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Bringing the noise to town

Shari Taylor and Kiri Riwai-Couch will lead UCOL’s new diploma in performing arts. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Story by Tom Taylor

A career in Maori and Pacific dance is just a step away for Wairarapa students due to the drive of two teachers.

After a 25-year hiatus, UCOL Wairarapa would offer a diploma in the subject from early next year, with school teachers Shari Taylor [Makoura College] and Kiri Riwai-Couch [Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa] at the helm.

“This is huge for the revitalisation of te reo, tikanga, and te ao Maori journey that Wairarapa is currently on,” UCOL Wairarapa director Carrie McKenzie said.

Students of the NZ Diploma in Performing Arts, specialising in Maori and Pacific Dance, would study a full range of technical and artistic skills during the two-year programme.

Professional studies and business practice courses would be spread among performance components of the programme, giving students the skills to plan events or start small businesses.

Portfolio manager Melissa Lange said that all new UCOL lecturers, including Taylor and Riwai-Couch, would complete an Advanced Certificate in Adult Teaching.

“We’ve got a whole lot of new people here joining the whanau next year, so there’s lots of support,” Lange said.

Riwai-Couch said that she and Taylor were already experienced in the kaupapa of the course and had complementary skills, ensuring all course elements were covered.

Wairarapa was an integral part of Riwai-Couch’s life, being born here, and she said it was crucial to see a progression and strengthening of the local iwi.

“Something like this is going to do nothing but enhance everything that the iwi wants to happen for their people. We’re here to do that,” she said.

“It builds confidence and makes our te reo and our tikanga normal. When we used to do kapa haka practice, we’d get people stopping because it’s not something they see all the time. We want to make it a normalised thing. They’re going to see it and hear it every day now, right in the middle of town.”

Riwai-Couch said there was already a lot going on at UCOL, but the campus was relatively quiet.

“When our noise gets everybody’s attention, the whole of UCOL is going to get attention as well.”

The programme would follow a similar path to a corresponding programme at the Whitireia institute but would have a distinct Wairarapa flavour.

“We get to create a space that’s a lot like Whitireia, but that is for Wairarapa,” Taylor said.

“It’s taking their example and shaping it to fit our people.”

Shari Taylor, left, with Makoura College students at a powhiri for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last month. PHOTO/FILE

The two lecturers would be based in UCOL’s Whakaoriori Marae but would move around different areas of the campus as needed.

UCOL’s site at Taratahi, for example, had a spring-floor gymnasium that the classes could use for rehearsals.

“We can’t be in one spot learning just inside a classroom, in front of a screen, with books,” Taylor said.

“It’s going to be practical; we’re going to be here, there, and everywhere.”

The lecturers planned to make a lot of trips locally and said schools should get ready for regular performances.

When border restrictions allowed, they planned to travel further afield to places like the Cook Islands to gain a first-hand experience of some Pacific dance styles.

“Why not do something that you’re absolutely passionate about?” Taylor said.

“After study here, students can do whatever – they can have their own entertainment business, they can be historians, work at museums … The world is their oyster once they have a diploma.”

The New Zealand Diploma in Performing Arts [Maori and Pacific Dance] [Level 6] begins in February 2022 at UCOL Wairarapa in Masterton. The programme is a two-year full-time diploma. Entry is by a workshop to determine skill level.

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