VDF: A Dance Festival like no other.
Victorian Dance Festival Director and Founder Kate Meade talks with us on the origins of VDF and what makes this year's program so unmissable.
The VDF is the largest dance Festival in Victoria; a spectacular celebration of dance that welcomes students and professionals alike the chance to showcase their skills across all styles (including jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, ballet and more). The Victorian Dance Festival offers an amazing annual opportunity for the Australian Dance community to unite through the celebration of dance and to share their knowledge and passion with each other.
The program offers exciting workshops and incredible support for teachers, students and parents, as well as plenty of show-stopping performances for dance-loving audiences and features renowned international guest dancers. VDF was founded by Kate Meade (a dance school owner and teacher herself) who recognised the need for more interaction and exciting, educational opportunities in the Australian Dance Community.
E: How did Victorian Dance Festival (formerly Isolate Dance Festival) originally come about?
Kate Meade: I ran a dance school for eight years in south-west Victoria, and we were forever taking bus-loads of students down to the full-time schools (like Jason Coleman) to do workshops and go see performances, we traveled to different events around Australia and we just felt that we were always traveling. And then I thought wouldn’t it be so wonderful if just once there was an event close to home, in Victoria, in our own backyard, that we could all enjoy! ...and for it to be as accessible as possible to everyone.
E: We're very excited about the 2016 Emerging Choreographers Grants, allowing some talented young choreographers to showcase new and upcoming works. What else is new to the program this year?
KM: The support has been absolutely phenomenal, I can’t express the excitement we have around the support we’ve gained. Because that support has meant that we’ve been able to create new international partnerships with people like the Joffrey (Ballet) and Kathryn McCormick. And that has been possible only because of players like Dance Informa and Energetiks coming onboard to help us close that gap and open the pathways for international relationships to happen. Being able to offer students internships with the New York City Ballet and Scholarships at the Joffrey Ballet, which is an exciting new opportunity. We’ve also always been an all-abilities accessible festival for people with disabilities, but this year we have a class for the first time that is offered specifically for people with disabilities (taught by Paul Malek), which is very exciting and something that I am very passionate about.
E: That’s so wonderful! VDF also has some exciting opportunities for teachers, what kind of information and support is on offer during the Teachers Seminars and Professional Development Day?
KM: We’ve tried to incorporate the very best leaders in the field that we could get to travel down to regional Victoria. So everything from Karen Malek doing ‘The five points of alignment’, Bronwen Levett is covering ‘Business coaching and life coaching’, Melanie Gard - who is a studio owner, her talk is particularly relevant to VDF - she’s speaking about ‘Connection and collaboration’ - teaching teachers to engage with community on a different level in terms of their business. Not just events and school fetes and things like that, but in terms of working with other businesses.
E: Sounds like a wealth of information on offer! And what about for you personally, what’s the most rewarding part about organising VDF?
KM: There’s a couple of components for me, the first is the connection; it’s very hard to describe how wonderful it is when you see people coming together. They’re already connecting through facebook groups or through their organisations, but it’s hard for dance studio owners to get together. So that’s one side of it - I’ve been able to connect with all of these people and businesses. But the fundamental thing, which is the greatest joy that I have, is when students arrive at the Festival and you can see that they’re tentative and you can see that they’re nervous, and then you watch that all just melt a way as soon as the the classes starts, and it become just a great big community. Kids are connecting with other kids from all around Australia and you can see the friendships and the connections still being formed 12 months and further down the track! You know, they’re sharing each other’s photos and they’re facebook friends.... It’s always about that connection - that’s our catch-cry ‘Uniting the dance communtiy’ and I just feel like an event like VDF is certainly doing that because that’s what we nurture the most.
E: It certainly is a one of a kind event, and such a great opportunity for the Australian dance community to get together. And what about the non-dancers, what does VDF offer people who maybe just enjoy spectating?
KM: It’s developing audiences to appreciate the art of dance. Getting community members to engage. They’ll get a lot of joy out of seeing both students learning, and getting to watch the professionals perform - the people who are really at that elite level, and I think that that’s an important thing; creating a platform where community members who aren’t necessarily a part of the dance industry have an opportunity to come and engage with what’s going on. Because it’s a beautiful artform, and it’s probably one of the most under-funded and under-privileged! So it’s really nice that this is happening, and that this year it’s happening in a regional area.
About Kate: Kate is the National Project Management Officer for Australian Teacher of Dancing and previously Victorian Dance Development Officer for Ausdance Victoria. Prior to that she owned and operated her own dance schools for the past 8 years. Kate is also currently completing a Master of Arts (Media & Communication) at Swinburne University at Hawthorn. At a very young age Kate was given the opportunity to be mentored in the Arts, the development and implementation of events and community engagement. This background and 18 years experience teaching students and adults has highlighted the importance of youth input into programs and the positive impact in the provision of creative opportunities particularly in regional areas. Kate's focus and passion is the ability to educate, identify the strengths and skills in individuals and ensure their participation and role in dance program's that will impact positively and continue to develop throughout their choosen career. Kate's close family tie with Autism,has further educated her and strengthened her ability to recognise the importance of social inclusion at all levels, regardless of age, ability, appearance or cultural background.
Interview by Elly Ford