Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Australian elders decry Russian 'Aboriginal' ice dance

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin's "Aboriginal dance" at the Russian National Figure Skating Championships in St. Petersburg
The pair unveiled the dance at the Russian championships in December

Indigenous Australian leaders have expressed outrage at an "Aboriginal dance" routine by Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

The Russian world champions perform in dark-skin bodysuits adorned with leaves and white body paint markings.

Indigenous leader Bev Manton has decried the "ripping off" of Aboriginal culture as offensive and disrespectful.

The Russian pair, favourites to win gold at next month's Vancouver Winter Olympics, were unavailable for comment.

They are at the European figure skating championships in Tallinn, Estonia, where they are due to perform the routine later in the day.

'Sacred dance'

"From an Aboriginal perspective, this performance is offensive," Mrs Manton writes in an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Our dance, our ceremony, our image - and, importantly, how they are depicted - are sacred to Aboriginal Australians."

Mrs Manton, chairwoman of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, has urged the three-time Russian national champions to rethink their routine before the Olympics in Vancouver.

"Interest must be expressed in a way that is respectful. The ripping off of our art and songs is not, and nor is this depiction of my culture," she wrote.

Ms Domnina, 25, and Mr Shabalin, 27, recently told the figure-skating website, Golden Skate, how they researched the dance.

"We've watched video clips in the internet of these dances and it is really like this - complete with the leaves around the knees," Ms Domnina said.

She told the website that her dog Topi, a Yorkshire Terrier, had been instrumental in selecting the music.

"When we switched on the music for the original dance, my dog started to race around the room like crazy and we understood that maybe this music is what we need. It was really like this, I'm not lying," she said.

The pair said they had managed to cut down the amount of time they spent applying the "Aboriginal" markings.

"Usually we are sitting and chanting mantras for five hours and are applying the make-up to each other," Mr Shabalin told Golden Skate.

"This was at the beginning, but now the time is shorter and we went down from five hours to about 20 minutes."

The pair, who also won the European championships in 2008, are staging a comeback after being sidelined by Mr Shabalin's knee injury last year.

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