Dance workshops connect students to culture

Bangarra’s Youth Program tutors are taking students through their steps in a series of dance workshops in public schools. Linda Doherty reports.

Image: Student dancer Aurielle Smith (front), with her brother Noah (behind) and sister Mila, on right, at the Secondary Aboriginal Dance Workshop at Wollongong. Photo: ANNA WARR.

Aspiring dancers from public schools across the state are taking part in workshops tutored by Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Youth Program Team as part of a long-running collaboration with the NSW Department of Education.

The 10 workshops for 800 Aboriginal students started last week at Rooty Hill High School in western Sydney and Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts and will travel to the Central Coast, Newcastle, Grafton, Inverell, Narrabri, Dubbo, Cowra and Queanbeyan over the next month.

For more than a decade, the Department’s Arts Unit has had a close collaboration with Bangarra, Australia’s premier Aboriginal dance company, through the student dance workshops, the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company, and the Schools Spectacular where Bangarra provides mentoring, performance training and repertoire.

Gomeroi siblings Noah, Aurielle and Mila Smith travelled from Sydney to the Wollongong workshop with mum Nicole Hibberd-Smith.

Aurielle, in Year 10 at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, has for two years been a member of the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company. Noah, in Year 11 at Barrenjoey High School, is returning to dance, while Mila, in Year 8 at Newtown High, has been dancing since she was two.

Ms Hibberd-Smith said Aurielle had participated in previous dance workshops, which are largely funded by the Arts Unit.

“The workshops and her time in the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company, have given Aurielle a sense of self, connection to culture and Country – and it’s drawn in Noah and Mila,” she said.

Likewise, Noah – who is the 2023 Northern Beaches Young Citizen of the Year – convinced Aurielle to successfully apply for the NSW Youth Parliament where he has served for the past two years.

Aurielle said she valued the opportunity to dance with the Bangarra tutors and hoped to one day perform with the company.

“The way I feel when I dance with this company is unlike any dance I’ve experienced. It's about learning and connection to culture, coupled with the sacred ancestral influence that connects me to my movement at a level I’ve never felt before,” she said.

“I’m so grateful to the Arts Unit for giving us these opportunities.”

NSW Department of Education Arts Initiatives Advisor Sonja Sjolander said schools had shown great interest in the dance workshops, which are face to face for the first time since 2020 due to the pandemic.

“The program, for experienced and non-experienced dancers, has unearthed some real talent and potential, providing career pathways for so many students in the arts and arts management,” Ms Sjolander said.

The collaboration between Bangarra and the Arts Unit began in 2010 when the workshops started for 50 Aboriginal students. More than 7,600 students have since benefited from the workshop program.

The workshops have often provided the first glimpse of dance potential for students who went on to perform in the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company, the State Dance Festival and the Schools Spectacular, the world’s largest variety show produced by the NSW Department of Education. Eight former NSW public school students who started in these workshops are now dancing with Bangarra.

Workshop schedule

  • 9 March: Tuggerah Lakes – Berkley Vale Campus
  • 10 March: Hunter School of Performing Arts
  • 14 March: South Grafton High School
  • 15 March: Inverell High School
  • 16 March: Narrabri High School
  • 17 March: Dubbo College South Campus
  • 21 March: Cowra High School
  • 22 March: Karabar High School
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