It’s one of the stellar programmes that Sydney looks forward to each season, and of course, this year was no different. Under the perfect blue skies on the forecourt of Sydney Opera House, Dance Rites is the phenomenal brainchild of Rhoda Roberts AO, the Head of First Nations programming, which sees our nation’s best Indigenous dance troupes perform and celebrate through song and dance. Taking place on land which has been sacred and celebrated for thousands of years, Bennelong Point has been a meeting place of significance and is the perfect location for the two-day event.

“Dance Rites provides a national platform for the transmission of cultural knowledge from one generation to the next and from one community to another … It has become a significant national event, demonstrating how the world’s oldest living culture continues to flourish, thrive and evolve.”

The importance of this event is unparalleled. It brings communities together to celebrate their culture, whilst recognising the importance of intergenerational knowledge which is passed down through dance and song. Dance Rites is pivotal in providing a stage which showcases our incredibly diverse First Nations. Over 300 performers took to the sand circle to perform three dances- a welcome dance and a farewell dance, one of which must include a chant performed in language, and a ‘wild card’ performance which is of the group’s choosing. This year’s program featured performers from across Australia, including groups like Buuja Buuja Butterfly (Wiradjuri), Duurunu Miru (Yuin), Meuram Murray Island Dance Group (Torres Strait) and Pakana Kanaplila (Luwtrawita). The best dance troupe is awarded $20,000.

Across the weekend, dance groups compete against each other to make it to the finals. It’s an inspiring and educational few days as we see a multitude of generations perform and showcase their proud culture and stories. Dances are often of Dreaming stories which have been passed down through Elders. Through movement and music, these stories are kept alive by new generations of First Nations peoples. A library of knowledge from one generation to another is thriving through dance, and it’s especially rewarding to see young children enjoying their time dancing.

After the judges’ deliberation, Nunukul Yuggera dance group took away the winning prize. Traditional custodians of the Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Stradbroke and Gold Coast regions, the troupe have been performing for over 20 years internationally. The winners of the Rites of Passage award were Djirri Djirri group, who named their troupe after a little black bird which is well known to dance all the time.

Dance Rites highlights how strong our First Nations communities are, no matter what region they come from. This weekend, we shared the different stories and songs from each nation and celebrated the oldest continuing culture on earth. Now, more than ever, it is vital to keep honouring the traditional owners of our land. And if the new generations have given us anything to go by, the stories, songs and dance of their Elders will continue to thrive across our lucky country.

With thanks to Sydney Opera House, ABC News and Anna Kučera for their sources and knowledge.