Youth dance festival sets its eyes on the future

Performing Arts Editor, Wednesday 28 April 2021, Arts Hub

Professional development for young artists and performance opportunities will go hand in hand at this year’s festival, to be held in Melbourne in early July.Youth dance festival sets its eyes on the futureYoung dancers look to the future. Image: QL2 Dance’s upcoming REBEL: Then. Now. When? at Canberra Theatre Centre. Photo credit: Lorna Sim.

Caitlin Comerford, the Artistic Director of Tasmania’s youth dance company Stompin, and freelance dancer, choreographer and teacher Kyall Shanks have been announced as the co-Artistic Directors of the 2021 Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF).

To be held in Melbourne over 4-10 July, AYDF 2021 is building pathways for young artists and developing the next generation of dance professionals.

‘AYDF is all about promoting youth voices within the dance community,’ said Comerford.

While acknowledging that she is new to festival direction, Comerford said the AYDF had a key role to play in helping restart the Australian dance sector.

‘COVID has had a massive impact on our sector and the arts at large. I’m really looking forward to re-engaging nationally and using the festival to remind everyone about the importance of connection,’ she explained.

The festival would also offer an important platform for young people, especially young dancers, said Shanks.

‘Young artists are so often overlooked or dismissed despite being the people literally inheriting the industry from practicing artists. I think this year the festival is an opportunity for them to reconnect and hopefully be inspired after a year in which they were mostly isolated from each other,’ he said.

‘During the COVID restrictions young people had no say in their lives, schooling, actions and I feel like they involuntarily lost their autonomy a little bit. I’m looking forward to helping young dancers to find their voice again through their art and community,’ Shanks added.

Read: 90% of dance studios risk closure as pandemic grinds on

AYDF ’21 will have four integrated streams of inquiry: professional practice, skills development, performance-making and performing, and the development of sector literacy. Daily technique classes and panel events will bring together leading dance practitioners to explore dance practice, training opportunities, career pathways, and more.

A Dance Think Tank and Industry Forum, co-coordinated with the VCA (a venue partner) will facilitate professional development for teachers, leaders, artists, and secondary school dance teachers, comprising workshops, discussions, presentations, and networking, culminating in a National Industry Forum.

Last held in Melbourne in 2019, the festival is presented by Ausdance Victoria with financial support from the City of Melbourne and Creative Victoria.  

Ausdance VIC Executive Director Michelle Silby said that future talent needs to be nurtured today.

‘It’s vital that young dancers are mentored by experts who can pass on their experience and passion to the next generation of dance professionals,’ Silby explained.


The festival program will include public performances showcasing new works by the participating youth dance companies, Comerford explained.

‘I want to see moments of elation and joy from the participants. That’s what will make the festival a success in my eyes,’ she said.

The festival will take advantage of its partnership with the Victorian College of Arts and University of Melbourne to offer advice on higher education pathways, and work with Melbourne dance companies to arrange tours, talks and showings for Festival participants.

‘We both see the importance of locating the festival at the VCA because many of the participants will be thinking about their futures and their educational pathway into the industry,’ Comerford said.

Scholarships and subsidies are available for young people wishing to attend the Australian Youth Dance Festival 2021.

Five fully funded scholarships to Melbourne-based youth contemporary dancers who identify as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or First Nations are being offered by Ausdance Victoria.

Applications for this scholarship will be made public on Ausdance Victoria’s website in the coming weeks.

Eligible attendees can also access a Victorian government subsidy to purchase tickets to the festival via the Get Active Kids Program which helps children participate in organised sport and recreation activities by reimbursing some costs.

Eligible children aged between 4 and 18 may be able to receive up to $200 each.

Get Active Kids is administered by the Victorian government; information about eligibility and applications is available from Get Active Victoria. The AYDF falls within the timeframe of Round 2 with claims able to be lodged between 31 May and 11 July.

The Australian Youth Dance Festival 2021 runs from 4-10 July.

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