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From Sky to Shining

DARLINGTON: Darlington Indigenous Dance Ensemble, from Darlington Public School, is proving to play a vital role in strengthening the bond between Indigenous kids and their elders. The dancing ensemble has been active in the school for many years, with the aim of retaining and performing the traditional dances of Indigenous peoples. The 18 students, between the ages of 7 and 12, perform traditional and modern dances from all over New South Wales. The kids are also encouraged to connect with their family roots through stories, which are presented through dance Reports Malcolm Weihao Luo in the October 2011 issues of the South Sydney Herald.

Eight years ago, Karlie Chalker joined the Ensemble as a teacher and choreographer and breathed new life into the group. She saw dance as a way to showcase Indigenous culture and pass it on to younger generations. “Teaching them about dance will help them establish strong bonds and help them get back to their roots and learn about their culture,” she said. “Dancing is an important part of culture.”

The kids’ participation is crucial for the dancing group to identify ways in which heritage and traditions are passed on through stories, music and clothes.

“Basically, we encourage everyone to be involved, all Indigenous students, but they have the choice whether they want to participate. We also talk to their parents and tell them how important it is for them to learn their culture and participate,” she said.

The choreography in the dancing ensemble is part of the core structure to engage students. When designing the choreography, some important factors must be considered, such as how to design the moves so they can pick it up quickly and stay engaged, whilst also creating various stories for them to learn their culture.

To build up kids’ knowledge about their culture, Karlie choreographs the dance by telling kids different stories about the community, the land and their culture. She sometimes uses materials from storybooks.

“Now I am doing a dance called ‘Gapu Sea Life’. It is about the sea creature, the sand up in the country, and the tide, and how the foam gathers along the shoreline.”

Music is intimately linked with the choreography. A variety of distinctive traditional music styles are reflected in dance movements. Yothu Yindi’s “Gapu” is featured. In addition, with the help of an electric didgeridoo, which could modify the sounds in the middle of a performance, these songs are made sacred and powerful.

Kids are always invited to be in the performing group. They have showcased at regional and state dancing festivals, and Schools Spectacular and other high-profile events, including a prestigious event at Parliament House. Also they are offered plenty of opportunities to audition for different events. Karlie believes that these performances shape the kids’ personalities and build them into strong people. “If they can shine in front of thousands of people, they can certainly shine in everything that they do,” she said. “And that’s the message I always tell them: follow your dream.”

The theme of the 2011 Schools Spectacular is “Imagine”. “Imagine … the world’s a big classroom.” Karlie believes “Imagine” is a strong theme, which means everything is possible. Each year, some kids get through the audition to enter into the finale in a unique way to express and represent many facets of their lives and beliefs. This year is no exception.

When designing the choreography, Karlie asked the kids to imagine there is a desert, and they are dancing in the desert. To give kids more direct experience, she went to Vibe Alive festival with the dancing group in Moree NSW (Aug. 31–Sep. 1).

“Vibe Alive is a festival for young Australians of all backgrounds to celebrate Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander cultures. When our kids get involved with Vibe Alive, they are offered a great chance to express themselves. The festival also could take the kids back to their roots, and at the end of the day, I believe they can see the difference in the way elders live up in the Northern Territory,” she explained.

The kids are not shy any more. Today, they are confident kids who shine on the stage in front of thousands of people. Through the smooth movements, their confidence and self-esteem has benefited greatly. When asked how it makes you feel when you are dancing, a little girl answered, “I feel cool, ’coz everyone is focusing on us”.

This article appeared in Youth of Today, a regular article on local youth and related issues is kindly sponsored by Appetite Café.

Source: October 2011 South Sydney Herald