Aboriginal dancers shoot to internet fame with 'Zorba'

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The Independent Online

A quirky dance routine to the music of Zorba the Greek has earned a group of young Aborigines worldwide fame on the internet as well as invitations to perform around Australia, and also to visit Greece

The father of one member of the troupe, who live on remote Elcho Island off Australia's northern coast, posted a clip of their engaging and comical performance on YouTube two months ago. As of this week, it had been viewed nearly 500,000 times. Half of the dozen dancers, aged between 12 and 23 for whom English is their second or third language, have never been further from home than Darwin; the other half had not even been to Darwin until recently.

Now the Chooky Dancers are preparing to travel to Melbourne in February for a televised talent competition, then on to a festival in Canberra. In March, they will tour Queensland.

Their act, which melds Aboriginal dance with music from the classic Sixties film, has reportedly won accolades from, among others, the legendary Zorba composer, Mikis Theodorakis. The young men and boys from the Yolngu clan who perform in bare feet, loincloths and ceremonial body paint -- have been invited to Greece, where the video clip has caused such a storm that one cafe owner on the island of Kastelorizo screened it in the village square.

The recording was made at a music festival in Ramingining in Arnhem Land, a traditional tribal area in the Northern Territory. Lionel Djirrimbilpiluwy, the 21-year-old troupe leader, who came up with the Zorba idea, said: "It's fantastic the world wants to see us dance. Who would think a white-fella audience would react like that? It's incredible."

Mr Djirrimbilpiluwy's father, Frank, a well-known singer who manages the Chooky Dancers, was responsible for bringing them to international attention. "We still can't believe it," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I posted video of the dance on YouTube for a bit of fun, and it just took off."

He described the dancers' performance as "more up-tempo than the original Zorba the Greek". He said the troupe also promoted healthy living. "Perform, be active, no smoking, no grog, no ganja, drink plenty of water, keep fit."

The dancers hope they will be seen as role models on Elcho Island, which suffers from many of the social problems that blight Aboriginal communities.

They are now working on other cross-cultural dance and musical themes, including Spanish and Bollywood.