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Kaitiakitanga and DANZ

An interview with Dr Tania Kopytko the former Executive Director of DANZ

By Lyne Pringle

On August the 6th we farewelled Tania Kopytko. It was an evening of celebration for this feisty dynamo and her legacy at DANZ. Many of the founding Kaitiaki were present – there was unanimous appreciation of the care Tania has taken with DANZ to acquire the current position of a robust and respected industry advocate.  We were made aware of the humble beginnings of the organisation at the Flock House Conference in Palmerston North in 1992; at this crucial gathering, the burgeoning dance industry identified the need for a service organisation and then set about finding the resources to support this vision. Over eleven years Tania has tirelessly held this Kaitiakitanga. I spoke with her on the eve of her departure.

What has been the most satisfying aspect of the job?

I have been blessed with a fantastic team of staff and wide variety of contractors who have been so dedicated to DANZ and dance.  When I arrived at DANZ the immediate task was to upgrade the magazine and to overhaul the mentoring programme. I feel we have well achieved that.  Over eleven years the mentoring and coaching programme has significantly supported a great number of New Zealand dance professionals to develop new work, help strategic planning for new initiatives, or to develop new career options. The development of Pacific Dance NZ into its own organisation and the work it has undertaken in the Pacific Island dance sector is a joy to see. However the most significant DANZ development grew from the new strategic plan (2008) that recognised the three dance sectors: professional, education and recreation or participatory dance. That then enabled us to start developing wide ranging networks and partnerships, expand DANZ and tell more diverse stories via the magazine and website. The other area of critical work has been the ability to maintain a LEOTC contract with the Ministry of Education, despite shifts in policy and a declining profile and support for the arts in education over the years.

What has been the most challenging?

Trying to respond adequately to the needs of such a diverse and complex industry. This has led DANZ to develop vast networks and to be constantly learning as each of the subsectors of dance evolves in their own distinct ways. It has been a challenge to ensure the board and organisation understand these shifts, as well as trying to recycle that information out to the broader industry, so they too can understand this complexity. The DANZ magazine, web site and Facebook have been the key tools for this information sharing. Tied to this is the development of professional development programmes and web based resources that can assist this diverse dance sector. It has been a positive challenge, but the problem is never solved, as within each sector most are focussed on their own concerns. However there are always those wonderful innovative outward looking dance people that we can rely on to get the broader embracive message across to their sectors. They are our industry heroes!

What are you most proud of initiating?

Most recently it is the recognition of the need and the development of dance and other performing arts, teaching or instruction qualifications.

The other major achievement has been the expansion of DANZ’s reach beyond a national office based in Wellington. Setting up the Auckland office and service from the employment scheme initiated by my predecessor Phillip Tremewen and gaining substantial long term ASB Trust (now Foundation North) funding was a significant move, as was developing partnerships with dance initiatives in Christchurch and Dunedin funded by local community trusts. This has all enabled DANZ to grow from the part time Executive Director, part time administrator and two part time education contract holders based in Wellington, and the very part time project worker in Auckland, which was the scene when I began at DANZ. Yes the “DANZ empire” and its reach has grown.


Where do you see dance in Aotearoa going in the future?

This is a very complex question. I think on one hand NZ will follow international trends. There are some huge ground-shifts going on internationally. IT and social media has had the most remarkable effect on the world, the arts and dance. We have some fantastic dance companies and initiatives in Aotearoa NZ and I hope that we will continue to have an environment where they can be sustained and grow. I think they may need to examine how they present dance, as the traditional black box/auditorium presentation is expensive and very bound to theatres. The challenge is to get the work directly out to the people who would love to experience the message – I think we are in for a bit of a revolution on how to present dance and to whom. We need new models of presentation and there is no reason why Aotearoa NZ cannot be a leader and innovator in this change. We have so many more tools and access to international models to help and inspire us, as well as confidence in our own creativity, initiative and innovation.

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