Nell Challingsworth OAM

“My association with the Australian Heritage Dancers began when I was asked to restructure and rename an earlier dance group in Sydney in 1984. 1 had already formed a similar group some years earlier in Victoria, for the Sovereign Hill Goldmining Township. This has been an ongoing activity, telling the tales of the goldfields in dance and music.

As well as a teacher of dance, I am an author, writing on our dancing past, and I initiated the concept of vignettes of history being enacted as a dance performance. This makes for a unique presentation. The years from 1984 to 1988 were under my direction, culminating with the Bicentennial performances, making the group one of the most reputable in Australia. In 1986 we were invited to perform at the Festival Mondial in Canada.

I feel the Australian Heritage Dancers will go forward and become ever stronger in their representation of early Australian life and times.

Comments upon the AHD departure to “Folkmoot USA” in North Carolina (1993)

Nell Challingsworth 1986

Nell Challingsworth exchanging gifts with our hosts in Drummondville, Quebec Canada (1986)


Vale Nell Challingsworth

Nell Challingsworth (Mrs Eleanor Burnham) died on 1 July 2000, aged 90, after a lifetime of dedication to dance. Inspired by dancing lessons in her school days at L'Avenir, a college run by the Mesdemoiselles Pignolet at St Kilda, Melbourne, she left school at 15 for a Ballroom Dancing Teachers' apprenticeship, and earned her living full time from teaching dancing at age 18. She opened her own school in 1946, and, until moving to Sydney in 1984, taught an average of 2000 pupils a year in many Victorian schools and colleges.

Nell became a member of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (England) in 1949, and in 1966 a member of Dance Masters of America (New York). In 1974, the Institute for Social Dance Studies (New York) made her its representative in Australia. Three years later, she was appointed to the State College of Victoria, to design a course in social and ballroom dance. She was invited to lecture on Social and Liturgical Dance for the Ballet Theatre, Philippines, and was the first Australian invited to lecture to the Dance Masters of America, the largest dance society in the USA. Nell was a founder member of both the Australian Association for Dance Education and the Christian Dance Fellowship of Australia. She held a degree in Dance for the Disabled; and received numerous community and dance awards.

Her great interest in the history of dance, especially Australian dance heritage, resulted in books such as 'Dancing Down the Years' (1978), besides dance manuals and other works. She was responsible for creating the Australian Heritage Dancers in NSW and the Sovereign Hill Heritage Dancers in Victoria. Both groups, under Nell's direction, represented Australia overseas in 1986 at the Festival Du Mondial in Canada. The foreword to her book 'Australia's Dancing Heritage' (1994) was written by Frank Van Straten, who had been a pupil of hers in Melbourne in the early 1950s. He speaks for many in the Australian dance world when he remembers his 'dancing teacher with warmth and affection. I recall her tireless enthusiasm, her dedication and her delight in all things to do with dance.'

Nell Challingsworth was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 1994 Honours Lists for her services to the performing arts in the field of dance.

Julie Bishop, Dance News,
Cornstalk Gazette Issue No. 58, August 2000