Sidney Saltner is a Wulli Wulli and Wakka Wakka man from Central Queensland. He is the Youth Programs Director for Bangarra Dance Theatre and has held the role for a decade, after retiring as a performing artist for the company. He was part of establishing a program that is best practice in intergenerational knowledge sharing in First Nations communities.
After 15 years as a professional dancer and a life on tour with Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sidney worked with Stephen Page (Bangarra’s first and long-time Artistic Director) and current Artistic Director, Frances Rings, to focus on opportunities for First Nations youth. Through this work he became the head of the youth programs for the company. Together, the three creative artists developed the flagship youth dance program for Bangarra called Rekindling.
When considering ‘best practice’, Sidney reflected on the program’s pathway – it encompasses stages of early engagement with the community, the knowledge sharing that occurs throughout and the works created as a culmination of the program.
Sidney explained, “In our communities there is a strong need for our youth and Elders to be brought together, to share knowledge and stories and rekindle that connection to culture and strengthen their identities.”
The program “acts as a platform for knowledge sharing between Elders and Youth (generally high school aged students), with a focus on instilling pride in their identity and culminating in a performance of dance works they created – showcased at a community performance toward the end of the program”, Sidney said.
Respect is understood, in the context of this program, as a practice. It can be introduced into the design of an initiative as an invitation from the community; it is evidenced in the way and at the time that engagement takes place. The Rekindling Program only travels to communities where it’s invited.
Communities, schools, local organisations or individuals put forward an Expression of Interest for the program to come to their town. This initiates a rigorous community engagement phase, working with local mob to start initial conversations with key community members and explain the make-up of the program, the layout of which is based on how Bangarra develops their larger scale productions.
“The program is designed for the Youth Team to work with the community and students to create dance works. We were hearing from our communities that a lot of other programs who come into our communities are in and out and never to be seen again. So what we wanted to do is create that connection with communities and provide as many touch points over a three year period as possible. The make-up of the program ensures this”, Sidney said.
The Rekindling Program is divided into five stages, typically delivered over three years.
The first stage is the above-mentioned Community Engagement phase, followed by the bulk of the program: the three Gatherings (workshop and cultural learning phases), and then the Revisit phase.
The Gatherings are broken down as:
Gathering 1 – Introduction + On Country (connection to land Country and people and focus of ‘self’/identity)
Gathering 2 – Creative tasking for development of dance work and learning skills to further developing their works
Gathering 3 – Finalising dance work and community performance
The Revisit phase sees the Youth Program Team return to a community a year after the delivery of their performance. Students are encouraged to bring a friend to workshops hosted by the team to reflect on the learnings of the previous year and explore any new content that has emerged since.
The various stages of interaction with youth are crucial moments of connecting youth and Elders, enabling them to share and learn and pass on valuable cultural learnings, “while creating dance works that tell the stories of their community and people.”
For Sidney, best practice is evident in the program’s unique stretching of exchanges across five years: “We don’t just come in once, without a formed relationship with key mob and our participants, only to leave immediately. Taking time to learn stories and be on Country in creating the works is how the program has survived and thrived for so long.”
“Some of the common themes across every state have been stories of the Stolen Generations, Creation stories, totemic stories and local Dreamtime stories from each community. These stories need to be cared for, shared over time and made into dance works that the youth and Elders of the community can be proud of. We have a responsibility to ensure that there is a culturally safe platform to do this in.”
If you’re interested in the Rekindling Program coming to your community, please email email@example.com
BDT – Rekindling Roebourne 2021_credit Jordan Shields
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