Spaces for Street Dance (unincorporated group) has grown out of recent conversations, supported by Australia Council for the Arts, to ensure the Street Dance community was part of the consultation on a National Arts Policy. From this process has come the desire to take forward some of the agreed needs through joint actions. Dr Rachael Gunn (Macquarie University) and Feras Shaheen are leading the work to explore the needs and opportunities around physical spaces for Street Dance. Critical Path provides administrative support to the group and auspice.
Street Dance is an umbrella term that encompasses various distinct contemporary dance forms that were developed outside ‘institutionalised’ spaces (such as studios and companies) by largely African-American as well as Latinx young people. Grounded in the traditions of African-American social dance, street dance styles are largely improvisational, highly social, and often competitive.
As urban forms, with a DIY ethos, and created by marginalized communities, Street Dance is often under-valued by those within formal arts, government and financial structures. At the same time, it is utilized widely in youth work, in the commercial arts sector, in advertising and in promotional events. Street Dance is often the last go to for community-based or targeted activities but often draws the largest participation and attendance.
Street Dance is an established sector in Sydney, growing from the early 1980s into a vibrant and diverse community, or connected communities, from across the city and drawing people in from surrounding areas.
The Spaces for Street Dance research and feasibility study will:
- gather international best practice models for ‘supported’ public space use for dance
- collate information on current use of city spaces – the types of use and the barriers to extending or improving this use
- scout, particularly all weather, spaces with the potential for –
- building relationships and partnerships with local businesses
- building relationships for local communities
- creation of ‘open’ studio spaces to encourage exchange across art communities
- creation of ‘open’ studio spaces to enliven a precinct for wider leisure use
- in each case to look at the opportunities and barriers both physical and sociological and ways to remove these
- propose a way forward for suitable spaces
A knowledge circle will come together for this research drawn from across Sydney Street Dance forms/communities. They will be utilised in joint meetings and in one-to-one conversations around communities of dance, geographic and cultural communities and their own experiences across the city. The joint conversations will be convened by Rachael Gunn (Raygun).
Feras Shaheen will undertake desk and on the ground research (physical scouting and encounters with spaces) as well as drawing together ‘reports’ from knowledge circle members and invited guest contributors from arts and business communities.
A survey will also be launched to gather insights into Sydney’s street dance community.
This research draws on and builds upon the heritage and practices of Street Dance:
- Looking at ways in which the DIY ethos can be supported and extended by an enhanced offer at city spaces and by different relationships with local communities
- Exploring how local businesses can support and benefit from partnerships with dance communities and their use of ‘local’ public space/s
- Encouraging a different understanding of community practices, of youth involvement in Street Dance and related culture
- Providing a way forward for improved use of city spaces, stronger arts and business relationships and wider community engagement
The resulting feasibility study report will be shared with all participating artists, communities and businesses in the City of Sydney. A broader set of insights and recommendations will be shared as a ‘guiding’ paper for other areas and groups who wish to undertake local work.
Rachael Gunn holds a PhD in cultural studies (2017) and is a Lecturer in the Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language, and Literature at Macquarie University. She is an interdisciplinary and practice-based researcher interested in the cultural politics of breaking, including performances of gender and identity construction. Her work draws on cultural theory, dance studies, popular music studies, media, and ethnography, and has been published in an array of academic journals and edited books. Rachael teaches across undergraduate and postgraduate programs in the areas of media, creative industries, music, dance, cultural studies, and work-integrated learning. She is a member of PoP Moves, an international research network focusing on popular dance and performance, and in 2022 co-organised the online symposium ‘Popular Dance: Pivoting Towards Digital Sociality’. Also known as ‘Raygun’, Rachael is a practising breaker and has won national titles individually and with her crew, ‘143 Liverpool Street Familia’. She was the top ranked Australian Bgirl in 2020 and 2021, and represented Australia at the World Breaking Championships in Paris in 2021 and South Korea in 2022. She also emcees street dance events, including DSDA’s Ladies Night volumes, Destructive Steps Day 3: Kids and Bonnie & Clyde battles, and the Destructive Steps Street Dance Film Festival.
Feras Shaheen is an artist curious in letting his conceptual interests lead him across a variety of mediums. Using choreography, installations, visual art, film, performance, digital media, and street dance to communicate his ideas, the core of Feras’ practice is to connect and engage audiences. Holding a Bachelor of Design from Western Sydney University (2014), Feras often subverts traditional relationships between mediums to challenge audiences’ perspectives.
Born in Dubai to Palestinian parents, and moving to Western Sydney at age 11, Feras’ perception of the world is constantly shifting and changing. Using his practice as a way to reflect and examine how he views the world, Feras’ work addresses both local and global issues. Winner of The Australian Ballet’s Telstra Emerging Choreographer (TEC) in 2021, Feras has performed and exhibited at Carriageworks, Venice Biennale, Pari, Kampnagel, Campbelltown Arts Centre, and Théâtre de la Ville.
Recent works include ‘Cross Cultures’, ‘Plastic Bag’, ongoing collaboration ‘Klapping’, and ‘Forum Q’. Cross Cultures, a body of work shown at Pari Gallery Parramatta (2020) and Carriageworks (2021) explored the fluid contemporary identities of ‘Generation Y’ and how street culture is heavily impacted by media culture, specifically where commercial and urban industries intersect and reconcile. Where ‘Plastic Bag’ a full-length show including performative video installation, directed and choreographed by Feras, drew from the postmodern concept of hyperreality and premiered at East Sydney Community Arts Centre in 2022. Feras is currently working with Marrugeku, presenting ‘Jurrungu Ngan-ga’, a collaborative production that addresses both local and global issues regarding the fear of cultural differences.
This project is supported by City of Sydney Innovation and Ideas Grant.
Credit: Visual ID designed by Feras Shaheen.