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Dancing to Ease Disadvantage

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A world away from its inner city origins on the streets of New York, hip hop is bringing hope and laughter to remote indigenous communities across Australia. It would be hard to find a place more isolated than the Yiyili community, 110km west of Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, but this is where Dion Brownfield first decided to make a difference.

After a chance invitation to travel to Yiyili, Dion’s life changed forever as he saw first hand the huge gap of disadvantage in living conditions, health and education. Returning from this trip in 2006 Dion quit his day job and started Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP), to cultivate change in young people and their communities. The same year, he met fellow dance mentor Michael Farah at a Croc Festival and he became co-director of IHHP.

Ever since, these two dance mavericks have been blazing a trail of positivity across the outback and working with community stakeholders to create engaging programs and campaigns. “Our aim is to be a catalyst for positive change in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” said Dion. “We use dance, music and creative activities to identify future youth leaders, create role models, teach new skills and engage with communities about vital health messages.”

IHHP have been amazed by the level of natural talent that exists among youths in these communities and through IHHP a number of the artists have branched out to have successful music careers – even appearing in the Triple J Hottest 100.

IHHP travel to communities to hold weeklong workshops based around hip hop music and dance, taking a troupe of five or six performers with them. The workshops focus on developing young people’s strengths and skills, while encouraging self-respect, showing them positive role models, re-engaging them in traditional culture and working closely with local partners to support community development.

IHHP are engaged by schools, festivals, Aboriginal community-run corporations, health services and local shires to specifically address community issues. To date their programs have used hip hop dance and music to focus on important messages about drugs, alcohol, smoking, domestic violence, bowel cancer, bullying, diabetes, healthy lifestyles, mental wellbeing and more. They have also been engaged by youth Beyond Blue to help connect with young people at a time when youth suicide was rising.

“Over the past 10 years, we have engaged thousands of youth across 28 communities in the Kimberley and we’ve worked with over 250 communities across every state and territory,” said Dion. Stage and Screen have been working with IHHP from day one and for the past 10 years Travel Manager Carmel Page has been kept busy finding travel options to destinations she has never heard of. “Google Earth has become my best friend,” said Carmel. “Getting IHHP in and out of some of the most isolated communities in Australia can mean a two to three day journey. First we fly them to a regional airline hub such as Darwin, Cairns, Townsville or Alice Springs, before connecting them with often infrequent flights and once they land they often have a long drive ahead of them. So sometimes charter flights are a more streamlined and cost effective option, than booking seven individual tickets on a regional airline.”

Carmel confesses that it’s probably one of the hardest accounts she works on, but she also said “I just love it – it’s so interesting and the results they are achieving and their philosophy make it such a rewarding account to be involved with.”