Most forms of cultural dance were brought to New Zealand by migrants from the countries where the dances originated. Cultural dance spans the recreational and concert dance divide. Often performed at school or dances, it is also seen in formal settings with a paying audience.
The New Zealand dance scene was varied and vigorous in the 2000s. A Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) survey in 2007–8 found that dance, excluding dancing at nightclubs and parties, was the ninth-most popular physical activity among New Zealanders. Of those over 16, 6.8% danced at least once a month, with 4% dancing every week for an average of over two and a half hours. In the 2000s these enthusiasts had more ways of learning dance and more festivals at which to dance, and could join the increasing number of people watching dance.
Cultural groups and dance
Māori and Pacific dance had the largest number of participants and biggest audiences, with the Pasifika Festival and Polyfest attracting thousands of performers and tens of thousands of visitors.
Dances performed by New Zealanders from other cultures also attracted large audiences. In 2006 a Diversity stage was added to the Polyfest line-up, and Indian, Fijian, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Malaysian, Middle Eastern and African groups became part of that festival. During the Chinese New Year lantern festival and Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, dance was an important part of the festivities. Both events attracted more attention and greater participation in the 2000s. In the 1990s and 2000s children’s folk festivals were held in Auckland.
By the 2000s different types of dance – including Pacific dance, ballet, contemporary dance, classical Indian dance, hip hop and ballroom – were more likely to be performed at the same festivals. They also borrowed movements from and provided inspiration for each other.
Mixing it up in 1970
Liong Xi, a master of Balinese dance, settled in New Zealand in 1960. Ten years later his Birth of dance was performed at the Auckland Arts Festival. It included Balinese and contemporary choreography alongside Māori, Samoan and Tokelauan dance, and was probably the first performance of mixed Pacific, Asian and contemporary dance in the country.
Auckland’s annual Tempo Festival, held since 2004, included Pacific, Māori, flamenco, bharata-natyam (classical South Indian dance) and other forms of cultural dance alongside contemporary dance and ballet. Loosening boundaries between dance forms were typified by Justin Haiu, whose Call to Wallis, based on his Wallis and Futuna Islands heritage, won best choreography by an emerging artist at Tempo in 2010. A single performance would sometimes mix forms. At Tempo 2009, for example, dancers combined breakdance with tap (itself a hybrid of English, Irish and West African dance forms).
Greater cultural dance focus
Although ballet and contemporary dance remained more prestigious and likely to receive government funding in the 2000s, cultural dance began to get more attention. In 2005 SPARC gave Dance Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ, formed in 1993) responsibility for leading the recreational dance sector, which included a large cultural dance element. Previously, there had not been an organisation with this responsibility.
DANZ Quarterly magazine (founded in 1994) covered a wide range of dance forms, celebrating the success of New Zealand Irish dancer Aisling Ryan, reporting on the rift in Scottish dancing and highlighting the crossover between cultural and contemporary dance forms. In 2011 the Wellington-based National Dance Archive (founded in 1982), which had previously focused on ballet and modern dance, held a seminar on multiculturalism in modern dance.
Economic value of dance
In 2014 a sound dance infrastructure and economy remained elusive. There were few dedicated dance venues, and most cultural dance events relied on volunteers.
Māori and Pacific cultural dance were strongest, with dance festivals that generated tens of thousands of dollars for the communities in which they took place. In 2012 it was estimated that Auckland’s Pasifika Festival brought $400,000 into the city.