1988 Grey Panthers
Brown's Mart Community Arts, Darwin City
While creating the linked community dance performance projects Dance Feast and Dance on Darwin, a group of senior women over 50 years of age were brought together to create a work – The Wall of Flowers, devised by Beth Shelton with the dancers. It was apparent that this age group was not being represented in other areas of the community dance program, and the rumour is that Beth and Tim went to the RSL, and managed to get some of the women from there. After the performance the women continued to work together, in the form of a weekly dance class, under the guidance of Sarah Calver. This was the beginning of the Older Adults Dance Mob Group, later to become the Grey Panthers.
In the words of Sarah Calver - Original Program Leader
In repsonse to the question of how did the Grey Panthers come about:
As a team [Dance on Darwin Creatives] we recognised that the community dance program was rich in kids, youth and adults ( I had three distinctive age groups actively engaged running 2-3 sessions per week for each since 1986) and it was decided to incorporate older adults 50+.
My mother in law, Wendy James, was a main point of contact (University of 3rd Age, Book Club and Penguin Club) via her and our visits to Council Of The Aging (COTA) a group of interested women including Wendy decided to do the project – it was supposed to be only a project focused group (6 weeks) but the women enjoyed their work with Beth, myself, Tim and Maggi (being part of the community dance scene) so much they requested it continue. I met with the women post the project in early October 1988 and we decided to run regular weekly classes on a Friday at Darwin Entertainment Centre for 50+ called the Older Adult Dance Group – I ran the classes as part of my community dance program and they commenced in mid October 1988, and after each class we would walk up Mitchell Street to a café or around the corner to the café that was housed on ground floor as part of Beaufort Hotel complex and share a coffee/tea and cake. The classes continued every Friday 10-12 at Darwin Entertainment Centre with morning tea/lunch always being a social element post class. I was the program leader and choreographed their routines up until Old Spice Club. Our performances were at Brown's Mart Mixtures at The Mart, Old People’s Homes, COTA, U3A and community dance events. Highlights were the annual Easter Bonnet shows and Christmas Shows which also included performances such as Carols by Candlelight at the Darwin Botanical Gardens plus a series of old people's homes, Christmas lunch for seniors and others. We used to be part of an annual carolling via a van.
The group kept growing and as with all of my community practices the group had a say in the development of their programs - what they wanted to learn from folk dance to line dancing to ballroom to broadway to the unpredictable. I sourced relevant practitioners if I didn’t have the skill Sue Ross (now passed) used to come in and deliver folk dances from the Top End Folk club, and a Philipino man from Furlanos Fannie Bay came and taught ballroom. "
Program Leaders: Sarah Calver
Guest Tutors: Maggi Phillips
Choreographers: Beth Shelton, Sarah Calver
Lendell Fyson, Willis Gerrig, Glad Morris, Gail Morris, Wendy James, Jocelyn Perkins, Marie Porter, Joy Soullier, Elsie Thompson, Pat Townsend, and Margaret Wight
Dance Development Office: Sarah Calver
[Under Brown’s Mart Community Arts – Executive Officer Ken Conway]
"Casting my mind back…….. to what unbeknownst to us at the time became the beginning of the wonderful Grey Panthers…….
Darwin hot of course. 1989 perhaps. Endless silent lightning at nights over the sea. A bougainvillea and frangipani overflow. The Territory stunning the senses of this newcomer.
A bunch of us dance and community people – Maggi Phillips, Sarah Calver, Tim Newth, myself, others – working to bring together a community dance event.
Each day, leaving the airconditioning at our home site at Darwin Entertainment Centre to go out and discover how much strong and committed dancing was happening in Darwin, based in an extraordinary richness of cultures and styles. Meeting the people who helped make this happen. We hoped our performance event would celebrate all this, and following the trail of Feats dance company, to make some contemporary dance as part of the mix. We started to choreograph dances and imagine performances, with kids, young people, adults…..
We had no older people dancing with us. This could not be right. We wanted dancers across the life span. We wanted the particular perspective on life and dance that a long experience gives. Where to find older people? Asking around, we were directed to an older people’s social club. The RSL? Tim and I rolled in. A hubbub of talking around tables. It seemed impossible, for a while, to get peoples’ attention to ask them if just perhaps there might be some who would like to come and work with us. Do dance, make dance, perform. It seemed kind of unlikely, to be honest.
I jumped on a table. That worked. People looked up. I bet I talked fast and moved my hands around a lot. I bet Tim smiled. Perhaps the smiling did the trick. Something must have.
Because on the appointed day for the first rehearsal of the older peoples’ dance group, we waited nervously. Not letting ourselves expect too much. But right on time, and in fine fettle, there came more than a dozen women, nervous too, but ready to go. And they made a fine time of our rehearsals, dancing, making dance, remembering dancing, and often enough singing too. It was an uncanny thing sometimes, how a thread of thought would seem to catch in the room and they would all start to sing, a song from the old days. They sang Apple Blossom Time in the performance as they danced. And there was always a lot of laughing. That is what I remember. With them, dancing, singing and laughing went really well together.
Then many years later, back in Darwin, watching a big parade in the city centre. Marching band, floats, the full regalia and then – hey its the Grey Panthers – hanging on to bikie fellas on Harleys. Waving to the crowd. Laughing.
I take my hat off to you, Panthers." Beth Shelton
“I am past the days of having stars in my eyes, but it has put a glimmer in them.” Glad Morris
“This makes me feel that although we are old we are not past it.” Pat Townsend