Aborigines show off their moves

A group of indigenous Australian dancers take on a six-week stint at the Summer in Abu Dhabi indoor children's festival to promote their art.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - July 7, 2009  Members Descendance, an Aboriginal dance group, performed on Tuesday, July 7,  2009, at ADNEC in Abu Dhabi.  ( Delores Johnson / The National )
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ABU DHABI // Given little encouragement in their home country, a group of Australian Aboriginal dancers say they hope to promote the "positive side" of their traditions and culture during a six-week stint in the capital this summer. "The government in our country didn't promote us much, and there are lots of negative things about Aboriginal people in the media," said Ronaldo Guivarra, a dancer with the Descendance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance Theatre.

"We'd like to go around and display the positive side of our traditions." The group will be a fixture at the Summer in Abu Dhabi indoor children's festival, which opened last week at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Aboriginals are believed to have inhabited Australia for tens of thousands of years. Much of the community was decimated by plague and economic isolation after the arrival of British colonisers in the 18th century. Problems continue to plague many Aboriginal communities, which suffer high levels of unemployment, poverty and crime.

"As we grew up we found more people interested in the culture," Mr Guivarra said. "We want others to know that we are still here after thousands of years." The troupe, founded in 1993 to provide employment to Aboriginal people and to preserve their traditional culture, has performed in 35 countries and 150 cities. "We want to educate visitors on our styles of dance, how it's relatable to other Aboriginal tribes, and how we are distinguished by it," Mr Guivarra said. "We also want them to learn about our artwork and lifestyle."

The group was started by a female elder. "We were led by her at first. She had a vision about spreading our culture to others," Mr Guivarra said. "She developed it and we lost her at a very young age." The Descendance pavilion will include traditional dances, lessons on Australian Aboriginal history and face painting. Children will also be taught how to make a boomerang. "There are three types of boomerangs: returning, hunting and the clubbing boomerang, which is used for warfare," said Stephen Sailor, a member of the group. Visitors can also witness a musical segment with the traditional didgeridoo, one of the oldest wooden instruments in the world.

The group said it was pleased to see local residents take an interest in their culture. "It was a good experience to take back home and to the community," Mr Sailor said. "The children at first are usually intimidated but then they enjoy it. The parents also encourage their children to participate. I think that was the basis of the event, it's to understand culture." The Descendance will be performing for the duration of Summer in Abu Dhabi three to four times daily for 15 minutes. The festival runs from July 1 to August 15. Tickets for the whole festival cost Dh40 for adults and Dh30 for children.