It’s an early Saturday morning, and hundreds of young people are smiling, chatting and waving as their friends join them in waiting for the doors to open. Passersby could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, there are no shops or “Sale” signs in sight, so why all the excitement?
This is VDF: a staple on the dancer’s calendar.
Celebrating its seventh year in 2019, the Victorian Dance Festival, known more commonly as VDF, will be bigger, brighter and bolder under direction of its new owners, Daniel and Deborah Searle. The husband and wife team, who also own global powerhouse Dance Informa, are excited to inject new energy and vision into the well-established, and much loved Festival.
Throw back to the mid 1980s, and a young Deborah Searle has just been registered by her mother to start gymnastics class. “Gymnastics!” I laugh, as she shares this story with me. Apparently, or so the story goes, she had “too much energy” for dance. Even at the age of five, Searle knew it was dance she wanted and convinced her mother through numerous pleas, to start lessons. From this moment, there was no looking back and so, the Festival’s new owner knows firsthand the power of dance and believes it has truly impacted who she is and how she lives her life. Committed to growing the industry so others can experience the fun, energy and creativity that dance can bring, you’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate advocate for dance.
“Dance can bring a lot of joy into your life, it can be a great creative and emotional outlet, and it can be a beautiful passion that can take you to fun and exciting places,” Searle says. “Dance can add so much value to young people’s lives, and because of this, I have dedicated my life to dance.”
With the backing of the worldwide Dance Informa team, expertly led by the dynamic Searle duo, VDF will bring to life all that dancers currently love from the online magazine. Participants will be inspired by a smorgasbord of workshops and classes taught by current industry experts, carefully handpicked by Yvette Lee, the Festival’s artistic director. A celebrated dancer, choreographer and teacher in her own right, Lee brings exciting and fresh insight to the Festival lineup thanks to her work with top artists and creatives from around the globe.
“Yvette knows who is great to work with and who would really inspire and be helpful to this next generation of dancers,” shares Searle. “She’s an integral part of the team. Together, we are able to make sure that we are bringing creatives and choreographers who are not only the right fit but who also have the right energy and heart for the Festival.”
By bringing the world’s best to our shores, VDF will continue to help grow and evolve the dance industry. Simultaneously, it provides an exciting platform to showcase what makes Australian dancers so special to visiting companies such as Royal Caribbean, Joffrey Ballet and Starpower. It truly is an exciting exchange of both information and opportunity!
VDF was built on the philosophy of “community, not competition”, and this ideal will not only be honoured but re-imagined at the April 2019 event. Whilst previously the Festival was almost an exclusive “dancer only” zone, the new look of VDF will encourage the entire community to attend through its extended offering of workshops to dancers and non-dancers alike, from pre-schoolers to professionals with three dance class spaces and even an outdoor stage. It’s here that Searle really starts to get excited. Her voice quickens as she starts to share her vision. “We want everyone to see, feel and enjoy dance!” she says. “We want children and parents to be introduced to dance for the first time. We want to ignite a love for dance. And for those passionate dancers already in love, we want to provide a unique, exciting opportunity to learn, be challenged, perform and make new friends.”
To increase accessibility and inclusivity, the spectator fee has been reduced from $60 to a mere $15, designed to make it an affordable event for families so they can truly embrace and enjoy the time together. Siblings, who may have been relegated to other activities while the dancer of the family attends, will not only be welcomed but especially catered for. Working in conjunction with Project B by the Royal Academy of Dance, there will even be a Super Hero boys-only class for four- to seven-year-olds, where participants can involve themselves in making masks and then exploring movement. Having told the story of many professional dancers through her years at Dance Informa, Searle has seen how dancers simply chanced upon dance. She shares, “So many current professionals started dancing because their sibling did, and they happened to go along to a class and thought to themselves, ‘Oh, I like the look of that, that could be me,’ and that’s what’s changed their life. Without that, they may have never discovered dance.” VDF seeks to open the doors to all, in the hope that it may write the start of at least one new story, just like this.
A Festival in every sense of the word, if dance alone doesn’t whet your appetite, consider the myriad of food trucks, market stalls and performances on offer in the courtyard of Batman Royale in VDF’s first ever outdoor dance market. Yes, even the location has been selected with the specific intention to bring dance to the wider Melbourne community. Located in Coburg, Batman Royale is well known by locals for its markets. Searle believes the new venue will expand the reach of the Festival. “We want people in the wider community to come and see dance,” she says. “We want them to feel the energy and see the joy that dance can bring.
The huge converted warehouse will literally break down the walls and open dance to one and all. With expansive spaces, dancers will be treated with plenty of room to completely throw themselves into their movement. In fact, Searle believes participants won’t only want to dance, they’ll simply have to! “You walk in and you just want to dance, you want to move, you want to feel the space with energy and excitement,” she assures. “It has the most wonderful vibe and is a space that is just asking to be filled with dance and movement.”
While the workshops will offer excitement to dancers across the weekend, VDF seeks to raise up the hundreds of dedicated dance teachers who inspire the nation’s dance students on a daily basis. Working tirelessly in studios, teachers have an incredibly rewarding but often demanding job. As acknowledgement to the essential role they play in growing the dancers of the future, and therefore keeping the industry alive, VDF has dedicated a day to rekindle energy and nourish the spirit of these special people. Titled “Vitality“, the day will serve to remind teachers of their underlying “why”. “We want to remind teachers that they are vital to their dancers, and to know that in their heart,” Searle explains. “We want them to get back to the childhood joy of dance and reignite imagination and childlike creativity.” Bringing together inspirational and educational speakers, as well as movement classes, the day will be held at the Leopard Lodge, within Melbourne Zoo. Attending teachers will even enjoy free access to the zoo itself, with lunchtime providing a wonderful opportunity to wander to nearby attractions like the Butterfly House, Lemur Island or Trail of the Elephants. “We wanted to take the teachers out of the studio, or even a sterile hotel setting, and meet in an inspiring and creative space that reminds us of childhood,” Searle adds. “The Melbourne Zoo Leopard Lodge, with its unique, gorgeous surrounds and delicious catering, will be a treat for us all. We even have our own special VDF VIP Zoo entrance just for our guests!”
Running from 12-14 April 2019, and in line with school holidays across the nation, the Festival will truly open the doors to dance. When I ask Searle to sum up the VDF experience, she quickly jumps at the opportunity. “It’s a time to come together to think about the beauty that is dance, to be inspired, to be empowered, to make friendships, and to add something of real value to the dance community,” she says.
Searle’s enthusiasm is contagious. I finish our interview and walk down the stairs to my team. “Block out 12-14 April next year,” I declare. “We’re all heading to VDF!”
VDF has a new website. Get to www.vdf.com.au to find out more about the April event and to get your tickets.
By Jane Grech of Jane Grech Dance Centre.
Jane Grech is the co-founder and Creative Director of the JG Creative Company, an Australian company dedicated to the development and provision of high quality services to dance and education. Her businesses include Jane Grech Dance Centre, Pirouettes Dancewear, Dance Studio Success and DanceStep Student Teacher Training.
Embracing opportunities to encourage and support other dance studio owners, Jane works as a Leadership and Studio Growth Coach with Dance Studio Owners Association.
An author and speaker on the topics of dance education, entrepreneurship and leadership, Jane is passionate about engaging, motivating and inspiring others. Jane is a regular contributor to Dance Informa Magazine, Dance Studio Owners Association and her own blog, Dance Studio Success.
Jane has three children and runs JG Creative with her husband, Brian. She is a passionate campaigner for cultivating a joy-filled life.