Dance as Medicine - by Joe Williams

Image credit: Jodie Choolburra, supplied by Joe Williams

Image credit: Jodie Choolburra, supplied by Joe Williams

It has been widely documented that I struggle with many personal and mental demons; these demons led me to an attempt on my life by way of Suicide in 2012; thankfully, I am lucky enough to be alive, to share my story of hope & survival with a larger audience both nationally and internationally.

In my travels and many speaking engagements, largely documented over social media, various people across the country see the positive work I contribute in many First Nation and Non-Indigenous communities. I travel across the country implementing wellness programs in community in hope to reduce the Suicide rates. Many who know my background with severe mental illness & suicidal ideation, ask what the secret to my personal healing is, and the work I do in community, and healing the mental hurt.

In a word, it’s Culture.

The biggest healer for me since my attempted suicide has been the reconnection to culture; the many aspects of culture but in particular, dance.

This is why at the National Indigenous Dance Forum; I pitched the idea to have an open discussion on the topic ‘Culture & Dance as Medicine’

I have never been a dancer for performance, but once I connected to traditional dancing; it gave me a much deeper connection & healing. For me, when dancing, covered in ochre, that ochre, the blood and bones of our old people; the ancestors who paved a way for the very footsteps we take today.

When dancing the story of our animal ancestors, we feel a spiritual connect that takes us to the very creation of our existence.

This is healing.

Pre colonisation in 1788, our wellbeing was of positive nature, we were living in harmony and there were no suicides; this speaks volumes - what our old people were doing, was keeping us alive and well, and what they were doing, was working. On the opposing end of the scale, with the negativity, hurt & trauma in today’s society & our suicide rates the highest on the planet, what we were doing now, clearly isn’t having positive impact.

The answer to this healing is through traditional culture & dance. When we dance, not only are we spiritually connected, but when we are physically connected, it is scientifically proven the earth has natural healing energies that transform directly into the body with bare contact.

Also when we dance, we have what is now called mindfulness; concentrating on the immediate task; what move we make allowing us to be in the present moment. This is what our old people have been doing since the beginning of time.

Recent evidence of this was the coming together and execution of the recent Redfern Corroboree.

Concerned local mothers came to me worried about the behaviours of young people in the community in fear of them heading down a negative path of alcohol, drugs & trouble.

They noticed the positive work I, and many of the cultural men I connect with do across the country and wanted to see if I’d be interested in having a word or organising some wellbeing workshops; I knew what the community needed, it was healing though the medicine of culture.

Through cultural group I am connected with, we rallied 100+ culturally strong men from right across NSW & QLD, gathered in the heart of Redfern, stomped Mother Earth, called on the old people & woke the spirit that had been laying dormant for some 200+ years.

Local inspiring leader uncle Shane Phillips, described the experience ‘something he’d never experienced before’.

The atmosphere was electric, the yearning was strong - culture was alive.

Leader and activist Aunty Jenny Munro pulled me aside with a kiss on the cheek and said - ‘nephew our old people have been doing this for thousands of years, this is how we heal’.

She is right, it is culture that will provide the very healing we have been craving for so many years; healing is in the one thing we have been practicing for thousands of years; the healing is through culture & dance.

A month past since the Corroboree, I have been still receiving phone calls and texts asking for the next one and how incredibly strong and proud it has made the many individuals who witnessed, they could feel the old people.

The proof is in the action;

When we need healing, we need to connect; sink our feet into the dirt, our Mother Earth, wear our ochre; the blood and bones of our old people - connect to 65,000 years of modern science dated history; but we know it’s much more than that.

- JW


Joe Williams - The Enemy Within

Founder & International Speaker



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