Australian Youth Dance Festival ‘Why Horsham?’ Creating connections to community

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In 2004, at the time of staff attending the fourth AYDF in Armidale NSW, Ausdance Victoria had already expressed an interest in organising the next festival, as Ausdance National was ready to pass it on to a State or Territory office. We saw this as an opportunity to raise the profile of youth dance in Victoria: the lack of a funded youth dance company is a notable absence in the Victorian dance landscape as a point of focus for this practice.  It also quickly became apparent to us that, by continuing the tradition of inviting a regional community to host the festival, the event could also become a part of Ausdance Victoria’s Regional Dance Development Program, and be the springboard for an ongoing relationship with the host.

Horsham was selected as the host community due to its infrastructure—plenty of venues within walking distance of the Town Hall, which was to act as the hub, plenty of suitable accommodation—and the interest of local arts organisations in using the AYDF as an opportunity to assist dance and arts development in their region. They proposed that the AYDF be held in conjunction with their annual arts festival, ‘Art is…’, and the partnership that eventuated lent a unique flavour to this particular AYDF and its connections to the host community.

AYDF Horsham participants and 'Art is' festival banners.Australian Youth Dance Festival, Horsham, Victoria. Photos: Buffy Harrison.

The AYDF 2006 program took the Armidale festival’s model—morning choreographic project, afternoon tasters and evening performance, along with two forums each day—and extended the focus on the choreographic project to create a finale performance for Horsham audiences. As with previous festivals, we wanted the festival to connect strongly to place—both landscape and community. The festival has traditionally focused on the landscape and issues particular to those that live in the region, and in Horsham we were able to ensure that these elements were again recognised by the AYDF participants and reflected in the finale. The 2006 ‘Art is…’ theme, ‘Art is…a common well’ offered the opportunity for us to link the two festivals, as AYDF participants could explore ideas about what makes a strong community, as well as issues around the use of natural resources: the Wimmera has been in drought for almost a decade. Community programs delivered by the ‘Art is….a common well’ festival generated visual, musical and environmental information that fed the choreographers and visiting artists.

On Saturday 22 April, the finale began with walking tours following seven ‘pathways’ throughout Horsham, which consisted of stencil paths in seven different colours—used by participants throughout the week to navigate through town—which led people past installations and banners specially created for each AYDF venue. The walking tours ended at the Horsham Town Hall, where the dance performance created during the week was presented, accompanied by soundscapes, a local choir and a local band, all drawn together by the musical coordinators through a community music program with ‘Art is…a common well’.

Janette Fabila and Horsham dance group, ‘Sunset Dreaming’. Photo: Buffy Harrison.

A successful dimension of the AYDF 2006 was a community outreach program, which aimed to ensure the festival left a legacy of dance skills in the Horsham community. This program consisted of

  • a teacher professional development strand to taster classes, open to local teachers as well as AYDF participants
  • professional development workshops to improve the dance skills of local people working in disability and early childhood, and generalist teachers
  • a development opportunity for the local girls’ Indigenous dance group, ‘Sunset Dreaming’, who worked with Jeanette Fabila to make an original creation dance for their area in the morning sessions, performed in the finale, and participation in taster classes
  • an original dance documentary project by Jacqui Schulz—Let’s Dance! The Movie—which screened at Horsham Regional Art Gallery
  • a morning workshop program for Horsham primary and secondary schools by six artists who taught afternoon tasters for AYDF
  • a forum introducing ideas about community cultural development through dance with additional partners, the Cultural Development Network and Regional Arts Victoria.

Two sold-out finale performances, excited participants, satisfied artists, and a souvenir poster in the Wimmera Mail-Times … the AYDF 2006 was an extraordinary and energising experience for the staff and board of Ausdance Victoria to take on, especially for 2006 Project Manager Cress Bradley and myself. We are all excited about continuing to work with the Wimmera, Victorian, Australian and even overseas youth dance communities (go Nubrico!), and the Ausdance network, to build on the momentum generated by this festival, and make a lasting contribution to the development of youth dance.

Ausdance Victoria wishes to give special thanks to these people who made the 2006 AYDF 2006: Ausdance National, whose staff has developed the AYDF model over four festivals since 1997 and provided the festival website; Carolynne Hamdorf, Director of ‘Art is…a common well’ festival; all ‘Art is…’ staff especially Lynn Quick, Jenny Payne and Marian Anderson, and festival artists and committee; Rachael Jennings (Ausdance National), Luke Cummins, Lea Schuster (Ausdance Qld) and Paula McLaughlin (Ausdance NSW) for their help on the ground in Horsham; Marion Matthews, formerly Community Arts Officer of Horsham Rural City Council and now Regional Arts Development Officer with Regional Arts Victoria; Leanne Ringelstein (‘Fresh Bred’), Peta Johnston (Ausdance SA), and Sarah Calver (Ausdance NT) for teaching workshops; Aunty Hazel McDonald, Robyn Lauricella and Sunset Dreaming; volunteers in Horsham who assisted with front of house, catering, billeting and many other tasks; Merle Hathaway and staff at Horsham Regional Art Gallery; Kim Dunphy and the Cultural Development Network.

Ausdance Victoria wishes to thank the many funding bodies who contributed to the AYDF: Art is a common well, Horsham RCC,Arts Vic & Vic Place to be, the Australia Council, Festivals Australia, Myer, Besen, Ian Potter Foundation, the Pratt Foundation, Regional Arts Victoria. Additional thanks to Arts Qld, Arts SA, South Australian Youth Arts Board and the National Heart Foundation who supported attendance by youth dance companies.

Kath Papas was Executive Officer at Ausdance Victoria during the 2006 Australian Youth Dance Festival.

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Diedre Atkinson’s 2006 Australian Youth Dance Festival experience

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