• COVID-19 was not enough to stop Wiradjuri woman, Janaya Lamb, from continuing her third year at NAISDA Dance College. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
After the pandemic put productions on hold and sent students home, Indigenous dance training college, NAISDA, is again welcoming budding performers and taking their auditions online.
Shahni Wellington

20 Sep 2020 - 12:43 AM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2020 - 10:27 AM

While the coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a halt, dance hopefuls may not have to keep their dreams on hold. 

For the first time, NAISDA Dance College, a premier Indigenous dance training program located on the Central Coast of New South Wales, is taking its auditions straight to the performers, creating an online video process.

Those who have dedicated years of time and energy as NAISDA 'developing artists' were also able to continue their studies, with the establishment of an online learning platform.

It comes after students from across the country, including remote places like north-east Arnhem Land, were sent home earlier this year for safety reasons. 

Growing up on Gamilaraay and Bundjalung Country Wiradjuri woman, Janaya Lamb, made the choice to return to campus and continue her studies. 

"I do miss home a lot but I miss Just being around the family and everything like that, but you create a second family being here so you got a lot of support," Ms Lamb said.

In the last year of her Diploma, COVID-19 almost curtailed the culmination of her hard work.

"Usually in our final year we create a compositional piece, so we'll come up with a piece that we've created and we get to show it off and everything like that," Ms Lamb said.

"But this year with coronavirus, we've been offered to be able to stay on campus so I can continue studying at NAISDA under Advanced Diploma, which I'm very grateful for."

Online auditions extended

As the only performing arts training organisation in the country to deliver nationally-accredited courses specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the line-up of young Indigenous performers is long in the annual intake. 

The new audition process will be entirely online, with applicants learning a short dance routine, filming and uploading a video. 

Originally set to wrap up on September 18, online auditions have been extended to October 30.

The previous audition process, involving group rehearsal and performance at the Central Coast facility, is fresh in the mind of Butchulla man, Josef Graf-Cooper.

He was only one term into the program when COVID-19 shut down physical lessons. 

Looking back at the last few months spent dancing in his garage in front of the camera, Josef Graf-Cooper, is glad he persevered.

"It was pretty hard and full on... Sometimes it's hard to engage in the learning when you're doing everything online, but we pushed it out and I'm just glad that we were able to get back here," he said.

"I'm thankful that I did push through with it because if I didn't, I wouldn't have been able to come back here and get to do everything that we're doing now."

Connection to culture

The NAISDA program offers a range of dance technique, including ballet and Horton, but at the forefront of learning is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

For Josef Graf-Cooper, participating has given him a stronger sense of identity and hopes anyone considering joining the program isn't put off by the challenging circumstances. 

"The best advice I could probably give is just keep pushing forward with everything," he said. 

"It's kind of helped me re-connect back to my culture... I've always wanted to, but it's helped me get back into my language, learning our song and dance and everything that we used to do - Trying to get back to the old ways," Mr Graf-Cooper said.

Overcoming lull in numbers

Unsurprisingly, those in charge have noticed a lull in 2021 applications following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One person who believes in the NAISDA program and the professional opportunities it can create is Djabugay man, Deon Hastie.

Having graduated from the college in 1998, Mr Hastie is now the Head of Dance, having navigated the last year with staff and students. 

While the new online learning and audition process is a first for the college, he is confident applicants will flood through.

"It's different, it's the first time we've ever done this.

"And people maybe daunted by the process, because they don't know what it's about... But we are successful in what we've developed, and how many people who've engaged with us so far.

"There's a lot of barriers that are put in front of us as Aboriginal people, but we're adaptable, we're resilient, you know, and we can overcome them and we can help support you on that journey," Mr Hastie said. 

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