David Bowie – ‘Let’s Dance’ promo video

David Mallet directed video for Bowie's biggest hit

The music video for ‘Let’s Dance’ was shot in February 1983 by David Mallet on location in Australia including a bar in Carinda in New South Wales and the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran.

At the beginning it features Bowie with a double bass player inside the one-room pub at the Carinda Hotel and an Aboriginal couple ‘naturally’ dancing “to the song they’re playin’ on the radio”. The couple are played by Terry Roberts and Joelene King, who were students at Sydney’s Aboriginal-Islanders Dance Theatre. Some residents of the 194 residents of the village of Carinda are in the pub too, watching and mocking the couple.

By taking a lateral spin on the song’s lyrics to espouse the cause of Aboriginal rights, the video offers the first substantial evidence of the socio-political role that Bowie began carving for himself during the 1980s.

“As much as I love this country,” he told Rolling Stone during the shoot, “it”s probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa … There’s a lot of injustice, so let’s, you know, say something about it.”

However the message in the ‘Let’s Dance’ video is oblique, relying on a series of metaphors to dig deep into the Australian psyche.

“One thing Id been toying around with was the repellent qualities of the other side of the world, be it the Middle East or the Far East,” Bowie said, “How we”re both both drawn and repulsed by what happens and who they are, and the fact that we’re all one. That basic idea came through on ‘Let’s Dance’ with the Aborigines and colonial English, and then in ‘China Girl‘ and finally in ‘Loving The Alien’.”

“The red shoes are a found symbol. They are the simplicity of the capitalist society and sort of striving for success – black music is all about ‘Put on your red shoes'”, as Bowie later confirmed.

By choosing a symbol of capitalism which simultaneously references his beloved black music, maybe Bowie is confessing his own collusion in the process of cultural imperialism; for example when he appears as the icy corporate manager.