 39 students aged from 16 to 26 from all around Australia, has given Josh a deeper immersion into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, as well as technical skills training across dance disciplines, performance opportunities, and connections and relationships that encourage collaborative learning.

“It’s all about the people at NAISDA and being encouraged to give it a go,” Josh said.

His future goal is to raise awareness among remote Indigenous students about opportunities available in the arts.

“I want students in remote communities to have that option in the arts; have that career whether it’s a dancer, musician, singer or writer; to publish their own books, have their own careers and businesses,” he said.

His former principal, Mr Finter, said the school was giving the arts “a real push”, inspired in part by the success of Josh and hoped to attract him back to his hometown in the future to conduct workshops with its 330 students, half of whom are Aboriginal.

More information

NAISDA delivers nationally accredited courses from Certificate III to an Advanced Diploma,

Bangarra offers eResources for teachers, school performances, teacher professional development and student workshops.

Dance Clan will be performed at Bangarra’s Studio Theatre in Walsh Bay, Sydney, from 3-18 February 2023.

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