Australia

How traditional dance is helping to curb crime in Indigenous communities

0:00

Dance is being used to instil leadership in Queensland's remote Indigenous communities.

Dance connects Indigenous communities to culture and country and for many First Nations people, it is a powerful source of inspiration.

In some remote regions of Australia, native song and dance are being credited with helping curb youth crime - by motivating at-risk teens to become local leaders.

On Gungulu and Wadja land behind a community centre in central Queensland, the Kulgoodah Dancers pay tribute to their ancestors through traditional dance.

The Kulgoodah dance group comprise of upwards of 40 dancers from 52 tribes.
The Kulgoodah dance group comprise of upwards of 40 dancers from 52 tribes.
SBS News

Numbers at each rehearsal varies, but the ensemble totals 40 dancers from 52 Indigenous tribes.

Frederick Henry has been a dancer since he was eight years old.

Now 26 and a primary school teacher, he says performing with Kulgoodah matured him and shifted his priorities to helping at-risk kids.

"Well you know it’s good to pass on what the ancestors passed us, to the young generations," Frederick told SBS News.

"I love teaching, and it’s been part of my life. Culture has always been there for me to stop what I’ve been doing in the past and all that. Getting children out of trouble - stop 'em from break and enters and all that."

In 2017, the group performed won the prestigious National Dance Rites competition.
In 2017, the group performed won the prestigious National Dance Rites competition.
Facebook/Kulgoodah Dancers

Thirteen-year-old dancer Marcus Conway and 14-year-old Abram Adams both say sharing those family stories are their favourite part of dancing.

"Because it’s fun and I like dancing for our culture," Abram said.

"Show other people, like show other kids our dances, you know, get people out of trouble."

"It’s good to dance with our culture…it feels special," added Marcus.

The powers of music and dance

The dance troupe has been a staple in the small Indigenous community of Woorabinda for more than 20 years.

The population in Woorabinda numbers less than 1000 people, and, like many other remote towns, suffers from youth crime.

Kruga Adams told SBS News his father started Kulgoodah in the early ‘90s to stop kids from sniffing petrol.

Kruga now runs the group with his partner, Nicky Cameron.

"When our Elder people was around at the time, the respect was real strong at the time. And as Elders started to pass away and that then that sort of respect level started dropping away," Kruga explained.

The Kulgoodah Dancers have performed at the Sydney Opera House, winning the prestigious National Dance Rights competition in 2017. (Supplied)
Supplied

'Bringing respect back to the community'

But Kulgoodah’s successes are gradually helping turn things around in the town.

In 2017, the group performed at the Sydney Opera House - and won the prestigious National Dance Rites competition.

That victory led to an invitation to dance in the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games.

"It’s bringing respect back for our community, and teaching the young kids how to respect others and respect themselves," Nicky Cameron said.

"A lot of the (dancers) are shy. We had one boy that didn’t even like (to) leave the home. Then he joined the dance group and you can’t stop him. He’s well outspoken. Brought him of his shell, you know?"

The dance troupe has been a staple in the small Indigenous community of Woorabinda for more than 20 years.
The dance troupe has been a staple in the small Indigenous community of Woorabinda for more than 20 years.
SBS

Frederick Henry agrees.

"Most of them they’re starting to stand up, talking and taking over. I’m pretty proud of them too, you know, and it keeps me going with them," he added.

This story isn’t unique to Woorabinda. Music and dance are an integral part of Indigenous culture, deeply rooted in identity.

And Kruga Adams explained that in communities across the country, dance is being utilised by younger generations to understand who they are, and decide where they want to be when they are older.

"You forget who you are sometimes, but when you’re doing cultural stuff it brings back that knowledge from what area you’re from," he said.

0:00
The Kulgoodah Dancers.
The Kulgoodah Dancers.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch