Samara Cunningham’s 2004 AYDF experience

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“We had traversed an incredible week of dance. Every participant, whether they knew it or not, had contributed to strengthening Australia's dance community.”

Locating one highlight from Ausdance National's 2004 Australian Youth Dance Festival is an almost impossible task. Our six days in Armidale NSW were a feast of dance inspiration. Participants from across the country came together to experience the work of some of our finest youth dance practitioners; in return, the practitioners were met with the exuberant energy and unique talent of Australia's dancing youth.

I asked participants on arrival to discuss what the festival meant to them. Here's a sample of what they said:

"I think this festival is about learning off others and learning how to take on something new. It's about being taken out of your comfort zone and being challenged in a nice way. I think there are potential role models here for us all." Tim Newth, Tracks Dance, Darwin.

"I'm going to learn a lot of different types of dance, work hard and meet new people. I also hope to learn about Aboriginal culture and our place in the world." Geanie Lockhead, participant, the Hunter Valley.

"For me the festival is about each generation of young dancers and giving back what I've received." Bec Reid, Stompin Youth Dance Company, Launceston.

The theme for the 2004 festival was ‘place’. Particular attention was paid to individual, local, and national history in regard to our Indigenous past. The festival was extremely fortunate to have indigenous educator Fay Ball to guide us in our investigations. She told us stories and sang us songs about Australia's Aboriginal history. To further enhance the participants' understanding of place, the festival began with a visit to Apsley Falls in Armidale National Park. Here we heard stories about the land as used by the Dungurri people and were given lessons in ochre grinding. The idea of this visit was to experience the land, immerse ourselves in the stories and then take our insights back into the studio. For Fay, one of the festival's most important aspects was that we would all return home and share these tales with others.

Participants could choose to start the day with a yoga session or warm-up class, or both. We then moved into smaller groups where our tutors assisted us in creating works for performance on the festival's final day. The afternoons were contrasted with 'taster' classes in styles ranging from jazz, funk, and hip hop, to contemporary and improvisation. Lunchtime chatter was excited and indicated how much participants were enjoying their project and taster classes.

To close each day's activities Andrew Morrish would facilitate an informal forum on dance, learning, and life in general. His biggest success was the positive cohesive bonding he achieved between the 200 plus participants and their tutors. Forum time was dedicated to reflecting on our learning through improvisation, song, dance, story-telling, and opened microphone opportunities.

Evenings were filled with unique performances brought to the festival from a range of youth dance groups including Extensions Youth Dance Company (QLD), John Curtin College of the Arts (WA), South Australia Academy of Performing Arts, Rossmoyne Senior High School (WA), Bodymoves (NSW) and the Quantum Leap Recovery Project (ACT and NSW).

Shyness disappeared as the days went by. New friends were made, old friends were reunited, and new work links were forged. By the week's end, enthusiasm for the next festival had ballooned. The final afternoon performance was pieced together by Tim Newth and David McMicken of Tracks Dance. This performance was dedicated to the descendants of the traditional land-owners.

That evening participants grooved into the night. Some were alleviating the sadness of saying goodbye to their new dance family, while others were just unwinding from an exhilarating and exhausting six days.

We had traversed an incredible week of dance. Every participant, whether they knew it or not, had contributed to strengthening Australia's dance community.

Samara attended the AYDF as part of a young people and the arts fellowship grant from Arts WA.

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