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Dancing for Canberra’s homeless

Ashleigh Went

Youth Dance Festival (better known to students as Dance Fest) is a non-competitive annual celebration of dance – but look a little deeper, and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.

Every year is shaped by a theme, which students are invited to explore creatively. This years theme is “Right Here, Right Now”. Creative Director Jamie Winbank says that he’s seen the theme interpreted differently by all 39 participating schools – with some students choosing to showcase festive, playful performances, while others are exploring important social issues.

Tuggeranong College certainly fits the latter category, having chosen to explore the issue of homelessness.

“We wrote up on the board a whole bunch of world problems,” explains Shekira, a Tuggeranong College student, “and homelessness really stood out to us. We started talking about different things we’d heard about it, sharing stories and personal experiences.”

The students began researching the theme, and teacher Jo Perry played them an episode of the ABC’s You Can’t Ask That about homelessness.

“Immediately after the show finished, they applauded. It’s not often that a class will applaud the TV” says Jo.

The show revealed a different side of homelessness to the girls; one that hit close to home.

“There was a girl who you would assume was just a normal girl, she looked really nice and professional. She left a situation where was at home, and felt like the dangers on the streets were safer than the situation she was in” says Shekira.

“That got to us because we’re the same age that she was. She didn’t tell her family or her school that she was sleeping on a bench. We realised, it could be someone at our school – it could be someone in this class – and we just don’t’ know it.”


The process that the girls went through to create their performance piece illustrates that Dance Fest is so much more than just a celebration of dance. It’s an opportunity for students to explore the issues that face the world around them, and their place within it. You can see how the girls have come together over this project, their shared common cause, and worked together as a team to develop a concept and a performance to creatively express their learnings.

“We decided on the music, we decided that upbeat music or words wouldn’t do it – we wanted more to express from our movements than the lyrics” says Tara.

The music puts an appropriately sombre filter on the emotionally charged performance.

“The dance essentially tops and tails with the end of the day; people finishing work and going home. The bulk of the dance is at night time, and then the day starts again” says Jo.

The girls research has granted them a deeper understanding of what life is like for Canberrans on the streets.

“We all found out that Canberra has the second highest rate of homelessness per capita in Australia” says Hannah. “It made me realise how big of a thing it is, and that nobody really realises.”21764450_10212757455903879_1654222457_o

“We wanted to get rid of the stereotype of how homeless people looked – some people have ripped clothes, other people just have casual clothes – not everyone is going to be in rags” explains Shekira.

Perhaps more importantly than the dance itself, the creative process has inspired the girls to take action in their community.

“We were talking earlier of possibly dedicating a lunch break to going out to Civic and handing out bags of necessities to homeless people” Shekira says.

The class hopes that their performance will also inspire other Canberrans to take action.

“It [homelessness] is very confronting, we want to confront the audience. Instead of just being a thing where they acknowledge that it’s an issue and there’s a dance about it, we want to get theta do something. Not just to be aware, but to actually take action – be that person to give them food or money to help it be not such a big problem” says Tara.

For Makaylah-Jade, the process has been a reminder of how fortunate she and her peers are, when others have so little.

“What I think about every time [we perform] is how lucky I am, I have all these great things, and how I could help and how I’m going to help.”

You can watch this powerful performance for yourself at Youth Dance Festival, which runs from the 20th to the 22nd of September 2017 at the Canberra Theatre Centre. There are so many reasons to go: not only did I thoroughly enjoy Tuggeranong College’s performance (and you will to – you can catch it this Thursday night) but I also left feeling personally inspired and informed about our community. It’s an excellent

the essentials:

What: Youth Dance Festival 2017
When: Wednesday 20 – Friday 22 September, from 7:30pm
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
Tickets: $34 full price or $29 concession, call 02 6275 2700 or visit

Feature image credits:

Back row: Jo Perry, Shekira Spitaler, Emma Langdon, Anastasia Pinwill
Mid row: Tara Graham, Tina Ahadizad, Makaylah-Jade O’Connor, Shannon Pace
Front row: Hannah Merry, Sally Taylor, Rachel Ernst, Cathleen Nesbitt-Heelan
(Missing: Kat Moebus)


Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author