Deaf Indigenous dancers still feel the beat after 27yrs

Keira Jenkins |

An exhibition showcasing the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group was curated by Serene Fernando.
An exhibition showcasing the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group was curated by Serene Fernando.

As a teenager, Patty Morris-Banjo learned her dance moves in front of a mirror.

She and her late friend Priscilla Seden were determined to prove they could dance.

Ms Morris-Banjo was born in Cooktown in far north Queensland and raised in the remote town of Laura.

The dance lover became deaf from an illness when she was a child.

She, and Ms Seden, who was hard of hearing, instead learned their choreography by feeling the beat of the music.

“We rolled up our sleeves, said ‘we’ll show them, deaf people can dance’,” she told AAP.

“Being profoundly deaf, I couldn’t hear the music so I had to learn different steps, be creative and have confidence in a routine and then we got in that sync.”

Ms Morris-Banjo and Ms Seden formed the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group in 1997.

For Sue Frank, a Torres Strait Islander woman, the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group was the only place she felt she belonged when she was leaving school.

Now the president of the dance group, she said it represents empowerment for her community.

“When I was growing up there was nothing like that, there were no opportunities … we didn’t have role models, we didn’t know people who could achieve what we’ve done, Ms Frank said.

“Our mob haven’t always included deaf children or deaf adults when it comes to dancing, because it’s all about communication and there’s been communication breakdowns.”

The history of the group, spanning almost three decades, is being celebrated in a showcase at the State Library of Queensland, called Deaf in Dance.

Gamilaraay curator Serene Fernando
Gamilaraay curator Serene Fernando with some of the exhibits at the State Library of Queensland. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

“They’ve been working really hard for the past 27 years to cater to one of the most isolated sections of our community,” curator Serene Fernando said.

“Just sharing in that inspiration of their story, the strength and resilience as well, that’s one of the things I think a lot of people will take away from this showcase.”

Ms Fernando said the State Library worked with the Deaf Indigenous Dance Group through the process of creating the showcase, adding accessible elements like tactical artworks and tours with an Auslan interpreter.

“We create a space for Indigenous people to share their stories,” she said.

“A lot of the quotes and the stories in the space is (the dance group) speaking about what their story is, which is a really important element.”

Ms Morris-Banjo said being able to look back on the dance group’s history through the showcase is amazing.

“I feel so very happy and proud to be able to have that opportunity to represent that deaf people can dance,” she said.

She’s also pleased to see the next generation of young, deaf dancers joining the group.

One of those dancers is Nathaniel Murray, who said he joined the group, simply because he loves to dance. “

You eat, you sleep, you breathe, for me (dance) is like that,” he said.

“It’s art, I love all the costumes and everything else that goes along with cultural dancing.”

The Deaf in Dance Showcase will be on display at the State Library of Queensland until March 2025.