The Australian Heritage Dancers, in their colourful 1860s costumes, have added interest and gaiety to conferences, historical events, fetes and fairs in and around Sydney. They have appeared in overseas festivals. In 1988 they were proud to be featured in the official Bicentenary Celebrations of European Settlement on Australia Day, and have performed for audiences at every Australia Day celebration since.
In 1986 the Group made their first guest appearance overseas when they accepted an invitation to represent Australia in two folk dance festivals in Canada, and in 1993 the dancers and musicians again enjoyed a most successful 10-day appearance as guest performers at the North Carolina international “Folkmoot-USA”. In February 2002 the Group represented Australia at the 47th International Folk Festival in Agrigento, Sicily. In September 2004 an invitation was accepted to perform in China for the Beijing International Cultural and Tourism Festival and the Tian Jin Cultural Festival.
The Dances Since the early days of colonisation, starting in 1788, the convicts and free settlers brought with them the dances they enjoyed “back home”. With the mixing of cultures, and the development of a new “Australian” lifestyle, these dances were gradually adapted and developed in the new country, so that a quite individual “Australian” tradition evolved out of these original roots.
Many dances are based on English, Irish, Scottish and European Folk or Country traditions. The dances include quadrilles, the waltz, polka, galop and schottische and are in many different formations. Two styles evolved - the more formal style, typical of the Governor’s Ball, and the less formal and more boisterous style of the gold mining towns and country areas.
Costumes The dancers are dressed in the period of the late 1850s-early 1860s, representing a town or village group, with different colours and varying styles but all of the period. For a more formal presentation, evening dress is worn and the manners are more reserved. For less formal occasions, such as a country dance, day costume is worn, and the dancers are more energetic and care-free.
Music The Australian Heritage Dancers band's instruments may include fiddle, accordion, concertina, whistles and others. Music is traditional, with many Australian ballads, and a few Irish and English tunes that have always been played for particular dances.
History Nell Challingsworth was the first director of The Australian Heritage Dancers upon their formation in 1984.