Dance is not just for girls!

Dance rehearsals for the MAXed OUT Company are intense this week in the Baradine Hall in the build up to the Moorambilla 2016 Gala Concert. All the high school students in the Company sing, dance and play taiko. From the remote central western mining town of Cobar comes Blake Toomey in year 12 and Laine Ellicott in year 9 at Cobar High School. Moorambilla regional dance intern Tainga Savage is also from Cobar. 

“Dance has the profound power to enrich and transform lives, connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds,” says Jacob Williams, Queensland Ballet’s Education Coordinator, on site at Moorambilla Voices in Baradine.

Dance is a unique language that has creative and educational benefits for children of all ages. And it makes you feel good! For young men dance develops physical coordination and strength. It has also been discovered to stimulate the release of a brain-derived protein that promotes the growth, maintenance, and plasticity of the neurons necessary for learning and memory! Add to that the promotion of wellbeing and helping to improve mood and concentration, it’s no wonder that dancing makes young men feel good!

Blake is studying music for his HSC, learning the bass guitar. Moorambilla’s MAXed OUT Company is the only chance he has to express himself with dance. “The atmosphere is amazing here,” says Blake. “It’s a place where you can just be you and enjoy the arts you like. It’s the most welcoming environment and if there is one place on earth that I get to dance, it’s here.”

“You have to work hard if you want to study in the arts out here. Because of our isolation in Cobar, I study my music classes through Distance Education in Dubbo.

“You can’t sit back. It takes three and a half hours to travel to Dubbo for my music classes, which means I also miss a whole day of school.”

Blake is planning to study education at university next year and is thinking about teaching as a career. “Moorambilla is the company that has taken me out of my shell. I’d like to give something back to this project and come back next year as a supervisor.”

Laine isn’t studying music at school, but takes dance classes at the Western Studio of Performing Arts in Cobar in hip hop, jazz and contemporary dance. “I really like the way that Tainga teaches us how to hear the music, like the beat and the rhythm. And I love making up moves when we get a chance to do some of our own choreography.

“I would say to any boys who are shy about dancing – go for it, you are not going to be judged for it. It’s fun!” says Blake.

“I would say to any boy, don’t be scared to dance,” says Laine. “It’s not just for girls!”

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.

Dancing with Sensu – Japanese Fans

The drums of TaikOz are beating so hard you can hear them down the end of the main street of Baradine. “I knew we had a large group this year so we have planned something really special says TaikOz’s Anton Lock.

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Anton has been working with the high school children for the last three days, incorporating dance, music and percussion into the plan for the Moorambilla Gala Concert. It’s his fourth year here.

“I want to challenge some of the kids rhythmically, so we’ve created a separate group for them. Last year I thought the dancing worked really well, so I wanted to push some of the kids in that area with dancing and drumming at the same time.

“I’ve always had an idea to use a Japanese dancing fan, or sensu, with these kids – it’s such a beautiful thing. A professional fan maker in Tokyo made them for us and even though they are normally elaborate designs and different colours, the white was so simple and matched beautifully with the incredible backdrop created this year, we had to use them.

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Anton Lock demonstrates the traditional Japanese dance with the sensu fan.

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MAXed OUT participants begin learning           hand movements.

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Learning to hold strong lower body movements and delicate hand movements.

“The fan dance exposes a juxtaposition of strength and delicacy – the fan movements have a kind of feminine energy and I like that for guys as well as the girls to try and express,” says Anton. “The lower body is held strong and solid and the movement of the fan is soft – it becomes like a bird that is flying all by itself. It has a life of its own – your body is just moving with it – and you can really get enthralled by the fan itself.

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“Fan dances are also traditionally performed by communities – there are local clubs in Japan that perform them and Anton is the only percussionist and dancer in Australia that can perform both these movements,” says TaikOz’s Sophie Unsen.

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“This year everyone will be dancing and also playing drums – that’s not so traditional in Japan,” says Sophie. “You tend to have to choose one form or another. Some kids favour one particular activity – like drumming – and they are not so keen on the dancing. That’s fine – everyone likes different things but here at Moorambilla we encourage everyone to everything to the best of their ability.”

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Anton demonstrates the correct stance                    for taiko drumming.

The children are playing a piece written by Anton, inspired by the Emu in the Sky theme of this year’s Moorambilla Gala Concert. “What we do doesn’t have to literally represent the emu – but what we do will connect with the spirit of the emu.”

Overlaid with the taiko dance is another interpretation by Jacob Williams, the school program coordinator for Queensland Ballet.

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“Jacob and I came up with a common language,” says Anton. “While we were performing our movement with the fan, Jacob was interpreting it from a contemporary dance perspective. That was awesome. So the children get the same language throughout – they are doing interconnected dances.”

Jacob agrees. “Working with TaikOz is a lot of fun. I’ve been able to manipulate the fan dancing and slow it down and elongate all the shapes into a contemporary dance segment.”

“I have to also say that Moorambilla has been a fantastic professional development opportunity for me. I used to arrive with a set plan and work through that in order – but I am learning that it’s much more effective if artists sit down and work together. I have learnt to have faith in the artistic process – you don’t know what you are going to be doing in the first or second day. It’s amazing how fast it comes together.

“These kids are constantly surprising me with all the ideas that they are coming up with – it’s not me choreographing on them, it’s them choreographing themselves.

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“Working with these kids is different from working with other kids,” says Anton. “They have a different type of determination. When we are here they are so hungry for it and I love that. I love coming here and spending time with people in this area – staying on the farm and spending time in Baradine. When we blast the main street with drums they know we are back!”

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Bustin it with G!

Lots of kids think they can’t dance. They can’t move, they can’t do steps. But they love music, love the beat of music. Independent artist Ghenoa Gela is the dancer and choreographer-in-residence at this year’s Moorambilla Festival. Ghenoa has an incredible energy and talent for getting kids to move, and when they do, they lose their inhibitions, shyness and forget themselves. Using electronic and dance combinations, for example hip hop, electro funk and techno dance music, Ghenoa gets kids moving and physicalising music.

Ghenoa starts with games, for hand coordination and listening and focusing. “You can quickly tell the children who are switched on and the ones that are thinking ‘Oh I’m just here’. Where she had a room full of rowdy boys, who didn’t know each other, she ends with a room of 50 boys who are totally focused, working together – quiet, disciplined, not talking, not mucking up.  Where she had a room full of girls who didn’t know each other, she has a group of 75 moving together.

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Ghenoa Gela introduces Moorambilla boys to the beginning of the dance class.

Ghenoa Gela introduces Moorambilla boys to the beginning of the dance class.

“Moorambilla is different to what I usually do,” says Ghenoa. “I love doing community based projects – they bring you back to reality. For me it’s like I am learning a new Aboriginal language group or nation. And I love working with young people – they are so honest. These regional and remote kids are different to the city kids – their attitude is a lot more humble. That comes through their body language and the way they talk to you. There is a different energy. “

Ghenoa Gela

The kids at Moorambilla are from a variety of backgrounds – Indigenous and non-Indigenous. “We are growing slowly into a different nation,” says Ghenoa and Moorambilla is a small expression of this.

Ghenoa's class begins in a circle.

Ghenoa’s class begins in a circle.

Clapping and beating in a circle gets the kids thinking

Clapping and beating in a circle gets the kids thinking

Now, let's move!

Now, let’s move!

Ghenoa Gela

“My parents are both very creative – my Mum is into crafts and my Dad is into dancing – well they both are. My Dad has always been a phenomenal traditional Torres Strait Islander dancer – that’s where I learnt all my hand eye coordination and being able to watch someone dance in front of you and copy them. When we got together as a family we passed on histories and stories and danced together – it’s like the equivalent of a family barbecue. Later on, Mum and Dad made a little troupe of dancers from our family and we toured all over Queensland in the schools, doing story telling, artefacts, weaving and Torres Strait culture.”

“I would have loved to have experienced something like Moorambilla when I was a kid. I originally wanted to be an athlete, as I was winning a lot of trophies. Then I had a job in a night club that had lots of competitions on a stage – I started helping some of the girls who were going into modeling competitions like the Miss Indie Competition or Miss Formula Fever and I helped them to feel more comfortable in their bodies. I also won an air guitar competition and made it to the national championships.

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“I was starting to feel pretty good about myself on stage, which was good because I had a massive shame factor when I was a kid – you know, don’t stand out, don’t make anyone think you are too good. I struggled with it and got over it gradually, especially when I went to an Indigenous dance college in Sydney.

Ghenoa makes the girls and boys keep moving – she keeps changing the steps, the dance cells. “It keeps them mentally alert, it keeps them interested. Because they are smart, they can pick up movement in a second, so you have to stay one step ahead. Keep them thinking ‘what is she going to do next?’.”

Ghenoa Gela

Ghenoa Gela

Ghenoa Gela

Ghenoa Gela

Ghenoa Gela

Ghenoa is a strong, female role model for the girls of Moorambilla. This is one of the aims of the program, it’s about making the girls and boys resilient, to believe in their own capacity. “It is extremely important to build self esteem and that innate core of belief that they are capable of dealing with change and, particularly for girls, making decisions based on their own needs and not the needs of others,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “Ghenoa is a strong woman and her movements are empowering, highly physical, rhythmic and inclusive. That’s unique and it’s what I really like about her work.”

Michelle Leonard, Ghenoa Gela, Indigenous Youth Leader Justin Welsh, and Callum Close

Michelle Leonard, Ghenoa Gela, Indigenous Youth Leader Justin Welsh, and Callum Close

“We are crossing musical genres,” says Michelle. “Choral singing is so different, but actually we are both approaching the art form the same way. We are training their brains to do two, three or four things at once. Move and feel the beat, or sing in parts, We are both demanding a higher order of thinking from them – we are not dumbing down the art forms, and they are rising to that. So by the time they are working on any of the art music choral works they realize they are using things they have learnt from Ghenoa.”

Ghenoa teaches resilience and self esteem

Ghenoa teaches resilience and self esteem

“To have the opportunity to do that in a safe and supportive environment is incredibly empowering and so very different to the stereotype of many dancers you see on television.“

Ghenoa Gela