Saturday saw my sister’s very last performance in the School Spectacular, a showcase of the best performing artists from NSW public schools.

Thousands of children perform. There is a massive choir full of singing students of all ages from schools over over the state. There is an orchestra and a stage band made up of the best musicians. There are at least a thousand dancers from school dance groups and specially selected dance troupes made up of students from around NSW (my sister is in one ^__^). And there are the most talented teenage soloist singers I have ever heard singing throughout the night. It really is a spectacle, with its flashing lights and brilliant costumes. The choreographers are amazing, somehow managing to organise all those dancers into coherent routines. Admittedly, it gets a bit repetitive going every year, but its great to watch every now and then. It’s a celebration of public education, trying to show the rest of the state that the public schooling system actually is awesome, and it can deliver just as well as wealthy private schools.

However the thing with the School Spectacular is that it isn’t really an accurate representation of public schools. The kids are all still middle class and mostly white (you know – the kids whose parents can afford dancing/music/singing lessongs – kids like me and my sister!). The audience of doting parents and grandparents at Schools Spec could in fact be an audience of private school parents. There are a few attempts to show the world that there are public school students who don’t fit the mould. Every year there are a couple of token performances by a deaf signing choir, an Aboriginal dance group doing a welcome to country dance and a handful of kids in wheelchairs who roll around on the egde of the dance floor while other kids dance, but those kids make up a tiny fraction of the total number of performers. It all ends up looking like a giant show for NSW Public Schools to put their best middle-class-foot forward so they can pretend to be like private schools.

This year was a little bit different. There is a man called Peter Cook, who has been heavily involved in the dancing component of the show ever since Georgia (my sister) started dancing with the state group in year 7. He has been really big on trying to get more boys dancing. Each year he would try to showcase the male dancers in the dance group to encourage boys to get involved. He wasn’t overly succesful. The quality of the boys’ dancing imrpoved dramatically but the numbers never increased. In each of Peter Cook’s dance groups there would be 20 to 30 people, but only 3 or 4 boys. It all changed this year with the launch of a couple of new groups, as Peter Cook finally realised that the best way to get boys dancing was to let them dance in a way that they wanted to.

The Boys Vocal Ensemble and Boys Dance troupe stole the show this year. I’m going to estimate that all up there were 200-300 boys involved in the two groups. They sang songs that they were actually interested in, and the dance style of choice was Hip Hop. They weren’t white middle class kids. They were first and second generation migrants: Islanders, Africans, Asians, Lebanese kids… I only noticed three white boys. The kind of dancing they were doing was the kind of dancing that you pick up from watching music videos. These kids didn’t need their parents to fork out hundreds of dollars for dancing classes. They had taught themselves and honed their skills with the teachers at their schools and the public schools performing arts unit. Their parents didn’t need to fork out hundreds of dollars for dancing costumes. No one was wearing any lycra. They were just wearing their own clothes. It was the most authentic part of the night – these boys who had previously been excluded from the School Spectacular finally got a chance to perform in a way that was meaningful to them, and they were great.

10 points for the Schools Spectacular being more inclusive. The next stage will involve including the Aboriginal dancers in items aside from welcome to country. How novel would that be? Imaging the the Aboriginal dance troupe being included in a ‘normal’ dance. And then maybe they can include the students in wheelchairs in a way that doesn’t degrade them so much. Maybe next year they could actually go on the stage rather than beside it.

On a side note, Georgia danced beautifully (she is fantastic). She was very sad at the end, thinking about how she will never get this experience again. That is the sad thing about finishing school, losing the unique opportunities you get to learn new skills and perform and be a part of something big and exiciting. Maybe she will find another way to keep performing that suits the kind of dancing she likes.

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