The recent death of US rock legend Tina Turner has had Australians kicking their heels up to her 1973 hit Nutbush City Limits in her honour, and Canberra did not miss out.
More than 200 people gathered outside the Canberra Theatre Centre (CTC) on Friday (2 June) – some with puffy hair, a brave few with colourful wigs, and others with sequins or just in office garb – to do their best impression of a dance that’s become a tradition at weddings and other jovial events across the country.
The flash-mob-style event was organised by the Canberra Museum and Gallery, which put a call out on social media earlier in the week for “people with the grooves, moves and a great sense of fun”. Hairstyles from the 1980s were also “strongly encouraged”. The song itself would be blasted out of speakers mounted to the front of the CTC.
CEO of the CTC’s Cultural Facilities Corporation even joined in, albeit “firmly in the middle” of the group so few would spot him.
“I am definitely a Tina Turner fan,” Gordon Ramsay said.
“Back through the whole range of music, and the Mad Max movies as well. She’s been so important in the sphere for so long, it’s good to be able to pay tribute to her here.”
Tina Turner and then-husband Ike released Nutbush City Limits as an ode to her home town of Nutbush, a cotton-growing community in the US state of Tennessee. In its stanzas are mentions of southern foods, picnics and cotton-separating machinery, but nothing intrinsically Australian.
And in the videos of her performing, her rhythmic moves across the stage are a far cry from spinning around with one leg in the air and occasionally clapping.
“People think it might have been the NSW Department of Education that got it going back in the ’70s and ’80s,” Mr Ramsay said of the moves.
By the 1970s, NSW schools were looking at ways of incorporating dance into physical education classes when it seems someone put the Nutbush music to Madison, a back-and-forth line dance from Ohio. Once the hybrid moves were rolled out across NSW, schools in the other states picked them up and passed them on.
“I think it’s just something that gets people enjoying music and enjoying dance, and doing it in a way that has gone through the generations,” Mr Ramsay said.
Canberra’s turnout might not have broken the Australian record of 4000, but it was helped by a strong local dance community, including “huge Tina Turner fan” Renae from the Belconnen arm of Australian community dance group No Lights, No Lycra‘.
“I’ve listed Proud Mary as one of my favourite songs before, and I grew up with the Nutbush – doing it at school and wedding receptions,” she said.
“I love Tina and her story on how she made her comeback at a later age, which is a bit harder for women in the music industry. So I just found her really inspirational.”
Renae went all out on her ’80s outfit too, from a blue wig to a pair of black suede high heels, swapped in after the flat boots she was planning to wear for the occasion fell through.
“They had big, chunky zips and buckles and when I walked, I could hear them jingling and I thought if the music isn’t loud enough, it might throw off the people next to me,” she said.
“This is the first time I’ve done the Nutbush in this heel, so that was an extra challenge for me today, but I thought, if Tina could dance on stage in her heels in her 60s, I would give it a crack.”