Melbourne Cup Masthead

Self Directed Dance: Ausdance ACT Youth Dance Festival

Emily Simpson

40 schools, 58 dance original dance works.

This year’s Ausdance ACT Youth Dance Festival, the 32nd in the event’s history, is drawing crowds of Canberra’s school kids yet again to the glittering world of dance and performance. The 2016 theme ‘Be Loud, Be Heard’ invites high school and college student to do just that, from 7 to 9 September this year.

Jamie Winbank, the festival’s Creative Director, has visited each of this year’s participating schools. St John Paul II College, in accordance with their educational philosophy of self-directed learning, has given students complete responsibility for the organisation and execution of each piece entered in the festival.

Being only four years old, the John Paul II College (JPC) is still finding its dancing feet. Not only is the school new in the Canberra community, this is the first year it has entered the Dance Festival. After a chat with the students involved in JPC’s entry piece, however, it seems that the event perfectly mirrors the school’s overall ethos.


As a school that prides itself on being ‘enquiry-based’ and encouraging its students to maintain awareness of world issues, the concept-based Youth Dance Festival sets the stage for the school’s strengths to be showcased.

One of JPC’s student directors, Emily Watt, says that having “the philosophy and ethos of the school being one that is completely enquiry based, obviously opens much bigger parameters and discussion points”. This means the students are “not scared to…have a voice ourselves” and “ask the big questions, and challenge each other with controversial questions”.

It’s these fundamental principles that guide the development of JPC’s piece for the festival, which was hinted at being centred on the topic of seeking asylum in Australia.

Not only will the learning experience of students at the school make them more passionate about the routine they will deliver on 8 September, the idea that dance can be used as an art form has inspired many students – even those who are not from a dance background – who are partaking in the festival.


Emily says dance has been valuable in “promoting students to see the body as a tool in creating art” and that Dance Festival is “a great platform for dance to be promoted as subject within the arts that can move people”.

Offered as a subject to each year group, and a compulsory subject for Year 8 students, dance has formed a significant part of JPC’s curriculum. The number of boys partaking in an activity perceived to be reserved for girls could indict the success of this program.

Beyond the physical and the mental, the festival – which, for the record, is not a competition to find a winner but rather an opportunity for schools to showcase a piece they’ve been working on – also encourages students to embrace the organisational side of the project.

Ordinarily the role that teachers would assume but the administrative part of the project has been challenging yet rewarding for many students. One student involved in the project says that helping organise the event has improved her confidence. Considered shy at home, she cites emailing and calling relevant parties to ensure the event runs smoothly for JPC as being the most rewarding aspects of the project so far.

Students are encouraged to ‘take ownership, take leadership’. It’s rare, says a teacher at the school, that the ‘teacher isn’t the brains behind it’. Yet this is all part of JPC’s outlook on education, and this should play to their strengths when they will deliver what should be a stellar performance.

the essentials

What: Ausdance ACT 2016 Youth Dance Festival: Be Loud, Be Heard
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 7-9 of September 2016 at 7.30pm
Book: Buy online at or phone 02 6275 2700

HerCanberra is a proud sponsor of the Ausdance ACT 2016 Youth Dance Festival.

All photography by Tim Bean Photography.


Emily Simpson

Emily is a fourth year Arts/Laws student at the Australian National University. When she’s not studying, which is most of the time, she’s hanging out with friends, drinking coffee, frequenting bakeries in the search for finger buns and vegemite scrolls, or playing sports. Gradually getting closer to the end of her five-year degree, Emily is still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do ‘when she grows up’, with potential career paths in either law or something related to writing. For now, though, she’s enjoying soaking up the Canberra lifestyle! Emily also writes at More about the Author

Throsby Leaderboard