How to win thousands by dancing the House down

One of Australia’s most successful Indigenous dance competitions is back this year after a stunning 2015 debut.

Dance Rites, the Sydney Opera House’s groundbreaking Indigenous dance competition, has sparked great interest across the country and on Sunday, October 9, will see even more teams enter to have a crack at taking home almost $30,000 prize money.

The highlight of the Opera House’s annual Homeground celebration of First Nations arts and culture, Dance Rites aims to safeguard and revitalise vanishing cultural practices – language, dance, skin markings and instruments – to ensure they are shared from one generation to the next.

More than 150 participants from 10 communities across New South Wales, Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands Indigenous communities took last year, culminating in a breathtaking final watched by a capacity crowd on the Opera House’s Western Broadwalk.

Last year Cape York’s Naygayiw Gigi dancers picked up first prize, Nowra’s Yuin Ghudjargah came second, and the Djaadjawan dancers from Sydney’s La Perouse took out a special award. Huge crowds turned up to encourage and witness some spectacular dancing.

The competition was inspired by the highly successful Pow Wow Circuit in North America and Kapa Haka Festival in New Zealand.

“Dance Rites gives the young and the old in our community the opportunity to promote their culture, but it also inspires them because it shows them how important their culture is,” said Naygayiw Gigi Dancer Leonora Adidi.

SOH Head of Indigenous Programming Rhoda Roberts will travel to remote, rural and regional areas to work with individuals, community groups, Aboriginal Land Councils and local councils to engage participants and local communities.

“We are losing this cultural knowledge on a daily basis so it’s vital that traditional dance takes a prominent place in modern Australian culture. The Sydney Opera House has been a meeting place for many years and the first Corroboree was held between black and white on this site,” she said.

“A national platform and competition, Dance Rites enables audiences to engage with language, dance, skin markings and traditions of diverse First Nations cultures. But it’s not just an experience for audiences – by participating in Dance Rites individuals can reconnect and reclaim their personal histories through dance as well as share these experiences in their communities.”

Each group presents three dances – a welcome and farewell dance, one of which must include a chant in local language, and a third ‘wildcard’ dance of the group’s choosing. The winner receives $20,000 and the opportunity to perform at Homeground at the Opera House next year. The runner-up will receive $5,000 in prize money and this year a new prize of $3,000 will be awarded to the best ‘wildcard’ dance of the finals.

The competition takes place on the site previously known as Tubowgule, which has been a meeting place for the local Gadigal people for thousands of years.

Registrations are now open at for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia who have, or would like to develop, a dance group.


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