School makes a big splash on the national stage

Students and teachers from Chapel Hill State School have overcome fierce opposition from across every state and sector to win the largest performing arts event for schools in Australia.

They took the primary title in Wakakirri (an aboriginal word meaning “dance”), Australia’s largest story-dance festival, involving more than 20,000 students from hundreds of schools across every state and territory. Schools create a 3-7 minute performance that tells a story using a combination of dancing, acting and creative movement to music.

The 90-strong Chapel Hill SS team, supported by a dedicated group of nine teachers, took the prize with “Turning Heads, Making Waves”, the story of swimmers Cate and Bronte Campbell, from their childhood in Malawi through to winning 4x100 metre freestyle relay gold at the Rio Olympics.

Looking back to February 2017 when the road to the finals began, music teacher Bridget Cook recalled: “We decided that we wanted to tell a story about inspirational women, and the Campbells were actually students at this school, so we thought we’d tell their story.

“So, we had a story idea, but then we had to work out how we were going to tell it. What are the important things, how are we going to convey them to an audience so that they know what our story is about without anybody saying a word.”

Jesse Olds, who also worked on the show, continued: “The story we wanted to tell was simple, but the adventure we wanted to take the audience on meant we had to think smart and think clever, because we wanted to get emotion from the audience, we wanted them to either laugh or cry.”

Work started at the end of February. The teachers met every week to come up with the outline of the performance, and then auditioned students at the beginning of term two. Rehearsals started in April, prior to the first performance at the Logan Entertainment Centre in August and the finals in September.

Looking back on that emotional day when they heard that they’d won, Bridget recalled: “One of the office ladies came running up to me with a note - it still gives me goose bumps now – and said this person from Wakakirri just rang and you want to ring them back right now. I locked myself in an office and rang. When they told me we’d won I was lost for words, I was beside myself.”

The students and teachers who had taken part in the performance assembled to watch the announcement over the internet. The reaction was euphoric.

“It was deafening,” Jesse recalled. “There were people laughing, people crying, people in shock, people shaking, people hugging each other.”

But while taking the main prize was undoubtedly a thrill, it was not the only reward for the teachers driving the school’s involvement.

Jesse said: “We had children who may not have been academically advanced in class or who had behaviour issues, but this was their niche. We saw them blossom hugely, they came out of their shells and became some of our best performers.

“Even if they were just part of the crowd they took it on and became these other children who they don’t get to be in their classes. It allows them to see that they have got potential. One little person, in particular, has just come into her own ever since. She has this new presence about her, whereas before it was the opposite. She has this belief within herself that she can accomplish anything.”

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 1, 9 February 2018, p21