Darwin choreographer Gary Lang celebrates 20 years teaching dance in the Northern Territory
After decades of performing as a dancer on stages around the world, Gary Lang’s body has caught up.
At 60, the choreographer limps around his downtown Darwin rehearsal room where he teaches his craft every week.
“The dancing body is broken but it’s not,” Lang said, pointing his head.
“I have my dance scars, but it’s still creation.”
For 20 years, the artistic director of the NT Dance Company has staged his stories of life on the Australian border.
“I create dance out of dancers and non-dancers, and make them beautiful,” he said.
“It’s like getting out of it, bit by bit – sometimes it’s a bit of a shock for them, but it’s about trust.”
Mr Lang has traveled the world as a dancer and has taught in some of Australia’s top dance companies including the Bangarra Dance Theater in the 1990s.
When he turned 40, his family responsibilities took him back to his hometown of Darwin.
He said now was the time to “rest his soul” and start his own business.
“When I came back to Darwin, I felt like I had stepped back and was where I needed to be,” he said.
But starting a dance production company from scratch hasn’t been easy.
Only now, after two decades in the business, is Mr. Lang earning a decent salary.
It’s a love story that paid off.
Using local dancers, his company has been involved in several major collaborations, including the 2018 production “Milky Way” with the West Australian Ballet.
Mr. Lang credits the world as he traveled credit for shaping his art and said his inspiration as a choreographer came from his backyard.
“It really helps me with my art of choreographing, of creating.”
Shaped by strong women and a seaside childhood
Mr Lang was raised by his mother Inez in the Darwin seaside suburb of Nightcliff in the 1960s, with his grandparents living around the corner.
As an only child, he remembers the “smells of the area” when he was a child.
It was a mixture of sea air, frangipani flowers and the aroma of his grandfather’s blachan that floated down Aralia Street.
“You could smell it on the street and people would come and say ‘Dalph, Dalph, are you cooking blachan, can we have some?’ said Mr. Lang.
His late mother was his greatest role model.
Mr. Lang remembers dancing around the kitchen table with her as a child listening to Nat King Cole, and the day she said a harsh word to him when he finished school.
“After high school, my mom was like ‘you need a job Gary,'” he said.
“I wasn’t going to be a laborer, like doing plumbing or carpentry, that kind of stuff, look at me, so I ended up doing hairdressing.”
After completing his hairdressing apprenticeship, Mr Lang felt a ‘greater force’ telling him to leave Darwin and start dancing down south.
He booked a one-way ticket to study dance at NAISDA [dance college] in Sydney and spent two decades performing around the world, relying on his hairdressing skills between productions to get by.
Mr Lang said he had faced many ups and downs as a dancer and credited his mother for showing him how to be resilient.
Inez was a survivor of domestic abuse, something Mr Lang said she “never showed” and did everything she could to make him happy growing up.
“I saw my mother go through hell and back,” he said.
“Looking at the resilience of this woman, from a broken marriage, how she kept it all together…that’s what keeps me going.”
‘Twinkle toes’ in a small town of football fans
Mr. Lang’s family, on his mother’s side, descended from the large Cubillo family of Darwin – a Territory surname synonymous with sport and athletics.
As a teenager, Mr Lang enjoyed going to Gardens Oval to watch his cousins play in the AFL.
But he said the rostrum became harder to bear when he came out as a gay man in the early 1980s.
“I used to go to football with my cousins and go and sit in the stands and I would be called ‘faggot’ and ‘poofter’,” Mr Lang said.
“I look up and there’s all these people laughing at me and I think ‘it’s okay, measure for measure, what you do to me will come back to you’.”
Mr. Lang’s experience of going out in a small town is still raw, but he said it made him stronger.
“It’s one of the hardest things, being a gay man growing up in Darwin, especially because I come from a sporting family and shine on the world stage,” he said.
Being back in Darwin to help the next generation of dancers grow and flourish is now his greatest motivation.
For his dancers, he’s honest about the industry and what to expect, and leverages his own experiences growing up to make them stronger.
“My advice to anyone is don’t stop and don’t give up,” Lang said.
“Once you know who you are and have the support as a soul, you just grow…you’ll have people pulling you down, but you just have to keep going.”
This story is part of a Born and Bred special series, celebrating the work of remarkable Territorians.