Cultural connection, nourishment and safety are at the core of NAISDA. Embedded transformative cultural practice informs the NAISDA curriculum and performative response, and since our inception in 1976, has always been the powerful foundation for NAISDA learning, wellness and support.
We returned to Darkinjung Country this term after many weeks of lockdown separation and isolated online learning. The world around us had shifted and we were adjusting to our new normality under COVID. Our first priority was to connect back to Country, to ourselves and to each other through cultural sharing.
In late July, Developing Artists and staff gathered around the Fire Circle with Elder Uncle Gavi Duncan who welcomed us back to Darkinjung Ngurra. This began a full day of cultural sharing led by NAISDA Board Director Wesley Enoch and Chair of NAISDA Board of Studies Dr Nerida Blair.
NAISDA Head of Dance, Deon Hastie, who organised the day along with Head of Cultural Practice, Jo Clancy, explained the ongoing importance of the Gathering.
“So much was happening at the time in terms of COVID and Black Lives Matter that we needed some grounding; to focus on caring for ourselves, each other and to refocus on our journeys.”
The day was an opportunity to embrace a community spirit and involve all Developing Artists, staff and guest leaders in discussions.
“Uncle Gavi, Nerida and Wesley were amazing at sharing their stories and facilitating conversations. They showed how the coming together of culture and art has always been at the heart of landmark change in Australia – from the 1965 Freedom Ride, 80’s Land Right Marches, Black Deaths in Custody – Protest and struggle have always been danced, performed, painted and expressed through stories, song and art,” he continued.
“Looking at how we tell our stories and express ourselves in the most powerful way through the arts helped us reflect on the care we all need today and the strategies we need to tend to ourselves and each other. Wesley and Nerida’s sensitive guidance helped us to share anxieties and frame many important conversations.”
Some of the topics discussed included:
- Cultural connection and its impacts on wellbeing
- How dance can play a role in making change
- How racism affects mental health
- Nurturing creativity
- The fear response
- Lateral violence
- Celebrating success
“I think that there was also a real recognition of the risks of spiritual and emotional fatigue, especially at this moment in time. NAISDA is a place where, as Nerida expressed it, “We all have, and can create, a bundle of possibilities.”
The day concluded with the sharing of a Dharug Farewell Dance Yanu Mun-Yana by Cultural Trainer Stuart McMinn, as well as everyone gathering to perform a song and dance called AIDT in Kala Lagaw Ya language by Uncle Sedrick Waia from Saibai Island. It was written and performed regularly as a coming together in NAISDA’s early days.
“Performing AIDT was a very special moment. In fact it made us reflect that perhaps now is the time to create a new NAISDA song and dance,” said Deon.
“As well as finding nourishment and resilience, the day was very much a moment of celebration. We were all reminded not to be afraid of what we have to share, be that creatively, culturally or emotionally.”
“I think we all took away many important through-lines about respect, responsibility and connection and of course these resonate beyond one day.”
“Our vision is to continuously open up spaces for these conversations to happen and encourage open discussions around Men’s and Women’s Lunches, Yarnings, Fire circles and Gatherings. A big thank you to everyone for taking part in our powerful, warm and enriching day,” concluded Deon.
As many Developing Artists will be staying on site during the coming term break, NAISDA has organised a culturally-rich program of activities, building upon the success of this special day.