The performance of the 101 Doll Squadron prior to the official commissioning of Navy ship HMAS Supply was intended to reflect a ‘modern celebration’ of the vessel, with focused cultural references to blessing and geography.
The Mandarin has obtained a statement from a Sydney-based dance troupe at the centre of a public pillorying over their performance as part of a day celebrating the commissioning of the HMAS Supply.
The 101 Doll Squadron, a dancehall-style troupe comprised of community members from Woolloomooloo in Sydney, have described the public scrutiny of their Saturday performance as hurtful and ‘virulent’. The team of dancers say they are shocked about the public attack and media harassment, which they feel is the result of the dance being portrayed out of context. It has led to the troupe closing their social media accounts out of fear.
“While Uyghurs are being imprisoned for their beliefs in China, and women are treated as second-class citizens on a large portion of our planet, it’s disheartening to see the media is focusing on important news like attacking women and our dance piece,” the 101 Doll Squadron said.
“We perform regularly at festivals, cultural, and community events, including The Woolloomoolivin’ Festival and NAIDOC locally. We’re very popular with all age audiences attending and have never been the target of abuse or complaints.”
NEW: The Royal Australian Navy commissioned HMAS Supply in Sydney today, and uh….. organised this dance to celebrate pic.twitter.com/OvCYlhhGZG
— Alex Bruce-Smith (@alexbrucesmith) April 10, 2021
The group said their brief choreographed performance with seven dancers, before the Navy’s official ceremony of proceedings or any dignitaries had been received, was deliberately taken out of context. They added that key elements of the dance drew on culturally significant symbols to represent a ‘blessing’.
“With Indigenous and multi-racial members from a community based dance group, the dance itself was made up of choreographic and musical elements that included referencing blessings, the waves of the ocean and our geographical location of where the fresh water meets the sea, to name a few.
“It was meant to bring an informal sense of celebration; a gift from one of our community groups to open a modern ship, with a modern dance form,” the troupe said.
Media coverage of the dance performance has reached fever-pitch in Australia with morning talk-shows like Today broadcasting their presenters attempting to twerk in the same style of the 101 Doll Squadron. Politicians have also chimed-in, with Senator Jacqui Lambie questioning the appropriateness of the choice of entertainment; and prompting assistant defence minister Andrew Hastie to remind troops that “the core business” of the ADF was “the application of lethal violence”.
A statement from a defence spokesperson said the department would not be commenting further beyond acknowledging that HMAS Supply had been engaging with the local community of one of her home ports (Woolloomooloo) to ‘build positive relationships’. Defence also underscored that the performance did not occur in the presence of the governor general or chief of navy.
“HMAS Supply and the Royal Australian Navy are committed to working with Australians from all backgrounds in actively supporting local charities and community groups,” the spokesperson said.
“The dance was performed prior to the commencement of the commissioning formalities and prior to the arrival of His Excellency the Governor General, Chief of Navy and Commander Australian Fleet.”
The 101 Doll Squadron defended their participation in the weekend’s Naval day, noting that it was part of a longer-term partnership with the Navy and they had attended other similar community-focused events for ‘pathway opportunities and ongoing programs’. The dancers added that their recent performance at a Navy-supported community BBQ and basketball tournament between HMAS Supply crew and local youths had been well received.
“This was very successful with community members looking forward to, and eagerly awaiting the next one,” the dancers said.
“Members on the ship and their Captain are lovely genuine people whom we also believe have been unfairly targeted. We feel for them as they were trying to reach out to the community and had nothing but good intentions. A community which is part of their base.”
The dancers also took aim at the ABC and its selective editing, saying they were ‘disappointed’ that footage had been cut to suggest official guests and dignitaries were audience to their performance. Doing so, they claimed, sexualised the dancers for the gratification of others, and in a way that the dance would not have been portrayed if shown in the right context.
“We found this very creepy and reflects more on the ABC’s camera operator and their need to sexualise these women and their dance piece for their own gratification. These are the images appearing in the media and the ABC have a lot to answer for in making us feel threatened and exploited.”
The group said they also wanted to stress their performance did not intend any disrespect.
“It was in no way meant to be disrespectful and we are hurt and disappointed it has been misconstrued to appear that way,” the group says.
The Mandarin has approached the ABC for comment. Further questions have also been put to Defence but at the time of filing no response was received.