Community, culture & Country: why we need Dance Rites
November 28th 2019
Celebrating its fifth year, the cultural significance of the First Nations dance competition Dance Rites is not lost on many. Ahead of the competition, Rhoda Roberts – Head of First Nations Programming at the Sydney Opera House – dropped by to chat with Stephen Ferris on Mornings.
Last Saturday and Sunday, the Sydney Opera House forecourt was home to a congregation of over 350 First Nations dancers. Hailing from everywhere from Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, all the way to the Tiwi Islands and Torres Strait, the opportunity for First Nations dancers from all over the country to come together and express their unique cultures is unfortunately quite rare.
That’s part of what makes Dance Rites such a special event. Now in its fifth year, Dance Rites is a one-of-a-kind First Nations dance competition. Over the weekend, 17 dance groups performed for crowds and competed for a share of $30,000 in prize money. In addition to competitors performances, the crowds enjoyed a series of guest performers, including international electro-reggae-jazz collective OKA and local rapper Dobby.
Speaking to Stephen Ferris, Sydney Opera House’s Head of First Nations Programming Rhoda Roberts AO is acutely aware of the incredible opportunity that Dance Rites offers many of its participants.
“I read the story of an old Aunty who was part of the Stolen Generation. She’s 66 years old. And of course when she was young, it was actually forbidden to speak your language, your dance, your culture. And so for her at the age of 66, on Saturday will be the first time that she’s actually danced her songlines, and I think that’s incredible.”
Aside from being a previously unheard of opportunity for many First Nations people to participate in their culture, Rhoda expressed the importance of the sense of community that Dance Rites helps to forge.
“The reason this is so important – it is community, it is who we are. And with the passing of our Elders and serious custodians of songlines, we’re the generation now – if we don’t continue these songlines we will lose so much knowledge of Country and story. And in the old days, all the songlines connected. We were connected across this vast continent, and this brings that reconnection I think. And it’s a lot of fun as well. We need fun as well.”
Dance Rites 2019 was a roaring success by all accounts. You can listen to Stephen and Rhoda’s full chat up top.