Jo Clancy: Aboriginal leader

Photo of Jo Clancy. Photographer: Katrina Chalker.

Photo of Jo Clancy. Photographer: Katrina Chalker.

Initiated in 2013, Birrang provided creative and professional development opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance artists based in NSW.

Birrang helped build the capacity of each individual artist to realise their own goals, share creative ideas and practices and gain the skills and networks that served to strengthen their careers and the growing independent Aboriginal dance sector across NSW.

The program has achieved significant outcomes for participating artists.

Arts NSW reflects on the Birrang program with the recipient of the 2015 Birrang Creative Residency, Jo Clancy.

How has Birrang impacted your professional development?

As an independent dance artist I am always keen to develop my professional networks and skills. Working from project to project can be very isolating, and so the opportunity to come together via the Birrang Creative Lab was invaluable for supporting each other, giving strength to our practice and sharing knowledge, skills and culture.

As a freelance artist I often create in isolation, in my kitchen, in my car, in my back yard and without financial support. This process means that many of my ideas, dances and stories remain fragmented and unfinished. So the opportunity to create a new work through the support of the 2015 Birrang Creative Residency allowed me to piece together and grow choreography I have been developing over many years. Opportunities to create and collaborate with other artists in country (Dartinjung) hosted by NAISDA Dance College, and in the studio are precious and imperative for the growth and development of our artists and our practice.

How do you see this professional development opportunity benefiting social enterprises and future connections for Aboriginal artists and arts workers in the broader arts sector?

Birrrang brought NSW Aboriginal dance artists together in a professional context and helped strengthen our sector. Personally, the Labs gave fuel to my creative practice, they challenged me, ignited new and old ideas and brought about collaborations.

The work I created in my residency engaged 16 artists and reached a national and international audience of over 1,000 people. The work is now self-funding. Schools and Festivals are booking the show for a fee, which allows me to continue offering professional development and employment opportunities for artists and to continue sharing NSW Aboriginal dance and culture.

What advice do you have for emerging Aboriginal artists and cultural practitioners who are just starting out?

Work hard, be honest, be kind and be humble. Explore and share your own stories for they are your strength, your cultural compass and your most valuable resource. Embrace challenge, collaborate with your peers and enjoy the journey

You have just started as the Dance Development Officer at AusDance NSW, what attracted you to this position?

I am a NSW dance artist with over 20 years professional practice experience and connection to many of our dance communities across the State. I am keen to use my skills to advocate for and help develop our diverse sector as well as to learn new skills from working with the organisation.

Birrang was supported by Arts NSW and coordinated by Ausdance NSW, Regional Arts NSW and Bangarra Dance Theatre in partnership with NAISDA Dance College, Carriageworks and the Australian Film, Television & Radio School.


Jo Clancy is an independent dance artist and the creative director of the Blue Mountains based Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. Jo is a descendant of the Wiradjuri people of Western NSW and holds a Bachelor of Arts (Dance) degree from the University of Western Sydney. She has worked as an independent dance artist, performing and teaching, in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains for the last twenty years. Jo has recently started in the Dance Development Officer role at AusDance NSW.

To find out more about Arts NSW support for Aboriginal Arts and Culture, please download a copy of the NSW Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Strategy 2015 – 2018.

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Published: 12 May 2016