Earlier this year, on January 27, dancers descended onto Philip Island to take part in BEYOND DANCE – proudly supporting beyondblue.
Different from other events, BEYOND DANCE focuses on student choreography, all with a cause, to support the important work of beyondblue – the non-profit organisation working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and mental illness.
The event organiser, Deb Campbell, says that the event began as just “backyard fun” that grew and grew. “My own children and those of friends had the idea of some ‘backyard fun’ making up their own dance routines,” she says. “As we mentioned it to others in passing, more and more people said, ‘What a great idea.’ It just unfolded from there, and next thing we knew, we had a venue and 50 performers on stage. This was the avenue we needed, but the launch took off more by support of others rather than a ‘decision’.”
Campbell continues, “Lots of dance events do have a student choreography section, but we could not find an event that was purely about the creativity of the students in all genres. Younger students don’t always get the chance to show they can create a performance using skills they have learned from their teacher, so this was our chance to also open up that opportunity. Whether the student learns ballet or hip hop, Irish dancing or baton twirling, many of them love to put together their own combinations for both personal expression and fun!”
Whilst BEYOND DANCE’s event is a competition, Campbell says that it’s not about the competition. “We ask the kids to challenge themselves, to think outside the box and create something special,” she explains. “All the feedback we give is positive. We have no formal critiques as one would expect to receive in a mainstream dance comp; that is not what we are about. We focus on the kids feeling good and having their creativity recognised.”
Campbell elaborates, “By showcasing ‘student choreography’, our fundraiser got to do two things: we raise important funds for mental health services of beyondblue, of course, which is our main aim, but we also help raise awareness of how a creative art may help improve mental health through expression without having to speak verbally.”
As the event is in memory of Campbell’s brother, beyondblue was an easy choice to fundraise for. “beyondblue was the obvious choice for us to support, as I was already looking for a mental health charity to fundraise for after sadly losing my brother a couple of years ago,” she explains. “He learned dance when he was young, way back when boys rarely stepped foot in a dance class, and he was always smiling when he was dancing.”
The competition ends with the gala evening and the “blue challenge”. Performing and choreographing classical, neo, contemporary or lyrical, participants are invited to interpret the theme as they wish: beyondblue Hope, Resilience and/or Recovery. “All the students show great emotion, with their heart and soul often put into every step whilst the age groups are scored over multiple adjudicators on choreography, execution, musicality, presentation and entertainment,” says Campbell. “There is also one outstanding piece selected by Adjudicator’s Choice whom she believes has encompassed all of what beyondblue is about. In 2018, this Blue Challenge Championship was awarded out of 25 amazing performances to a piece by the winner, Gabby Petersen (14), choreographed and named ‘Hurts like Hell’.”
One of the judges, Amber Orchard (director of Parallel Youth Dance Company and owner of KADS), mentions she was “blown away” with all of the talent. “I was looking for use of space, interesting choreography, new combinations I had not seen, and choreography that suited the dancer,” Orchard reveals. “I was blown away with the talent, not only as dancers but as choreographers. There are some amazing up-and-coming choreographers whom I look forward to watching over the coming years!”
BEYOND DANCE also awards two ambassadors each year. This year’s ambassador is Olivia Withington, with the photographic ambassador yet to be announced. “We try and give our Dance Ambassador as many opportunities as possible to attend other dance events throughout the year in support and awareness of our fundraiser, and that person also opens our stage the following year,” Campbell says. “Our Photographic Ambassador is featured in our promotions and on our billboard at the event, which is a highlight for a young student, and he/she helps out or fills in for the Dance Ambassador if needed.”
Exceeding its expectations and raising almost $3000 for beyondblue the first year and nearly $5000 this year, BEYOND DANCE only hopes to get bigger and better. ”Next year, we hope to include another venue featuring displays of other creative arts like photography, visual art drawing/painting/sculpture,” Campbell shares. “We are looking for teams of dance and non-dance supporters to develop the event into a national fundraiser for beyondblue and invite anyone interested in being involved to contact us. One day, our ultimate goal is to have the Blue Challenge televised.”
For more information on BEYOND Dance, visit beyonddance2018.wixsite.com/beyonddance2018.
By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.