Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Human Rights Charter in Melbourne & Dancing

There's a new Human Rights Charter in town as of today 1 January 2008, for the state of Victoria (Australia), Melbourne is the capital city.

The Human Rights Charter covers things which have generally been protected by laws for some time now.

"A Lawyers Picnic" it has been called, by none less than a lawyer PETER FARIS QC in today's Herald Sun newspaper. Peter is co-author of the book Human Rights Charters in Australia, soon to be published.

To give you an idea of the bias:

  • 9 pages of the charter outline in broad terms the Human Rights
  • 27 pages outline how lawyers and government bureaucrats deal with it.

Dancing the Melbourne Shuffle is not specifically mentioned in the Freedom Of Expression section - I doubt the Government even knows what the Melbourne Shuffle is, probably thinking it refers to a special way of shuffling cards at their much loved casino's :)

  • NB This last statement, made in jest, is now protected under the new Human Rights Charter I believe ;) Freedom Of Expression - (1) Every person has the right to hold an opinion without interference.

The Charter does mention specifically other traditional expression methods -(a) orally; or (b) in writing; or (c) in print; or (d) by way of art; or (e) in another medium chosen by him or her. but not Dance.

Evidently Dance is not worthy of a mention.

Which is curious seeing dance is an equally traditional method of expression in all world cultures, going back to caveman days and/or pre human deities, depending on your belief system.

Dance may be protected, but it will now take a court case to prove it is. The '(e) in another medium chosen by him or her' line could be argued to include dance, but until a court decision resolves that issue after being tested in court, it's ambiguous. Unlike 'in print' or 'in writing', with those simple words it's legally clear.

Saying 'in dance' would have also made it legally clear. But now dance is open to legal challenge as a protected Freedom Of Expression.

The 'expressions' list, short as it is, sounds like things off the top of a boring bureaucrats head. No real thought has been put into it, it's just padding to make the list look like someone's actually done some work on it. A could-not-careless about Freedom Of Expression approach. And clearly not a bureaucrat or Government who  cares about dance.

Since the Age of Reason about 500 years ago, dance in western cultures has basically been removed from the authority spectra, which strongly favours the spoken and written word. It's done the same with visual art too. Placed them in the leisure pursuit category, not to be taken seriously.

Words and Text however - no matter how stupid or obscure, considered 'the final word' as 'the voice of authority'. 

Even demanding to be mentioned twice - in writing and in print, in the human rights charter. Word is supreme. Dance is nowhere to be seen. Grrrr 

Although, could you imagine the 'Dance of Authority' instead of the 'Voice of Authority' ? Well yes, but it's not a pleasant image since Boris Yeltsin did his thang a few years back. :)

I must say with a video remix and better sound track, his dancing has improved remarkably ;)

Boris Yeltsin Dancing to Peanut Butter Jelly Time (LOUD!!!)


But of course most of Melbourne's politicians kids have heard of the Melbourne Shuffle, and probably shuffle around home. The parents no doubt dismissing it as 'Just that silly little thing he/she does these days' or 'That thing they're always watching on Youtube'

The last Politician I can recall professing a love of dance was former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, who loves Spanish dancing, in particular Flamingo. He discovered early that he had no real ability, and to his dance teacher's relief - his words, decided he'd dance in private and be content watching others do it.

I was treasurer of Dancehouse in Melbourne in the mid 1990's when Jeff was state Premier. We were an independent dance community featuring avant guarde, progressive, and exploratory contemporary dance with a heavy element of researching new dance. Pretty much a hardcore specialist thing. 

Jeff gave Dancehouse nearly $500,000 in funding to replace our aging dancefloor! As a dancer he knew the paramount importance and delirious joy of a good dancefloor, as all dancers do.  

We were surprised he'd even heard of us. And even more surprised seeing he was from the opposite side of politics to the mainly leftish Dancehouse. We'd often get $5000 here and there in funding, mainly for productions. We had four dance seasons a year. Usually 6-8 new works in a short season of a month or so. Everyone was pretty much voluntary with a passion for new dance. I filmed 100's of hours of performances and worked as video artist with neo-butoh dance company Mixed Company, and Company In Space who used a variety of online avatars and live performance technologies in their productions. (I'll post some clips down the track.) 

Dancehouse was (and still is) in an old temperance (anti-alcohol) dance hall from the early 1900's. They'd have dance parties there, and wouldn't serve alcohol, only tea, coffee, fruit punch etc.

A bit like this local suburban hall, but smaller.

It had a 'sprung floor'. Literally a large hall, with a really smooth polished wooden floor, that sat on huge metal springs, to give you a bit of bounce when you dance. Fun Huh? Sure beats a carpark surface ;)

So out of the blue Jeff says ' Yeah great idea, restore the dance floor, here's the money'. And yes, he was one of the first to come and try it out - privately and away from media camera's :) And a not too shabby effort, according to witnesses.

I can't help but wonder that, had this Human Rights charter been introduced by a Premier who is a dance lover, dance would have been mentioned.

A small thing in the larger scale of Human Rights, but Expression is a major part of being human, it is a major part of human life. Surely Dance is worthy of a mention to ensure that everyone knows, dance is important and deserves protection...perhaps, but not today, according to Melbourne's current State Government.

My understanding with the dance ban in New York is that Social Dancing is not covered by the American Human Rights, but 'Art Dancing' is. Art dancing such as Broadway musicals, ballet, formal cultural dance performances, and the sort of thing we'd do at Dancehouse.

The everyday person strutting their stuff, is by the New York Human Rights definition - NOT ART, and not protected. Sorry guys and gals, but that's the Law in New York as decided by a panel of 5 judges. 

In Australia it's pretty simple what ART is, the taxation office has sorted it for us, where legions of academics and critics have disagreed for millennia. Do you want to be taxed as an artist or not? :) Basically "Yeah sure, we'll call you an artist, now pay us the tax..."

"public order, public health"  are the key words in the Freedom Of Expression exceptions section that would be the legal basis to ban dancing the Melbourne Shuffle in Melbourne.

These are the same basis-in-law arguments that are used in New York and used by Tim Sabre of Raw Entertainment  to ban the Melbourne Shuffle.

I agree with the human rights charter, it's a good thing, but it can be better. Too many broad statements to exploit for those who want to. A work in progress, I could hear the Government saying in it's defence, something to be worked out over time as interpretations are debated.  The sort of interpretation you debate in an expensive court case, to quote Peter Faris QC 

"As soon as lawyers understand the charter there will be an explosion of litigation.

From a professional point of view, as a practising lawyer I can see an almost unlimited number of ways in which the charter can be used. Inevitably this means more money for lawyers.

And who pays?

You do, of course."



Excerpt from the new Human Rights Charter, Justice department, Victorian Government site



15 Freedom of expression

s. 15

(1) Every person has the right to hold an opinion without interference.

(2) Every person has the right to freedom of expression which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, whether within or outside Victoria and whether—

(a) orally; or

(b) in writing; or

(c) in print; or

(d) by way of art; or

(e) in another medium chosen by him or her.

(3) Special duties and responsibilities are attached to the right of freedom of expression and the right may be subject to lawful restrictions reasonably necessary—

(a) to respect the rights and reputation of other persons; or

(b) for the protection of national security, public order, public health or public morality.


Yep that's it, barely 1 page. Your legal Freedoms Of Expression. The laws that govern the entire means of human expression of a city of 5 million that speaks over 180 languages every day. Pitiful isn't it ? And we paid good money for it !!! ;)

Ah yes the Politics Of Dancing. And as usual after thinking about such matters I hum along and drift away to Reflex (It seems to help) “The Politics Of Dancing. The Politics of Feeling Good, The Politics of Moving, is this message understood?"

The Politics Of Dancing - Reflex (1983)

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