Dance Rites shares and preserves First Nations culture for all

Culture, traditional dance and language will pump through the veins and into the heart of Sydney this month with the return of Australia’s fifth annual national First Nations dance competition, Dance Rites.

Hosted at Bennelong Point, known as Tubowgule, a meeting place of storytelling, ritual celebration and dance, the competition will take place over two days. It will host over 300 performers from dance groups spanning across the nation.

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts AO, said this is an event to celebrate and honour the culture that is our nation.

“Particularly in the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, we invite all sectors of the community to experience the ancient traditions of the world’s oldest living culture. By engaging with culture, we preserve and celebrate it for future generations,” Ms Roberts said.

Created in 2015, Dance Rites has aimed to promote youth empowerment, cultural knowledge and confidence in community through custodial leadership at a grassroots level.

The 2018 winning group, Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dance Company from Nunukul, Yuggera and Yugumbir nations in Queensland are returning as performers this year.

Company Director Leanne Ruska said the team is excited to witness and connect with new and upcoming dance troops.

“[It’s] the connecting of our cultures, like back in the old times. With us we have certain tribal men who were messengers, so they’d go out and keep that connection with different tribal groups. This is a good platform for that to continue to happen,” Ms Ruska said.

“We wouldn’t be able to connect with those communities any other time, it’s given opportunity for the wider community and Indigenous community to witness the culture is still alive and powerful.”

As the 2018 winners, Nunukul Yuggera received funding which has helped them continue their work in community.

“We purchased a vehicle … it’s helped us to be able to pick up young Indigenous children who are at risk and disadvantaged … to participate in cultural song and dance when they wouldn’t have the opportunity any other time to,” Ms Ruska said.

“It’s really helped us to engage in those sorts of areas, we’ve done this [for] a long time … but we were under a youth service when we did it. We didn’t have the resources to keep that [going] because we don’t work under the youth service anymore.”

The 2019 program will host performers such as Banula Marika of Yothu Yindi, rapper Nooky, Darug singer-songwriter Jacinta Tobin, The Narli Ensemble and Zaachariaha Fielding from Electric Fields.

The festival is also a platform for sharing knowledge and culture with international First Nations communities, such as Native American collective Indigenous Enterprise who will also be performing.

Dance Rites is a free event at the Forecourt of Sydney Opera House, taking place on both Saturday November 23 and Sunday November 24.

By Rachael Knowles

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