I was born brown; chocolate colourJuly 21, 2020
How Can The Arts Create Cultural Cohesion In Our Community?June 22, 2021
My journey with Heartdancers
My journey with Heartdancers began in 2018 as a volunteer dancer and translator at a weekly Latin dance class where I experienced the power of the arts to connect and bring people together from culturally diverse background. At these classes, I experienced love, warmth and inclusivity. Heartdancers’ Founder Director Sandra embodies as she shared her knowledge and passion for dance and culture with all participants including many Chinese seniors who speak little English. I witnessed friendship forming among the Chinese ladies, Sandra and Luz Mary a Colombian lady despite language barriers. Moreover, this friendship grew deeper as the class together rehearsed a choreograph of Cumbia, a notable cultural dance of Colombia, in preparation for a performance at a joint cultural celebration co-organised by Heartdancers and Fusion Cultural Group. A deeper reflection of the experience made me realise that arts and culture on its own don’t necessarily connect people, what make the connection possible are those who are passionate about connecting other people – those cultural educators, artists, community cultural developer workers. Over time, the more I participant in Heartdancers programs the clearer I see Heartdancers performing this crucial role - a force for fostering cultural connection, inclusion, diversity and unity.
I started my volunteering journey in my mid-30s, relatively later in life than many of the amazing people I met through Heartdancers. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Shanghai, China. During this time, China was experiencing rapid social and economic transformation. The convergence of two strong forces: on one hand a strong state and on the other a rapidly expanding market-based economy didn’t provide much room for the community / social sector to grow. Therefore, my family’s limited view on civic participation, I grew up not being exposed to the community sector and the concept of volunteering was a new idea to me. Such background lead to that for most of my adult life in Australia, I took a somewhat limiting perspective focusing primarily on my family and my own needs. This inward perspective was turned inside-out when my wife Joyce was diagnosed with stage IV lung Cancer in 2016. During the two years of treatment, our family and I learned to take on a wider perspective for life. I was deeply moved by the goodwills and acts of kindness provided to our family by so many people during the hard time, many of whom are beyond the medical treatment team for Joyce. Being with others who genuinely care for our wellbeing and support our needs is a powerful and spiritually uplifting experience even under the most difficult circumstances.
I can recall so clearly on Christmas Day 2019, standing on level 5 of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse (the cancer hospital where Joyce was treated) with my then 3-year-old daughter, looking at the hospital staff, ex-patients, friends of Lifehouse all working to prepare a warm Christmas lunch reception for the in-patients and their family members. They could have chosen to spent Christmas with their own family. Yet they have chosen to provide service to a wider family. At that moment I made a decision, a commitment that I will volunteer to provide service for others in need as I have experienced first-hand on the receiving end, and I know how much it means. Compared to many others, my volunteering journey have started later in life. Though I am fine with that and believe it is the right time for me because it’s never too late to start from the scratch. Heartdancers have provided me with many amazing opportunities to contribute despite my background is not art and culture like other members of Heardancers team. I value and appreciate the openness and inclusivity. I also would love to share that my daughter Leila has recently had her first volunteering experience with Heartdancers participating in the production of a children’s music and movement live-streaming session. I am very happy to see Leila setting the family record of beginning to volunteer at the age of six – improving on the previous record by almost 30 years.
My journey with Heartdancers has been one that provides me with great opportunities to meet and work with so many passionate, kind and talented people. Heartdancers create a supportive and nurturing environment to allow our fledgling ideas to develop as we explore and co-create a better way of being and relating to one another. I enjoy working alongside our dance and movement therapist and vice-president Janina to co-creating a fun, age-friendly movement program called Rhythm Is Life. This programme aims to improve physical and mental wellbeing of program participants while encouraging self-expression and social connection. Together with Sandra, Janina and our classical Indian dancer Deepa, we applied a number of grant seeking funding to support Heartdancers and our artists through this difficult Covid-19 period as well as adapting some of our existing programs to online format.
Most recently we applied for Australia Council for the Arts’ Adapt grant in which we sought funding to support our team’s capacity building and evolution into a more resilient hybrid artistic and arts service organisation. We eagerly await the outcome to be announced on 14 August - fingers crossed for that one!!! With our visual artist and long-standing contributor Carlos, we started to plan for a combined team building / vision workshop weekend away retreat which unfortunately had to be put on hold due to COVID. We hope to soon restart the planning for later this year if situation continues to improve in NSW. I also enjoyed assisting Sandra and our marketing and IT manager Manuel for creating a new filing structure that we planned to use further for G-Suite email and document sharing platform. Again, with Carolina; another long-term friend and supporter of Heartdancers, we worked together for co-facilitating a couple of sharing sessions on the topic of reframing limiting beliefs via Zoom. These sessions are part of a weekly wellbeing series organised by Heartdancers to combat the social isolation caused by COVID. With our new team member Shanjida who is a journalist and currently completing her Master of Social Work (Qualifying), I am looking forward to work together. Here, we will be focusing on undertaking Heartdancers’ own research with the aim to provide useful and relevant content for artists from CaLD, refugee and First Nations background. I am really excited and grateful for the opportunities to work on meaningful projects with Heartdancers’ passionate and talented team members. I look forward to collaborating with more team members in our near future.
My journey with Heartdancers has also been one that helped me to reflect on my weaknesses, insecurities and those unresolved issues holding me back from seeing all the amazing possibilities that life has to offer. I try to keep an open-minded attitude for accepting life’s invitations which invariably exposes my own limitations - sometimes I success and sometimes I fail.
I think through this process I found the meaning and purpose of my life. Ups and downs are part of our life but there are always plenty of inspirations around. I benefit from learning to adopt Heartdancers team members’ diverse mindfulness and wellness practices such as yoga therapy, breathing exercise, using of essential oils, channelling self-expression through movement and learning to play a music instrument.
To end my first Heartdancers blogpost, I would like to say a special thank you to Carlos who encouraged me to use visual art to explore, make sense of and express those deeper areas of my inner psyche. Pursuing a worthy cause with a group of like-minded amazing people are what I am here for.