• DanceRites artwork. Credit Lucy Simpson.
    DanceRites artwork. Credit Lucy Simpson.

This November sees the return of DanceRites, Australia’s national dance competition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance groups. The competition will be held on November 25 & 26, back on-site on the Sydney Opera House Forecourt for the first time since 2019 (Covid and lockdowns forced the hiatus).

This free event will be the largest on-site iteration of the competition since it began in 2015. More than 350 performers in 25 dance groups will represent over 30 nations and clans in DanceRites this year, for a joyous celebration of First Nations music, dance and culture.

Jannawi Dance Clan - Dance Rites 2019. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Michael Hutchings, said: "Over the past nine years, DanceRites has grown into one of our country’s most joyful First Nations cultural events. It’s an important moment for First Nations dance groups and communities across Australia to showcase their diverse cultures and storytelling traditions - that go back thousands of years - through the powerful mediums of dance and song. Lockdowns meant pausing for a couple of years, so it will be very special to welcome hundreds of deadly performers and an audience of thousands back to the Opera House for the first time since 2019."

DanceRites will unfold over two days, with heats on Saturday 25 November and finals on Sunday 26 November. Each group will present a Cultural Dance and Song cycle, representing their local storytelling and language, with many also performing an optional ‘Wildcard’ dance to showcase their own unique style.

Dinawan Connections - DanceRites 2019. Photo by Jaimi Joy.

Groups will be judged by a panel of First Nations dance experts on their technical dance skills, engagement with language and culture, skin-markings and traditional instrumentation. The panel is:

  • Elma Gada Kris (Wagadagam Kigus, Kai Dangal Buai, Sipingur): 2019 NAIDOC Artist of the Year, Elma’s career as a dancer, choreographer and teacher saw her become Bangarra Dance Theatre’s longest serving dancer to date.
  • Gina Rings (Kokatha Mirning): With extensive experience representing contemporary and traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through theatre, dance and film, Gina has worked as a dancer, choreographer, director, producer, and is currently a producer with Country Arts SA.
  • Matthew Doyle (Muruwari): Passionate about passing on the culture of the Sydney peoples through language, music, story, song and dance, Matthew is a songman, dancer, musician and educator.
  • Peta Strachan (Dharug): Founder and currently Artistic Director of Jannawi Dance Clan, Peta is a professional dancer, choreographer, teacher, costume and prop maker with 37 years of experience in the industry and an Alumni of NAISDA, AIDT and Bangarra.
  • Sani Townson (Koedal, Dhoeybaw, Samu Saibai Island Zenadth Kes): An award-winning dancer who trained with NAISDA Dance College, Sani has also worked as a choreographer, writer, theatre-maker, and mentor, and is currently Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Youth Program Coordinator.

The groups competing at DanceRites 2023 include:

  • AFL Cape York Aboriginal Dance Team (Umpila and Djabugay/Yirrgay, QLD)
  • ALLKUMO Malpa Paman (Southern Kaantju and Ayapathu, QLD)
  • ANPY Central Desert Mob Dancers (Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantatjara and Yankunytjatjara, NT)
  • Boigu Island Dance Group (Karbay/Baidham, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Brolga Dance Academy (Gamilaroi and Murrawarri, NSW)
  • Budaabang Bari (Budaabang, NSW)
  • Deaf Indigenous Dance Group (Gimuy Walubara Yidinji, QLD)
  • Dinawan's Connection (Ngemba, NSW)
  • Dunghutti South West Rocks (Dunghutti, NSW)
  • Eip Karem Beizam (Meriam, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Giingan Yiiliwiyay Dancers (Gumbaynggirr, NSW)
  • Gumaraa Dancers (Gadhu, NSW)
  • Kutaw Zoeru Torres Strait Island Dance Group Brisbane (Koedal, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Maarli Nhuuhngkhus Pikilarna maarni Men & Women dance and sing (Ngympyiaa, Barkindji & Maaura, VIC)
  • Muimuu Bumer Gedlam (Peiudu, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Ngadju Dancers (Ngadju, WA)
  • Ngagalayg Kabaw Buway (Baidham Augadhalaig - Moegi Buai Tribe, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Ngaran Ngaran (Walbunja, Djirringanj and Ngarrigu, NSW)
  • Of Desert and Sea (Yankunytjatjara, SA)
  • Sundowners Kalkutungu Dancers (Kalkutungu, QLD)
  • Swan Hill Aboriginal Dance Group (Wemba Wemba, VIC)
  • Walanmarra Malungan (Wiradjuri, NSW)
  • Warradhaa Dancers (Wiradjuri, NSW)
  • Yalanji Warra (Kuku Nyungkal, QLD)
  • Yangkay Cultural Connect (Ngemba, NSW)

A total of $36,000 in prizes will be awarded this year, including group awards for the winner and runner-up, as well as a separate prize for the best ‘Wildcard’ dance. Two Rites of Passage awards will also acknowledge individuals’ outstanding contributions to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

DanceRites is free for all to attend on the Opera House Forecourt. To receive audience information in the lead up to the event, sign up here.

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