In a significant move for NAISDA, we are thrilled to announce that the College will soon be offering an Advanced Diploma of Professional Dance Performance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples. The Advanced Diploma will cater to practicing Indigenous artists looking to advance their professional qualifications.
The course is planned to be brought onto the NAISDA curriculum later this year and will be headed by two legends of dance – Jo Clancy and Alfred Taahi.
A celebrated dancer, choreographer and practitioner of Māori descent, Alfred is NAISDA’s new Advanced Diploma Coordinator, who along with Head of Cultural Practice, Jo Clancy, will spearhead the new Advanced Diploma.
In our interview with him, we find out about his incredible career and what he has in store for this new course.
Tell me about yourself and your professional background:
This year is my 40th year in the dance industry. I started dancing jazz ballet at the age of eight in Auckland, New Zealand, then moved into classical ballet. I came from a small Māori settlement and there wasn’t a lot of ballet around, so I am not really sure what sparked my passion! My parents put me in other sports like judo, but I always wanted to go back to dance.
I moved to England when I was a teenager to train at the Hammond Ballet School in Cheshire. While there, I got accepted into the Royal Ballet School. I trained for a year before auditioning for the Frankfurt Ballet, where I spent a year with the company.
I returned to New Zealand and joined Limbs Dance Company, which was a fantastic company to dance with. When touring a show to Sydney, I was approached by Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon and asked to join Sydney Dance Company. In 1983, I moved to Australia and started dancing with Sydney Dance Company. That’s where I met Kim Walker – NAISDA Dance College’s CEO.
I left Sydney Dance Company in 1995 and did what most in the dance industry go on to do – work as an independent artist. I worked as a choreographer and also began teaching around Sydney to sustain myself – I had five kids by then so needed a reliable income!
I started teaching full-time students at Conlan College, which was a great experience because the students were so dedicated. Teaching full-time students is a lot different to teaching night students, because full-time students have a huge drive to succeed. I started applying myself to teaching, taking a lot of inspiration from how I had been taught.
In 2011, I was approached by the National College of Dance to oversee their Diploma Course, which enabled me to step up to vocational education. In my opinion, vocational arts training is the way Australia needs to move in order to catch up with what is happening in Europe.
When NAISDA started developing its Advanced Diploma, Kim Walker approached me and asked if I wanted to be involved, which leads me to where I am now.
Tell me about your new role as NAISDA’s Advanced Diploma Coordinator:
I feel like it is still developing. I am NAISDA’s Advanced Diploma Coordinator and will be coordinating the Advanced Diploma along with Head of Cultural Practice Jo Clancy. The Advanced Diploma will be offered to established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists looking to step up or enhance their qualifications. It’s different to the Diploma courses because most of these students will come into the course knowing exactly where they want to go and how they want to get there.
It is practicing artists talking to professional artists. We’ll be helping to guide them to where they want to get to in their career. Because of this, I think that the course will differ slightly for each individual.
What will the Advanced Diploma involve?
Under it we will offer Cultural Arts Practice, Community Arts Practice and Professional Arts Practice. Each will involve completely different aspects and cover different areas of professional development. It’s a huge course – there will be 34 units to choose from; eight core and then elective units.
With it being brand new to NAISDA, we are just finalising some of its delivery – so stay tuned!
Why do you think offering an Advanced Diploma is an important next step for NAISDA?
I think it brings NAISDA in line with what is happening in the dance industry. Overseas, arts institutions are experiencing a lot of demand for that level of attainment. That step up in qualifications brings such a professional attitude for the artist.
It’s also about becoming more than just an artist. They will learn business and negotiation – areas which are really important for navigating your career as a professional dancer. The arts industry in Australia is scary! When I first started out, I didn’t realise that it was possible to negotiate a contract – it took talking to the older dancers to learn these things. But now, due to budget cuts, unfortunately there are less of these ‘veterans’ around to provide guidance.
What are you most looking forward to about working at NAISDA?
I’m really looking forward to being immersed in the cultural side of things; to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. For most of my career, I’ve been more involved in the commercial side of dance so it is nice to come into an organisation which has a different and holistic focus and perspective.
We can’t wait to share more information on NAISDA’s Advanced Diploma course soon. Make sure you subscribe to NAISDA to get news to your inbox as it happens!