Kummarge provides pathways for emerging First Nations dance artists at the VCA
Kummarge, a new program directed by dance artist and visionary leader, Wiradjuri man Daniel Riley, is about ensuring that First Nations students and aspiring dance artists don’t leave their cultural identity at the door when they study Dance at the VCA.
Kummarge is a Boon Wurrung word that means to arise.
The word was gifted by Boon Wurrung Elder N’arweet Carolyn Briggs to a new dance program at the Victorian College of the Arts that aims to provide pathways and culturally safe spaces for emerging First Nations dance artists.
“I wanted to invest that word into these young people, because they’re rising stars. They’re going to be the future, they’re going to be our tomorrow…. And Kummarge means that,” says N’arweet Carolyn.
Director and founder of the project, Wiradjuri dance artist Daniel Riley developed the program together with Head of VCA Dance, Carol Brown, with the ongoing support of the Wilin Centre of Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, and generous support of the Dara Foundation.
Kummarge is a multi-faceted program that aims to create a culturally safe environment for students to grow as artists. The program connects First Nations students to Indigenous staff, resources and mentorship.
The program, says Daniel, is about ensuring that First Nations students and aspiring dance artists don’t leave their cultural identity at the door when they study Dance at the VCA.
“They are wholly encouraged to continue to explore who they are, how they connect to Country, how they connect to their mob, their communities, and how that influences them as dance artists,” he says.
Mentorship and community lie at the heart of the Kummarge program, with senior Indigenous dancers invested in supporting students to maintain their connections to kin and Country.
Also falling under the Kummarge umbrella is the Anne Kantor First Nations Dance Scholarship, which offers First Nations Dance students $10,000 per annum for the entirety of their degree, to go towards returning to Country and the development of new works.
Gamilaroi dancer Amelia O’Leary, now in her third year of the Bachelor of Dance began her time at the VCA before the introduction of Kummarge, as the only First Nations student in her cohort. She says the introduction of the program in her third year has dramatically changed her experience.
“Kummarge is really important because it is kinship and it’s family,” says Amelia.
“That is something, culturally, that we carry and we need that safety with us when we enter quite a white space,” she says.
“To have people there that support you, that’s everything for mental health,” she says.
Dunghutti-Gomeroi and Wiradjuri dancer, Zoe Brown arrived at the VCA in the first year of Kummarge. Knowing she would have cultural support was important for her decision to study dance at the VCA.
“Working with Dan and his mentorship has been really, really helpful,” she adds.
“There’s not enough words to say how beautiful the connection which has formed is,” says Zoe, of her relationships with Daniel and Amelia.
In essence, says Daniel, the Kummarge program is about creating pathways.
“It’s about creating stronger culturally safe and respectful pathways for students and for emerging First Nations dance artists,” he says.
When coming to Boonwurrung Country, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs invites us to ask,
“what is our purpose?”
Through the Kummarge program, she says:
“Our purpose is to inform you that we have a relationship with you as young potential performers, to be able to tell our stories on this land, and your own stories.”
“It’s about having respect for self, respect for the institution you will be a part of, but it’s also about having respect for Country.”
First Nations dance students who apply to study Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts are automatically part of the Kummarge program, and will be automatically considered for the Anne Kantor First Nations Dance Scholarship.
- Apply to study the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Dance) at the Victorian College of the Arts. Applications close 30 September.