Yolgnu Matha woman, dancer and actor, Kathy Balngayngu Marika is a mentor to many. Her significant contribution to the arts was recognised when she won the 2011 Deadly Award for Dancer of the Year, but the award touches only on the surface of her achievements throughout her lifetime.
Kathy works with the Bangarra Dance Theatre as its Artist-in-Residence and she played a key role in both cast and production for the play Bloodland.
“I’m a cultural consultant in so many ways – dancing, storytelling, weaving, painting. I come from an artistic family,” says Kathy.
Kathy is a senior woman in the Yirrkala community and from the Rirratjingu clan. She comes from a long line of community advocates, cultural custodians, artists, and political movers and shakers in Arnhem Land. Her father worked with the Arts Council in the 1970s, paving the way for artists representing their traditional stories to become known around the world and, as a result, generating income and employment for communities within Arnhem Land.
“I want to thank the old man for how he stood up for the land rights and urged people to get educated and get jobs to survive in the Western world,” Kathy says.
The land, the stories and the culture drive Kathy, but her biggest love is traditional dance.
“We know where we fit in with the land and how the land fits in with us. We are not divided. We are connected to the land and the land is connected to us. Without our land we would not be here. Old people are very strong in sharing their stories with our young people. I am still learning about my culture,” Kathy says.
“You never give up learning or dancing. I’ll dance my life away.”
She is of the view that culture should be freely shared.
“My people have a beautiful heart to share everything they can with Western people. This is where they see the culture – the culture that is given through language, manaka, and bungle (dance). We share like one big family.”
As is her way, Kathy dedicated her 2011 Deadly Award to Janet Munyarryun who worked with NAISDA and Bangarra and was responsible for the collaboration between traditional dance movements and Western movements.
“There were a lot of people I wanted to acknowledge, including my family up north and my other three sisters up there for giving me that opportunity to carry on our culture through Western society, but particularly Janet Munyarryun. She is a very beautiful lady and she is my inspiration.”