Nutbush origins revealed: The iconic dance initially intended for classrooms

Birdsville's Nutbush record attempt, 2023

Source: Nine Network

The Nutbush has the dual benefit of connecting Australians and confusing tourists.

But the origins of the iconic line dance, set to American singer Tina Turner’s 1973 song Nutbush City Limits, have long been forgotten.

Now researchers think they have cracked the case.

The Nutbush was likely developed in Sydney circa 1975 to be used for creative arts and physical education classes in state primary and secondary schools.

This conclusion was drawn by University of South Australia Creative adjunct professor Jon Stratton and Edith Cowan University professor of visual and cultural studies Panizza Allmark.

The pair decided to research the Nutbush’s history after Stratton – originally from Britain – was left bemused at his first glimpse of the “rather strange dance”.

Stratton told The New Daily that an educational administrative committee hoping to get students more committed to subjects like creative arts and physical education had likely decided Nutbush City Limits was a song modern enough – at the time – to gain young people’s interest.

Although Nutbush City Limits did not soar up Australian charts in the year of its release, Stratton said it was popular dance at discos thanks to its “great pounding beat with a sort of rhythm and blues”.

He said in 1975, the year the song was likely introduced to NSW classrooms, it topped the charts in the state. The following year it did well in Queensland and Victoria.

“This helps to date the spread of the dance and where it was first danced,” Stratton said.

More than 50 years later, Australians young and old know the dance, creating a cultural link at home and abroad.


More than 4000 people in Birdsville set a Nutbush world record in 2022. Photo: AAP

“Some kids today are learning it. Their parents [and even grandparents] were learning it at schools,” he said.

“If you go to New York, London, or some other city outside of Australia, if somebody [on] puts Nutbush City Limits, all the Australians will get up and dance.

“Everybody else sits around looking at them thinking they’re mad … but it gives a sense of community to those Australians and it allows them to recognise each other.”

Stratton and Allmark are now researching the origin of the Nutbush dance moves, with theories including American line dances such as ‘the Madison’ and ‘the Hucklebuck’.

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