Dancing in Fetters – national tour


Dancing in fetters: the culture of convict dance

National tour 2021-2024

In convict related sites:

Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, Norfolk Island, and Western Australia


Discover a completely different aspect of convict life.

When we think of convicts, we don’t tend to think of music and dance, but dance was an integral part of everyday life and one of the most popular forms of recreation in the early colony. Convicts danced to escape the drudgery and harshness of their existence. It provided social cohesion, a sense of belonging and cultural identity in a strange new land.

Dancing was a prime pastime for the underclasses in 18th and 19th century Britain and Ireland where the majority of convicts originated.  Once convicted, prisoners danced in prisons and on the hulks while they awaited transportation – some danced to the music of their jangling chains.

A number of enlightened surgeons encouraged convicts to dance on the long voyage to the colony, knowing it was good for their health and “tranquility of mind”.  In the colony dancing remained a popular pursuit – even if it was sometimes associated with illegal activities!

National tour  2021 to 2024.

The exhibition Dancing in fetters: the culture of convict dance was developed by Moreton Bay Regional Council in partnership with dance historian, Heather Blasdale Clarke, and is based on doctoral research undertaken at QUT.  Commencing in late 2021 the exhibition will go on tour to seven museums with convict connections across Australia.

The tour will include public programming with concerts and workshops, an education pack, and interactive videos.

Click here for Tour News                             Click here for Tour Dates

Click here for the Education Pack

Curator: Heather Blasdale Clarke           Tour organiser: Joan Kelly

Email: DancinginFetters@gmail.com

This project has been funded by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia programme.

Auspiced by the Abbey MuseumSupported by Bush Traditions


Header credit: Lowest life in London. Tom, Jerry, and Logic among the unsophisticated sons and daughters of Nature at ‘All Max’ in the East. Illustration by George Cruikshank (1792 – 1878). ©Trustees of the British Museum

Acknowledgement of Country.

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Country on which we live and work, and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the impact colonialism has had on Aboriginal Country and Aboriginal peoples and that this impact continues to be felt today.


The information on this website www.historicaldance.au may be copied for personal use only, and must be acknowledged as from this website. It may not be reproduced for publication without prior permission from Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke.

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