By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO
Opinion piece first published on ArtsHub on 19 February 2015.
We all know we should be moving more and getting our hearts pumping, but the reality is that more often than not it’s really hard to find the time, the motivation, and the energy to be active.
Not everyone is an early bird who can hit the gym at 5am or bike 8km home from the office.But with good music, it’s hard to find anyone who won’t start tapping their feet or nodding their head in beat to the rhythm. That’s why I love to dance. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what age you are or what language you speak, dance has a way of bringing people together and getting them moving without even thinking.
At last year’s White Night, more than half a million people flooded Melbourne’s streets, gardens, laneways and buildings for a 12-hour celebration of art, music, film and dance. Some 100,000 people took part in the 12-hour dance marathon, I Could Have Danced All Night; that’s 100,000 Victorian hearts pumping and 200,000 feet dancing the night away under the stars.
This year, VicHealth is bringing back the hugely popular event to a new location at Lonsdale Street and we want to get even more Victorians taking part in the dance extravaganza.
As a young girl growing up in Melbourne, more than anything I wanted to be a professional dancer. I lived and breathed all things dance; every moment was devoted to training in classical and contemporary dance and eventually I did become a professional dancer and choreographer.
I started Stompin, a youth dance company in Tasmania, which toured nationally, internationally, and won awards and accolades for its ground-breaking work. While my professional career eventually brought me to VicHealth, I remain connected to the world of dance through my love of the art form, and by encouraging Victorians to get moving through the arts.
At VicHealth, we know that active arts and events like White Night are a powerful way to improve people’s physical health and mental wellbeing.
Since our very beginnings, VicHealth has been involved in the arts.Remember the Benson & Hedges Australian Ballet? VicHealth bought out tobacco sponsorship in the arts many decades ago and to this day we continue to promote good health and wellbeing by encouraging Victorians to be physically active and socially connected – whether it’s through sport or the arts.
And there's nowhere quite like Melbourne for people to enjoy the arts. On any night of the week you can choose between hundreds of active arts events from learning circus skills to joining the No Lights No Lycra movement or taking part in dance classes in any style you could possibly imagine. And then there's White Night. A 12-hour celebration of everything Victoria has to offer – visual arts, film, music, and dance.The value in bringing people together to be involved in events like White Night should not be underestimated.
Getting involved in the arts – whether it’s enjoying a museum exhibition, going to a gig or taking an art class – provides people with an opportunity to gain new skills and express themselves, be inspired, and feel good about life in general. And we know that being around and involved with others reduces loneliness and helps people to make new friends.
Meanwhile, active arts and events like White Night and I Could Have Danced All Night have the added benefits of getting people walking and reaching their recommended 10,000 steps a day or moving through dance. And the more we move, the more we improve our cardiovascular health and reduce our risk of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes.
Dance, in all its forms, is something for anyone, anywhere, at any time. It’s been a while since I hung up my dancing shoes, but I still dance almost every day.
It might just start as tapping my feet to a favourite song in the morning or taking a five-minute break in the afternoon to tune out, put my iPhone on, and move while at my desk – much to my team’s enjoyment.
I Could Have Danced All Night could be a great first step on your path to a new activity. Throughout the 12-hour showcase, professional dance artists will lead the crowd through a range of different styles.
And this year, we’re getting the community involved.For the past few months, 12 community groups have been in rehearsals each learning a different dance that they will perform on stage at White Night on Saturday.They include a group of senior citizens, newly-arrived migrants and refugees, international students, and people with disabilities.
When I look back on my time dancing and starting Stompin it really sprang from a desire to find a place where young people could be socially connected, push their physicality and explore their self-expression and collaboration.
And that’s also what White Night Melbourne does. For 12 whole hours the city is ours, it’s a place for people to connect, move and challenge themselves.
I hope I’ll see you there!