Carole Y. Johnson

Founding Member

Founder of NAISDA Dance College and Bangarra Dance Theatre, Carole has made a remarkable contribution to dance development in Australia and for world dance. She formulated the vision for the growth of modern Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance in Australia’s urban culture and has inspired her students to carry their dance through to a remarkable level of achievement.



Carole Y. Johnson has had a truly unique career achieving significant ground-breaking work in the fields of dance education, choreography, institution building and social change.

Carole pursued her dream of ballet from early elementary school. After graduating from Philadelphia High School for Girls, Carole went to New York to pursue a career in dance, completing her studies at The Juilliard School of Performing Arts in 1963. The realities of being a black ballerina in the United States in the 1960s drove Carole towards modern dance and cultural/political activism, where she revealed a talent for innovation and organisation.

She became a member of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company and at the same time began pioneering work as an arts administrator and organiser in the United States. She was a founding member of the Association of Black Choreographers (ABC); established New York City’s Dancemobile; was founder and editor of the dance theatre magazine Feet, the first news publication devoted primarily to dance of and by African American peoples; was the Affiliate Artist for the City of New York in 1970; received the New York State Council for the Arts Fellowship to study dance in Africa; was president of Modern Organization for Dance Evolvement (MODE) which organised and sponsored the First National Congress of Blacks in Dance in cooperation with the Black Music Center, Indiana University Bloomington in 1973. More than 400 Dancers as well as black dance icons from throughout the United States attended and participated in this momentous event. In addition Ms. Johnson served as a consultant for the New York State Council for the Arts.

Carole went to Australia in 1972 as a Principal Dancer with the Eleo Pomare Dance Company arriving at a time of political ferment. Issues of self-determination, land rights and disparities in health, economics and education were being hotly debated. Carole began the first modern dance workshop with Indigenous Australians. About eight weeks later she marched and helped the workshop members present a dance of protest at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy Demonstration in Canberra.

Her vision was carried forth through building the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association’s school, known as NAISDA Dance College. To provide employment possibilities, Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre (AIDT) was also established. This semi-professional company finally evolved into Bangarra Dance Theatre: an independently incorporated professional company she founded in 1989.

Before leaving Australia, members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community asked her to return to develop a program in dance for young people. Jointly they understood dance not as mere entertainment, but as a focal point for engaging and mobilising youth to get in touch with their cultural roots. As an arts administrator, she knew how to write the proposals for funding, develop curricula, make presentations to corporate and government entities for the financial means and marshal community support in time, talent and treasure as well as teach and choreograph.

Now involved in documenting these years, Ms. Johnson is assuring that text and other resources are created for the next generation of Australian Dancers and that a truly international perspective of Australian Indigenous dance development will be made known. In addition to pursuing a PhD at Newcastle University, she has been expanding the possibilities of cultural exchanges through developing relationships that have enabled NAISDA Alumni to attend conferences, teach and perform in the United States.



  • 2003
    Centenary Medal 'For service to Australian society through dance and the Indigenous community' - Australian Government
  • 1999
    Induction into the Hall of Fame - Australian Dance Awards