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Aboriginal Dances and Tributes In The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

Updated on April 25, 2012
President George W. Bush at a performance of Aboriginal song and dance 9/6/2007 at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney. The performer to the right is playing a traditional diggeridoo.
President George W. Bush at a performance of Aboriginal song and dance 9/6/2007 at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney. The performer to the right is playing a traditional diggeridoo.
(Photos this page are public domain, unless otherwise credited.)

A Tribute Gone Awry

European Figure Skating Championships, January 2010

Ice dancing gold medalists Dominia and Shabakin report that they wanted to pay a tribute to Australian Aboriginal cultures by deriving an ice dance routine and costuming from their Internet research. They eventually won the gold medal of the ice competitions, but the media blasted the pair for having supposedly angered actual Aboriginal peoples.

However, one Aboriginal descendant found it humorous. It seems the experts in the research are the ones angered more severely than the Aboriginals. This is likely true, since researchers place a large investment of time and effort into their findings and are dismayed by such gaffs as the Russians made. The Aboriginals may just laugh and shake their heads. However, the act was not malicious, but the ice dancing pair needs better guidance in their cultural competence.

After watching the clip below, I found the first 20 seconds shocking and wondered if the skaters had been watching jungle movies from the 1920s with their inauthentic portrayals of Africans.

Maxim Shabalin in costume in films and photos resembles an Iroquois brave and Oksana Domnina looks to be wearing a backless bikini top and short shorts; both seem festooned with Christmas decorations. Apparently, inadequate research led to inappropriate costuming. By the end of the skating competitions, the costuming had been streamlined, but remained untrue to the Aboriginal Peoples it was to represent.

European Skating Championships Gold Medalists 2010

Opinions of the Performance

The first 20 seconds of the reoutine are straight out of the 1920s and 1930s club performances of Blacks before white audiences. It smacks of the old minstrel show and discrimination new and old. For evidence, you might be able to find the rare photos of the actress and singer Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's® Uhuru) dancing on stage in a grass skirt and a banana necklace in the 1940s.

Domnina and Shabalin were picked as favorites for Gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver before the European competition. Though they won the Gold in the European event, some Australians – Caucasian and Aboriginal - were insulted. They see no resemblence to Aboriginal culture, but rather an attempt to exploit it for medlas and cash prizes. The routine seems to resemble a parody or cartoon but does not go so far as a Saturday Night Live skit that would included infamous cheerleaders Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri or Darrell Hammond and Kirstin Wiig.

Of the many Aboriginal groups in Australia, the Bangarra spoke out most loudly -- Mr. Stephen Page is the artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Company, a much-respected dance troupe and artistic community. Various press reports concluded that Mr. Page feels the Aboriginal tribute contained no traditional movements, imagery, or music. This points to one more misinterpretation of Aboriginal people and culture, perhaps not quite as low-wrought as the totally fictional book Mutant Message Down Under, exposed as an advertisement for a tea-tree oil sales scheme (see link to the right).

The Original Ice Dance requirement was to write and perform a number honoring a specific culture or folk tradition and stict authenticity was not required. Some authenticity would be appreciated.

The American duo Belbin and Agosto did a Moldavian folk dance for the Silver at the European event in Estonia. Americans Davis and Davis won the Grand Prix Final in their Asian-Indian derivative dance. There were no complaints about either these numbers or of that done by the Italian couple that won Bronze in Estonia for an Italian folk dance.

Traditional Russian or former-USSR member nations' dances on ice would have been spectacular. As it was, the Russians' costumes also resembled Ukrainian “gingerbread” decoration, delightful on Ukrainian national attire and Easter eggs (pysanki/pysanky, et.), but not on an Aboriginal person. Perhaps this is the mistake – Aboriginals with a Ukrainian flavor.

Nambassa 1981 Arnhemland and Torrest Strait Dance Company

Traditional Fire Ceremonial Dance

Aboriginal and child in 2008.
Aboriginal and child in 2008.

2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney

The memorable Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, shown in part below, featured Aboriginal performances that made an appropriate and engaging presentation to worldwide veiwers. Many tributes were paid to Aboriginal Peoples throughout the Summer Games.

The Aboriginal-or-not tribute performance of Domnina and Shabalin tends to mar the memory of the historic 2000 Summer Olympics, as well as the traditions of Indigenous Peoples globally. An actual recent picture (to the right) of an Aboriginal man and child in 2008, is a better indicator of the general appearance of Australian Aboriginals in natural surroundings.

2000 Sydney Olympics Dance

DreamTime and Fire - 2000

Aboriginal Cultural and Appearance

Tradition and Tribute

Bangarra Dance Theatre opened in 1989 to honor and celebrate Australia’s Aboriginals. Mr. Page has served as artistic director since 1991 and is a recognized authority. The company's dances, costumes, hairstyles, and makeup are all authentically true to Aboriginal designs. Domina and Shabalin and their handlers can not have viewed Bangarra's website examples. Mr. Page sees to it that the company adheres to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island traditions and stories with some modern influences to connect Dreamtime from the past to the future. Bangarra Dance Theatre headquarters itself in Sydney' art district at The Wharf, Walsh Bay, on Sydney Harbour. The Wharf itself is a national historic site in Australia that dates to the early 1800's. Everything about Bangarra suggests tradition and authenticity. The artistic director has poured himself into it as an investment into maintaining authenticity and is insulted by commercial knockoffs.

Traditional Australian War Dance and Maori Haka

Furture Performances

No doubt, the "Aboritional tribute ice dance" will show up in parody Saturday Night Live and many other comedy and comedy-news programs and will possibly become a cult phenomenon. It may be depicted in Halloween costumes and classroom skits. It may lead to PhD dissertations on Authenticity and Cultural Competency. It might provinde a long-running become a Saturday morning cartoon show.

The possibilities bring comic images to mind: a Russian ballerina dancing a French ballet with a giant Eiffel Tower embroidered on her back and buttocks – a bit gauche and cloying, as well as oddly comic; parody Aboriginal bobbleheads; Hiawatha and Pocahontas doing The Twist...


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    • AgesMGMT profile image


      9 years ago from New York

      i never really understood why they had the aboriginal dance's in Vancouver.. these look like Australia's aboriginals.

    • profile image

      mark cumayas 

      9 years ago

      whoa..!!!!so nice

    • britneydavidson profile image


      10 years ago from united kingdom

      Thank you. I'm sure all of us interested in reading your page. i will for sure.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thank you, Marisa and Brinn!

      I continued to be disgusted - the Russian skaters bad-mouthed the superb Gold Medal performance of Canadians Virtue and Moir. The Russians used ropes on their costumes for hand-holds, doing just anything they can get away with and thumbing noses at the public as they belittle Indigenous Peoples. What prejudice! They are also shaming the whole nation of Russia, whose people deserve better representation.

      Dominia and Shabakin are TROLLS on ice, are they not?

    • profile image

      Brinn - AUS 

      10 years ago

      Glad that someone has put some thought into informing other people about Australian Aboriginal culture. Its saddening the reactions to the reports of offence taken by Australian Aboriginal leaders. It is totally justified, as a non aboriginal australian I am offended by this routine, it is horrible and simply not researched, offers were made by Aboriginal leaders to welcome and teach these Russians their ways and culture... what did they do? change a few colours in their uniform, pathetic. They should be ashamed, and anyone who things otherwise should be ashamed of their small mindedness.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      10 years ago from Sydney

      I finally saw this dance at the Vancouver Olympics and was horrified. Like you, I immediately thought of the worst examples of "native" dancing from old Hollywood movies. The monkey-like movements were insulting to any indigenous culture.

      I agree that they owe an apology not just to Australian Aborigines but to all indigenous people because they basically made fun of all types of indigenous dance.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hummingbird5356 - Thanks! I also like both; glad you do, too.

      kj8 - This is a large-scale tragedy of members of one culture insulting another whole people. I think the skaters should be made to apologize publically to the Aboriginals and the global populations of all Indigenous Peoples. I remember that some whites used to sing and dance in black-face because in US because they thought they were honoring Arfrican Ameicans and it was usually still insulting, but Oliver Hardy was one of these and his singing voice was beautiful and he didn't act foolish-- but many paraded around in the makeup like idiots on stage in order to insult Afican Americans publically, and this was extremely cruel. The Russians' second performance seems more like that cruelty to me. I'm sorry they've insulted the Aboriginals; my heart is breaking over it.

    • kj8 profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      I can't believe they went through with it, they changed the costumes a little, but the whole thing is an insult. There are rules in Indigenous culture that should be respected, I don't see anyone parading around the ice in burkahs, I am disgusted. Having lived in Australia all my life and spent much of my life in remote Indigenous communities I am appalled and so are my Indigenous friends.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image


      10 years ago

      An informative hub. I did like the Maori Haka and the Aboriginal war cry.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation


      UPDATE, 2010 Olymics ice dance creative number 02/21/10:

      "Aboriginal leaders: Russian ice dancers' routine still offensive...By Maggie Hendricks" --

      'After seeing the dance Sunday night, an Aboriginal dancer wrote in Australia's Herald Sun newspaper:

      The dance is certainly unlike anything I've seen, and other than a few complex lifts, the performance didn't really entertain me. It looked wrong on so many levels. ... When creating a dance or theatre work, even as contemporary indigenous dancers, it is a part of our practice to follow cultural protocols and consult with traditional elders who understand the meaning behind the movement. It is respect for our traditional cultural laws, language groups and elders for this information to be passed on correctly.

      An Aboriginal leader agreed, telling The Australian newspaper:

      "I am offended by the performance and so are our other councillors," Bev Manton, the chairwoman of the [New South Wales] Land Council said.

      "Aboriginal people for very good reason are sensitive about their cultural objects and icons being co-opted by non-Aboriginal people – whether they are from Australia or Russia.

      "It's important for people to tread carefully and respectfully when they are depicting somebody else's culture, and I don't think this performance does."


      I am disgusted, myself, that they changed their costumes a little and then proceeded to make fun of Aboriginals. Would that lightning would have stuck from above, but this couple is simply not that important - gauche, tacky, insulting, forgettable; and not enough time to write another number.'

      Link with a video embedded, while it's all still avaiable:

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Hi Rochelle - I agree they were misguided and may even still think they were in the right. Using a few Internet reources - and not recently-updated cultural sites, surely - didn't give them full info and the design is broad charicature at best, imo. I kind of felt that about some of the materials used in a few of the First Nations' presentations in the Opening Ceremonies - 3 or 4 looked like tinsel-studded polyester, but probably some long-preserved ceremonial skins and woven fabrics were locked in a vault and something flashier was needed in order to be seen by the back row. Nothing as gauche as those skating costumes, though. Thanks for commenting!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      I had not seen that. What an embarrassing disaster, and they were so pleased with themselves. I think they got very bad advice from someone.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for typo catch. I watched the Compulsory Dance for this couple in 2010 Olympics and was favorably impressed. Execution was pleasing - easier to see without all the cartoony appendages, imo. I really liked her red two-piece suit that opened like a ball gown in the back to reveal extended neckline jewelwork. Plus, the hemline of her shirt was the same height as the bottom of his suit coat for most of the performance and this was good visual balance. I hope I don't see psuedo-Aboriginal costumes in the future and have not yet heard what the First Nations groups have said to the couple.

    • kj8 profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      Interesting hub, you need to correct your mistake about the Sydney Olympics which was held in 2000 not 2008. Personally I think any comic future performances of this would be a disgrace and disrespectful of Indigenous Australians.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thank you Peter, I'm sure all of us interested in Aboriginals will read your page. I will for sure.

    • profile image

      Peter Terry 

      10 years ago

      The problems in a country where its indigenous peoples are simply not loved by the majority and are consistently manipulated by patronising politicians, which has led to the social and spiritual collapse of their culture, white folks often acting like vulture capitalist feel they can exploit the blacks without impunity.

      At the Nambassa Festival in New Zealand in 1981, aboriginal performers were treated like superstars and mobbed by adoring fans at any impromptu performances.


    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      They got their shock value. It always amazes me that people do not research more to see if something is insulting or not especially since they know the world is watching.

      I have to admit that I had not listened to much about this. I thank you for the opportunity to listen to an unbiased account of this.

    • Beth100 profile image


      10 years ago from Canada

      I hadn't been aware of this performance. I am shocked at how this could have happened as many people would have been involved in choreographing the piece. In addition, what happened to the research that must have taken place? As a Canadian, I hope that this is not repeated on our home soil. Thank you for opening my eyes to this.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a fascinating hub. I have always been interested in the aboriginal people. It seems they have been hurt so much. Thanks for bringing writing this story.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      What a shame to afflickted another hurt of people who had been hurt and put down enough. When will people learn. Thanks for your very informative hub.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I think they went for "unique" and shock value and won the audience. The controversy may bring more interest in the Olympics. First Nations leaders in BC are waiting for the arrival of ahtletes, because they want to talk to the offending skaters.

    • dusanotes profile image


      10 years ago from Windermere, FL

      My daughter is a ballet dancer-instructor, college trained, a real talent. I saw nothing on the skating that resembled the art that usually goes into championship folk skating. I would agree with the Australians - this was the worst example possible of an ethnic poke in the eye. Don White


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