Published in The Saturday Paper, 2016
It’s Wednesday evening and the streets of Auburn are deserted in a quiet lull following the mid-afternoon rush of school traffic. Passing the Auburn Centre for Community, however, one might notice the loud intermittent thump of bass expelling from one of the halls. It’s an absurdly cheerful Afro beat song and within the walls of the centre, tremendously loud, it is propelling a small group of girls and young women to their feet in a synchronised hip-hop routine that each is working devotedly to perfect. At the front, directing and cajoling enthusiasm from the more shy members of the group is Vanessa Marian, dance teacher and founder of Sydney’s urban dance revolution, Groove Therapy.
While Vanessa spends most of her working life spurring on a carefree passion for hip-hop among inner-city crowds, this venture in the heart of Western Sydney is altogether different – it is exclusively for girls and women who have recently migrated to Australia or entered the country on a humanitarian visa. Auburn Centre for Community’s Groove Therapy class is an opportunity for refugee girls to work with one another and participate in a weekly hour of hip-hop integrated with public-speaking skills.
The group is a proud motley crew, with an unpredictable rotation of cultures (including Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian, Pakistani, Afghan and Iranian participants), ages and backgrounds appearing each week to stomp and twist along to the choreographed dance Vanessa has devised. This particular Wednesday, the group comprises four young Turkish girls, all approaching their teenage years and evidently keen to display their gymnastic skills, as well as 25-year-old Maria, a recent migrant from Pakistan, with her 11-month-old daughter, Aila, in tow (who is oddly soothed by the loud thumps of the track).