Diedre Atkinson’s 2006 Australian Youth Dance Festival experience

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Twenty-six students and teachers from Western Australia’s John Curtin College of the Arts (JCCA) and Dance Lab traveled for more than eight hours by plane and bus before arriving in Horsham, Victoria to commence their week-long journey through dance at the fifth Australian Youth Dance Festival.

Participation in the Youth Dance Festival allows the students to come together with like-minded peers, youth practitioners from all over Australia and is an irreplaceable experience in the students’ development and discovery of dance. Total immersion in dance through participation in workshops, choreographic process, observation, performances, reflection and evaluation results in an intensive learning experience, and opens eyes wide to so many more possibilities. After experiencing two previous festivals I know that the words of my colleague Jane Diamond describe perfectly the outcome for many of the students: ‘when you begin the choreographic project in Term 3 you will be on fire’.

The dance performance created during the Festival's week-long choreographic workshop was presented at the Horsham Town Hall. Photo: Buffy Harrison.

One of the most eye-opening experiences was the performance by Restless Dance Company. When the door upstage opened with the light spilling out and the male dancer commenced his journey with the piece of red string, there was an opening of understanding and realisation of the power of dance. The power of total commitment and focus of the performer in performance enraptured the audience. It was clear for the JCCA group how exceptional these performers were and how awesome it was to be sharing the festival with this group. The performance and the sharing of workshops encouraged the students to be more accepting, less judgmental and begin to challenge themselves and their own ideas in dance.

AYDF performancesPerformance photos: Buffy Harrison.

The choreographic workshops provided opportunities for the students to engage in different and varied processes. For some students to go out to Mt Arapiles and to reflect, discuss and choreograph using the environment, was something they had not considered; for others it was the chance to work with different people and explore new ideas, and for others there was a sense of achievement in being able to create movement that worked for a particular section of the choreography.

The finale was exceptional, with all aspects coming together for the performance. Just as the festival had been a link, a connection to the ‘Art is … Festival’, the Horsham community and the Youth Dance Festival, the finale showcased this collaboration of artists, dancers and community through a powerful and theatrical performance which reflected the Wimmera Landscape.

My personal magic moment happened during a session of sharing what dance means to you. As we each shared our personal reason for being involved in dance, Daniel Daw (Restless Dance Company) used one word, ‘goosebumps’. This single word describes so aptly the power of dance. The Australian Youth Dance Festival provided many opportunities for ‘goosebumps’.

Diedre Atkinson, Head of Dance and Drama, John Curtin College of the Arts, Fremantle, Western Australia.