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Welcome to DANCE RITES 2020: a letter from Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda Roberts AO Head of First Nations Programming, Sydney Opera House

Dear cherished DANCE RITES participants and audiences,

Welcome to Dance Rites 2020 from across Australia as we acknowledge the diverse ancestral lands, waterways and Sky country. Through our ancient ancestral narrative, the Sydney Opera House is dedicated to creating a visibility and First Nations space that fosters a new forward thinking through a 21st century voice that is authentic and true.

This year has seen many challenges but through the changes we have all experienced in our daily lives, many opportunities have arisen. As we head into our sixth year of Dance Rites – a celebration of Australia’s First Nations song, art, dance and story – we are excited to announce that we will be gathering through a new medium this year.

First Nations communities are among the most vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our communities have had to self-isolate and, with so many unknown certainties at the time, travelling to Sydney has not been an option. So after much discussion with the Sydney Opera House team and the communities we work with, we have decided to continue the competition through our digital platforms, our partnership with NITV and our judges viewing hours of footage, whilst still ensuring there was a meaningful interaction between the registered groups as well as you, the audience.

As one of the oldest and most adaptive cultures, incredibly, this new approach has seen more communities apply. For many living specifically in rural and remote communities, the digital platform has made Dance Rites even more accessible. One of the wonderful opportunities coming out of this has been the employment of our own media and film crews across the country, working with their affiliated communities. 

There are many cultural protocols the dance groups need to adhere to when continuing creative practices and I am so proud that we have a platform in the 21st century that ensures our self-determination and continues reflecting the eons of learning the oral way.

The dancers from across the country working with their song, language and dance custodians have reignited such a depth of expression. Dance Rites is truly enabling the continuance of our inherited birthrights, for many of our elders and knowledge holders it is something they never considered possible in their lifetime. This new reimagining of language and cultural expressions, once outlawed, has united communities through our ancient expressions. 

Through our Sydney Opera house channels in the lead up to the finals on the 21st November we will be screening four episodes, consisting of two heats. Heat one is the Traditional Dance – revealing continuance of song cycles and language and age-old welcomes. Heat two is titled the Wildcard Dance and is open to any style, often reflecting our shared histories, with some groups telling old comical stories, and others exploring more recent stories, fusing music and song.

I am so proud of all those who have contributed to this new stage of Dance Rites, continuing the cultural maintenance, that now more than ever is essential for us all to know, as we continue living on and honouring our ancient lands, sea and Sky.

Personally, our tradition bearers have given us a unique gift, by connecting us all, through the healing and medicine that is culture and enlightening to the deep listening encouraged by elders, custodians, and guardians of language.

So enjoy and gather to explore the stories, watch the interviews on our YouTube channels and embrace the competition itself, as we celebrate  2020’s digital Dance Rites. There are so many great moments and inspiring anecdotes, but most importantly we are proud to be continuing the songlines that have always connected us.


Rhoda Roberts AO

Thank you to our family of Corporate Partners and Donors for their commitment and ongoing generosity to DANCE RITES.

Find more about First Nations at the Opera House