Creating Pathways reflection by Monica Stevens

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Creating Pathways was a National Indigenous Dance Forum funded by the Australia Council, with contributions from State/Territory arts ministries, including the NSW Ministry for the Arts. It was managed and produced by Ausdance National at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra in October.

The project brought together a group of invited Indigenous dance artists from around the country to discuss issues associated with their dance practice including isolation, professional development opportunities and access to existing or new resources.

The Creating Pathways Forum was held in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia and the location was absolutely beautiful. The forum targeted Indigenous people who are mid-career dance practitioners who came from all states representing contemporary dance and culture. It was overwhelming to listen, speak to and with some people I had not seen since they were students of dance. To meet them as a fellow practitioner addressing pathways for Indigenous dance artists was fantastic.

Outdoor discussion at the National Museum of AustraliaDiscussion time at the National Museum of Australia, October 2005.

Mr. Dennis Newie and I held a morning dance workshop session. I am Kuku Yalanji (Cape York) and based in Sydney. I taught a community dance and reiterated that simplicity is the best option when working with young people who had differing dance capabilities and age differences. Mr. Newie is from an island called Moa. He taught a Torres Strait Island cultural dance and song that had informal structuring with the understanding of left and right leg, arm and head coordinated movements. This was an extraordinarily beautiful dance.

The next morning’s dance session was held by Mr. Simon Stewart (Broome) who taught his contemporary style that had strong elongated movements with impressive extensions through the legs. This was followed by a fun coordination warm-up held by Ms. Rita Pryce (Cairns) and she turned over the session to Mr. Sermsah Bimsaad (Port Hedland) and Ms. Nikki Ashby (Melbourne) for some serious Hip Hop movements with joints, bones and muscles articulating extremely athletically.

The forum sessions started with a talk by Ms Lydia Miller on the future direction of Indigenous dance and issues that may arise and how to address these particular issues.

People spoke passionately of serious recognition and acknowledgment of Indigenous professionals who have and continue to share qualitative goodwill in the Australian dance industry. This recognition then transcends to committed increase in employment opportunities to qualified Indigenous professionals in mainstream arenas.

The Federal, State and Local governments recognised, and unrecognised, funding needs to have appropriate controls established to service the people. And commitment to Indigenous practitioners of dance so remuneration and entitlements be awarded to Indigenous Cultural and Contemporary Dance practitioners from employment sectors of society.

There were hard core issues talked about such as:

  • Increase number of touring opportunities for Indigenous dancers which create realistic employment and career opportunities.
  • Constant network building to resource Indigenous people in professional fields that has foundations to an establishment of an alumina with people who had graduated but also those who had studied.
  • Community structures that employ people returning to homelands after graduating that assists in creating opportunities for the youth that then enables the youth to assist and support local community growth.
  • Performance opportunities at festivals to assist the continuum of dance education culture and contemporary dance appreciation and attitudes in the broader community.
  • Reinforce the need to have active Indigenous Dance Programs within the Education system that lead to accessible avenues to engage Indigenous professionals teaching dance classes.

The success stories like the Community Perspective on Day 1, the Tennant Creek School Children’s program and the employment examples of Dalisa Pigram (Broome) on Day 2, were brilliant outcomes because of the ingenuity and perseverance of a group of dedicated people or the driving force of a few. Ingenuity and perseverance are words that had resonated at the forum of Indigenous commitment to the dance industry in Australia.

With all that serious talk and discussions the participants were invited to spend some time at Mirramu Arts Centre at Bungendore on the edge of Lake George for a BBQ. The bus ride was great because songs were sung accompanied by Mr. Newie on guitar.

The final session of the Creating Pathways Forum spotlighted some areas for the mid-career artists to explore in accessing to funds and creative links.

The session featured Dion Hastie who is a dancer with the Leigh Warren and Dancers in Adelaide. There were a number of opportunities identified. The Dance House in Melbourne was calling for expressions of interest from all independent artists. Artists can take advantage of two performance spaces. There are opportunities of short residencies and Dance House can provide some assistance. The NSW Ministry of the Arts offers a program that has a Cultural and Arts Expression Strategy. The Australian Choreographic Centre offers a Fellowship Program, a major residency for collaborative works to be established and there is a Youth Ensemble. Arts ACT has an Indigenous Partnership Strategy with the aim of assisting individuals achieve their goals and, in the future, a dance component will be addressing dual careers and what’s involved.

I would like thank Ausdance National and Ms Wendy Morrow for their work organising Creating Pathways. I believe the Forum was well received and highly successful.

Monica D. Stevens