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DanceRites opens registrations for 2024

Phoebe Blogg -

Recognised and celebrated as Australia's only national dance competition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, DanceRites will be returning in 2024, with registrations now officially open to the public.

Marking the competition's eighth year in operation, the infamous celebration of First Nations dance, music and culture will return to the Sydney Opera House Forecourt (as well as being live-streamed online).

The competition will unfold over two days, with heats on Saturday 19 October, with finals the following day.

Each group participating in the competition will present a Cultural Dance and Song Cycle, representing their local storytelling and language. Groups are also welcome to perform an optional 'Wild Card' dance to showcase their unique style.

A panel of talented First Nations dance experts will judge the entries on their song, skin markings, and engagement with language and culture, as well as their technical dance skills.

Prizes will be awarded for the overall winner, one runner-up group, and a separate prize for the best 'Wild Card' dance. Two Rites of Passage awards will also acknowledge outstanding contributions to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

2023 Runner-up group AFL Cape York Aboriginal Cultural Dance. (Image: Daniel Boud)

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Michael Hutchings, said the competition is an opportunity for communities and the public to come together for a joyful and engaging event.

"At its core, DanceRites is an opportunity for our communities to come together in a joyful display of our unique and diverse cultures, and to showcase the incredible skill of the dancers who compete," Mr Hutchings said.

"It's a moment of solidarity for First Nations people and a chance for us to celebrate the traditions that continue in all corners of the country. We can't wait to welcome deadly mob back to the Forecourt and hopefully welcome even more people to the Opera House for the first time."

Overall winners Mui Mui Bumer Gedlam competing at DanceRites 2023. (Image: Wayne Quilliam)

This year DanceRites will continue the traditions that have taken place over tens of thousands of years on Bennelong Point, known to its custodians as Tubowgule.

Upholding the site as a meeting place for storytelling, ritual celebration and dance, DanceRites aims to promote cultural knowledge and exchange at a community level and provides a space to gather and share First Nations practices with audiences around the world.

Since the inaugural DanceRites festival in 2015, more than 1,600 performers from over 100 dance groups have participated in DanceRites.

The event strives to safeguard cultural practices, including language, dance, song, and skin markings, and showcases the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

In 2023, 300 performers from 21 dance groups representing more than 30 nations and clans competed in the largest on-site iteration of the competition to date.

Behind the scenes at DanceRites 2023. (Image: Wayne Quilliam)

"Every year the competition grows. The competition brings together First Nations performers in a weekend-long Forecourt celebration, and I encourage everyone to get out and see this incredible arts and cultural event in the heart of the city," New South Wales Minister for the Arts, JohN Graham said.

With a series of new equally-talented groups set to enter this year's competition, the DanceRites team are encouraging groups to apply for this year's event.

If the number of registrations received outnumbers the available competition slots, the DanceRites team will select groups to participate based on broad geographic location.

Registrations for DanceRites 2024 close 22 May, 2024.

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