Collaboration over competition. That’s the ethos behind the South Australian (SA) Dance Festival, which will be held over the June long weekend in Adelaide.
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When Kim Grant-Taylor and Pep Rigano from the Australian Company of Performing Arts (ACPA) set out to create a dance festival in 2017, their intention was to bring together a community of dancers.
“In the initial instance, we were quite nervous about it because it was the first festival,” Rigano admits. “But we got a great response from the dance schools around Adelaide. Everyone was happy, and there was lots of hype about it. Essentially, we created it to bring the South Australian dance community together, and that’s exactly what we achieved.”
The stated aim of the festival is to bring Australia’s best choreographers, teachers and educators to South Australia to share their experience and knowledge with local dance students in an environment where there isn’t prejudice or judgement. Now, on the cusp of the second iteration of the festival, Rigano reflects on how the event went in its first year, and how they are planning an even better event for 2018.
“Being the organiser, it’s so nice to watch the kids’s eyes light up having these amazing choreographers in front of them,” Rigano states, when asked about the highlights from the inaugural festival. “The festival is quite intimate. There aren’t thousands of dancers. We had about 250 people turn up for the event last year, split up over two different workshops. Seeing the kids light up in that respect was really amazing.”
He continues, “We had a teachers’ conference as well, and it was great having them all in the room together. I loved seeing everyone talking openly about how they feel running their dance schools, and working together to make a better resource for their clients. And of course the showcase night was so cool. We had 12 schools from South Australia perform. I was backstage, and MC. Seeing all the kids so happy and performing on stage was fantastic, and it had this community essence the whole time.”
The second time around…
Rigano was frank about how he and the rest of the team were feeling in the leadup to the event the second time around.
“If I’m honest, I’m feeling quite happy. Last year, we were very nervous. We were really worried people might think our intentions weren’t pure,” Rigano admits, referring to their worry that other dance schools would think they were trying to poach students. “This year, we’re very happy and comfortable that we’ve received so much support from quite a few schools that weren’t on board last year. Of course, there are still schools that we’d like to get on board, but it’s a progressive thing. It won’t happen overnight.”
He adds, “This year, we’re way more relaxed. We’re feeling the support from the schools more than we did last year. I don’t think it’s because they didn’t want to last year, but they are so busy, they didn’t know what it was about. But seeing the success of last year made them want to be more involved this time. And of course, we have done it before now, so we know we can do it. All our systems are in place and we’ve made improvements, so we’re feeling quite good.”
So far, the event has a number of businesses, studios and schools signed up for this year’s event, and they’ve already equaled the number of bookings they had last, and they expect that by the June long weekend, they will have exceeded it.
Growing while retaining intimacy.
“We already have 250 engaged this year, and last year we didn’t have that by this point, so I anticipate we could be hitting the 300 to 350 mark,” Rigano shares. “But at the same time, we don’t want it to be too big because we want to make sure students get value for money and have that intimate experience.”
He goes on, “Some of the interstate schools we have on board this year as sponsors include ED5 International, Patrick Studios Australia and Transit Dance. A number of businesses have also come on board to support us, including Energetiks, Ready Set Dance, Dance Zone, Dancesurance, Dance Vision TV, Evolution Dance Comp, Travel Counsellors of Performing Arts, Movitae, WP World Tours, Spectrum Dance and Perfect Form Physio. As far as actual dance schools coming to the festival, we have quite a few already signed up, including Total Image Dance Company, Flava Dance studios, Accent on Dance, Cheryl Bradley’s Dance studio, Empire Dance Studio, Alana’s Dance Studio, Dance with Leah, Martine Quigley’s Dance Education, Generation Dance and Star Academy.”
Serving the teachers as well as the students.
For the 2018 event, a number of the facilitators from the 2017 event will return, and there will be new faces as well. But the major upgrade is the teachers’ conference.
“Last year, it was six hours and a one-day conference. This year, it will be run over two days and we’ve got some great key speakers,” Rigano reveals. “One is Katrina McCarter, the author of Marketing to Mums. She’ll be talking about how dance schools can market better to their major audience, which is mums. She’ll specifically be talking about the nine mistakes businesses make when marketing to mums, plus seven strategies to fix those mistakes and sell.”
In addition, he says, “Sarah Boulter will not only teach the junior and senior groups but also be in the teachers’ conference with a focus on developing choreography specifically for contemporary dance. And Kate Wormald will do the same for commercial jazz styles. Jack Chambers will be coming to talk about career profiles and the best ways to get yourself into the industry. He’ll talk about his career and how he’s found it since being on So You Think You Can Dance. What he has had to do. What he’s achieved. Who he has had to engage with to get work and keep his career thriving.”
Paul and Karen Malek, who were involved in the 2017 event, will be back again this year.
“Paul will be talking about running a studio as a ‘no politics zone’, which is something he’s very passionate about,” Rigano shares. “He’ll go through the dos and don’ts of maintaining an easy relationship within the studio. Karen is beautiful with young kids and will talk about ways to maximize the junior side of your studio. She’ll talk about things from how to get them to point their feet to how to encourage them to use their imaginations.”
Natalie Ettingshausen will also be sharing ideas about working with young dancers.
“Natalie focuses on teaching preschool dance with her Ready Set Dance program, which has been a tool for growth in studios around Australia. We’ve used it and increased by 80 students by using the program,” Rigano explains. “The program helps schools by offering a national syllabus that can really boost enrolments for junior level classes.”
Also, “Lynette Haines will discuss applied plymotetrics with things like jumping, enhancing the way dancers lift off the floor and exercises on how to do that jump training exercises so dancers’ muscles can exert greater force,” says Rigano. “We’ve seen her talk about that before, which was great.”
The Teachers’ Conference will have professionals from non-dance areas speaking as well, sharing information from physiotherapy, to technology, to insurance needs.
“We’ll have Jess Daniels talking about integrating technology into your dance school,” Rigano explains. “This is something that schools may find a bit challenging, and we want to help them to find ways to use technology better. Sally Harrison from Perfect Form Physio will be back. We had her at the festival last year and had a great response. She did a lecture on feet and safe ways to get on pointe. This year, she is talking about strategies for gaining flexibility and strength using safe exercise practice. And Gail McGeachy from Dancesurance will talk about steps you need to take to ensure your school is protected. This was a huge discussion last year and there were so many questions that the session went on longer than it was supposed to. This year, she’ll also be talking about social media rights and engaging online.”
Learning from working professionals.
In putting together the program for the 2018 event, Rigano outlined the principles and themes that guided their selection of facilitators.
“We listened to feedback from last year about who engaged with what sort of teacher best,” he reveals. “From doing that, we are focused on how they engaged the students and the best way we can get that excitement and hype around the festival. As the event is not genre-specific, we also want to make sure we offer a range of styles. We aim to cross over jazz, contemporary, hip hop, commercial and musical theatre. It’s a pity we can’t do tap, but we can’t tap on the floor in the venue. In choosing the teachers, we look for working professionals in their industry so that we provide more than a dance class, but also the extra elements about how to be a professional. When we first designed the festival, it was about bringing the community together and linking the kids with what they want to do in the future. So the event has a big focus on linking with schools and teachers, so when we select the teachers we look for who is working as a professional at the time.”
Who should come to the Teachers’ Conference?
In speaking about the aims and presenters, Rigano also explains who they hoped to attract to the Dance Teachers’ Seminar, which is sponsored by Dancesurance.
“We hope to attract two different types of teachers,” he explains. “The studio owners, who want to learn how to market and run their schools better, and the actual dance teachers, who are interested in discovering strategies to get the best for their students and therefore for the school.”
He continues, “It’s not just exclusive to teachers in private dance schools. We also welcome education board dance teachers. They can get a certificate at the end of the event to put ten hours towards their training and professional development requirement without having to travel. We don’t want it to just be a private studio thing, but want to bring all dance teachers together so we can contribute to the whole dance community. After all, we all have a similar focus, which is to educate kids in dance, so we should be able to come together. Sometimes, I think people feel threatened by that, but if we learn from each other we can give more to our kids. When you’re a teacher, it’s hard to get out and get professional development, so we have more to give to our kids.”
The Festival will be held on 10 and 11 June at Westminster School, in Marion, 18 minutes south of the Adelaide CBD. The event will have a junior category (for 8 to 13 year olds), seniors (for 14 years plus) and the Teachers’ Conference, as well as a showcase where students will have the chance to perform in a celebration of the dancers and their teacher.
For more information on the South Australian Dance Festival, visit sadancefestival.com.au.
SPECIAL DISCOUNT for Dance Informa readers! Use code “informa2018” to receive 10% off your pass.
By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.