Barefoot ballerinas learn more than just dance moves in remote Cape York community

A troupe of 22 budding ballerinas from a remote Cape York community took to the stage for a special performance that will culminate nearly two years of a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

Since early 2020, girls aged three to six have been learning ballet on the Hope Vale campus of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy.

The school’s program director and new ballet teacher Kiriana White said the program, dubbed Barefoot Ballerinas, taught young people more than just dance moves.

“They had to show commitment by showing up at a specific time each week, which really helps them prepare for school and feel confident about coming to school during those early years,” he said. she declared.

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Barefoot ballerinas learn more than dance(Provided: Good at Grandes Ecoles Australia)

Ms White, who taught Hope Vale for 11 years, kicked off the Barefoot Ballerinas Project after considering feedback from the school’s extended family.

“Last year a few prep parents were saying how unfortunate it is that the kids don’t have the opportunity to do dance and ballet,” she said.

“Because we live as a remote part of Cape York, Australia, there aren’t many extracurricular opportunities for children that they might have in a city.

“Obviously there are a lot of rugby leagues and the AFL here, but there really isn’t anything for the younger kids when it comes to dancing.”

Pandemic Pivots Offer Distance Learning Opportunity

It wasn’t just the young girls who had to learn new skills – Ms. White herself had no dance experience before she started the Barefoot Ballerinas program.

But it coincided with the pandemic-inspired pivots that many have had to embrace.

Close-up of young native girls smiling and wearing pink dance costumes
Hope Vale’s teacher Kiriana White said the barefoot ballerinas have developed confidence and other life skills through the program.(Provided: Leearna Burke)

“This was around the time when COVID was causing all the lockdowns in the south and so a lot of ballet studios went online,” she said.

“I just had to guide them but we had an onscreen teacher behind which was great.

“I feel like I know the language of ballet a little bit now, so I can guide them and create their routine, so I hope to make the ballet world proud.”

The routine was a showcase of the various techniques the girls learned throughout the program.

“It’s a pretty technical performance to show that they’ve learned the right ballet techniques, the different positions and movements, not just the dance.”

aerial photo of the community of Hope Vale
Cape York’s remote community, Hope Vale, lies approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Cooktown.(ABC Grand Nord: Brendan Mounter)

New dance program inspires community movement

The girls’ costumes and performance props were funded by the Hope Vale Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, but families also came together to support the dance program which has proven to be hugely popular.

“One of the local grandfathers, he made us our own ballet barre which he welded himself so the girls would practice at the bar as well,” Ms. White said.

“I think we’ve had 10 preps and it’s already doubled and next year we might have to have two classes, one for three to four year olds and one for five and six year olds.”