Doing the Nutbush: One country’s strange love affair with Tina Turner


Many Australians feel a special connection to Tina Turner, with one of her early songs having found a unique place in the country’s culture.

As fans around the world mourn the singer’s death at the age of 83, many in the country remember growing up learning the line dance to Nutbush City Limits, the song she performed with her then-husband and collaborator Ike in 1973.

The song is about life in a small town in the US state of Tennessee and, despite it being a far cry from life in Australia, the dance has become a staple of weddings and parties.

There are a number of reasons why this is very strange.

Turner’s performances of the song never included the dance that has become so loved by Australians, and the song wasn’t even that popular anyway, peaking at number 14 when it was released in the 1970s and then at 16 when it was re-released in 1991.

The dance is thought to have grown from a scheme combining the creative arts and physical education in primary schools in the states of New South Wales or Queensland.

But others say it was never part of Australia’s education curriculum, and was instead spread by individual teachers, copying what they had seen in other schools.

More from Ents & Arts

Interdisciplinary artist Kay Armstrong first encountered the Nutbush as a primary school student newly-arrived in Western Australia from England in the late 1970s.

Read more:
Beyonce and Oprah Winfrey lead tributes to rock queen Tina Turner
The trauma and triumph of a music legend
Simply The Best: Tina Turner in pictures

She told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2018: “We learnt the Nutbush in primary school, and then in high school, and then I’ve probably done it at every wedding I’ve gone to since.”

The country’s keenest Nutbush fans have set world records for the largest number of people performing the dance.

Some 4,084 people performed the dance at the Birdsville Big Red Bash in Queensland to break the previous record.

A month later another 3,700 people gathered for the dance at the Mundi Mundi Bash in Broken Hill, New South Wales, but failed to set a new record.

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