Southern Network Dance Festival

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With a true passion for dance, the performing arts and public education, committee members Julia Livingston, Renée Marchment and Peta Harris work collaboratively with schools to bring together a fabulously entertaining show for families, community members and Department of Education executives.

There are two venues for the Southern Network Dance Festivals shows this year – Melville High School and the Glasshouse, which will showcase the creativity and energy of public school students from Kinder to Year 12 …

What is the Southern Network Dance Festival?

The Southern Network Dance Festival is a showcase of dance from our region’s public schools. It involves both primary and high schools from the Macleay, Hastings and Camden Haven regions. It was established approximately 25 years ago, being co-organised by retired Chairperson Janice Newton of Crescent Head Public School and a committee of other enthusiastic teachers.

It was a concept adopted from the Department of Education State Dance Festival and has since grown into a beautiful, non-competitive celebration of public education through dance.

What ages of students does the festival cater for … and which schools participate in the event? 

This festival is for public school students from Kindergarten to Year 12. All public schools within our region are welcome to apply to participate in the festival. We are an all-inclusive dance event in which all are encouraged, welcome and supported, from the initial planning stages right up until the performance showcase itself. The festival provides an avenue for first time performers through to elite dancers, who are selected from this festival to perform at the State Dance Festival in Sydney. Over the years there have been quite a few schools from the region who have been successful with State Dance inclusion.

The Southern Network Dance Festival provides schools the opportunity to shine, without the pressure of a competition. This allows schools to fully embrace the process and just enjoy the thrill of dance for the pure love of it. For some students, they love the production elements of the festival, and we have a number of students working backstage to assist with the sound, lighting and the general running of the event.

How has the festival evolved since its early days?

Its early days were seen on the stage of the old Port Macquarie RSL, with one day and night performance. It has since grown to a two-day and night event to now a three day and night celebration. As it has grown, other hosts have been Melville High, Port Macquarie High, Wauchope High, Westport High and Camden Haven High Schools.

As the years go on, the overall standards have continued to rise. The staff of schools show incredible support by responding with wonderful enthusiasm and new, interesting choreography.

The festival has become a major event on the educational calendar involving more than 1,200 students in 2016, which is more than any other creative arts event in our region. This is a wonderful reflection of the interest in dance for our region.

Where will performances take place this year?

Each year, our festival grows in numbers and enthusiasm and for this first time ever, we have two venues. On the 27th and 28th June, Melville High School will host and provide our talented and eager performers with their wonderful stage to perform.

The 29th June will see a showcase of selected items from the festival to perform at the Glasshouse in Port Macquarie.

Without giving too many surprises away, what types of performances can we expect to see this year?

You will expect to see a whole range of performances from the unbelievably cute Kindergarten performers, who are always a crowd favourite, boys’ hip hop groups, high energy jazz items to moving and thought provoking contemporary pieces. Musical theatre will also be present within the festival, as well as some fusion styles. Participants are encouraged to create items which communicate ideas. It is always such a pleasant surprise to see the variety of items created.

Some of the items are choreographed by the students themselves, while others are directed and choreographed by staff at the school. Many of these items are created during lunchtimes or after school rehearsals. It is so commendable to the participating staff from our public schools that they so generously donate their personal time in order to provide their students opportunities and learning experiences that encourage creativity, teamwork and problem solving skills.

How much do tickets to the event cost, and where can readers purchase them?

Tickets for the 7pm performances at Melville High School can be purchased through your local participating school for $10. There is also a matinee performance each day at Melville High School, where tickets can be purchased at the door for $3. The Glasshouse showcase tickets can be purchased through the box office or online via the Glasshouse website.

Final say …

Dance is often seen as an “extracurricular” activity and particularly in our economic climate, the validity of the creative arts is often questioned as to its relevance within schools. It is events such as the Southern Network Dance Festival which provides our students with an outlet for creative expression. It allows those kinaesthetic learners the chance to increase their understanding of numeracy and visual literacy and provides an opportunity to get moving in a fun, non-competitive environment.

The creative arts are worthwhile, and it is evident by the smile of every single student who graces the stage and every teacher who is bursting with pride for their students that the creative arts should not just be supported, but celebrated as a necessary part of our lives.

Thanks everyone.

Interview by Jo Robinson.

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