By 1957, Ian Fairweather's peripatetic existence had included stints in London, Europe, Canada, India and China, as well as a near-fatal journey ending in Bali on an unseaworthy raft constructed by the artist. This 1955 journey proved a turning point in the life of the artist, resulting in a more stable existence in his new home on Bribie Island, outside Brisbane.
It was on Bribie Island that Fairweather painted The Dance. It seems unlikely that the artist had ever attended a live performance; more that he had been inspired by images from magazines, which were his staple reading material. The Dance reveals the rhythms of a live performance: a proscenium arch hides the lights that flood the three central figures with a wash of pale blue. Two ballerinas in the background forming a visual counterpart to the movements of the three protagonists, but this could equally reflect the movement of a single figure across the stage. Analysis of Fairweather's later works has interpreted his vertical division of the canvas as the division of space into periods "through which, as in Painting 1960, a ruminative melody will unfold." (M. Armiger, "Fairweather and Music", in M. Bail, Fairweather, Sydney, 1994, p.59).
In the case of The Dance, the division of the canvas into three principal vertical sections adds to the sense of a performance in action: movement in and around the central axis, and in and out of the spotlight. It is as though, despite his isolated existence, Fairweather is recreating the movement and spectacle of the ballet with the intensity of a lived experience: an "introspective dialogue between the artist and his drawing - as if Fairweather chanted the pictures under his breath as his hand gave them form, singing himself in a lonely bush camp outside Cairns." (Ibid, p.13).