This week I went to see Bangarra Dance Theatre in a show called Belong. I like Bangarra– they are technically excellent, and always interesting – but I don’t often manage to get myself to their shows. But this time I made sure I got there because of the title. ‘Belong’ is a strand of the EYLF.
One vignette had the dancers as school kids, in the bleachers, mucking around, forming groups, excluding one kid, doing that stuff that kids do when they are learning how to make people belong – or not belong. Then, at the end, they blackened their faces and posed for a photograph. The piece seemed to be saying that while the kids were at school they could just be kids, but once they are packaged up to be presented to the world, they are presented no longer as kids, but as black kids. I’m not sure if that is what they were getting at, but it was a powerful thought for me.
Watching the show, I mulled over the question of how I can represent Indigenous culture in my teaching. I do not want to do cultural tourism. I usually try to connect learning opportunities very strongly to every day life, and experiences the children in my group have direct access to. Here, in inner Melbourne, Indigenous people and culture are not part of their every day experience.
I have a big question to pose myself about how to really incorporate a connection with Indigenous culture into my teaching in a way that satisfies my beliefs about how to teach.
Modern dance is very experiential. Its messages are often not particularly clear or easy to put into words. But the moods are powerful. Sitting there drinking in the mood and letting my mind wander, I thought about how much my own experience of Indigenous culture is tied up in being in the right place, experiencing the feel of that place, and appreciating the ties to country that those people have.
I cannot take my students to spinifex country (though I hope their parents will one day). I wish I could recreate that feel. I wish I could take over a room – no a hall, no a warehouse – and fill it full of red desert sand and rocks and reptiles and hardy desert plants. I wish I could introduce them to children their age who know that world, and can teach them how to eat honey ants without getting your lip bitten. It is that sense of connectedness, of belonging, that I would like them to learn to feel and recognise.
How can I do that in a classroom? Or a green Melbourne playground?