Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts goes online

A Sydney-based Pacific cultural dance group has introduced online dance courses as part of its overall goal to address the stereotyping of island cultures in Australia.

The online dance courses will be run by the Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts, which is the brainchild of former Miss Samoa and Miss South Pacific, Mrs Maryjane Mckibbin Schwenke and her husband Fred Schwenke.

The cultural centre teaches the positive fundamentals of Pacific cultures through art and dance and was established to address the negative portrayal, stereotyping and statistics surrounding Pacific diaspora in Sydney Australia.

Mrs Schwenke told Samoa Observer that Matavai attracts people from various backgrounds who are keen to learn about island culture and people.

"Fred and I as a reaction to the stigma incorporated teachings on cultural values and established a support network for our community, in particular youth,” she said in an email.

“Matavai attracts people from various backgrounds and who travel from near far to learn about our phenomenal Pacific islands cultures and people and to be part of the movement. We unite under the banner of Matavai our motto is unite, share, connect.”

Expanding further on their connection to the Pacific community in Sydney, Mrs Schwenke said their sharing of dances and stories as part of the Matavai centre’s activities was always their ultimate joy.

But when the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic affected nations around the world including Australia, the Matavai centre had to be closed a week before Australian authorities declared COVID-19 restrictions. 

Mrs Schwenke said they had to close early to protect and minimise the risks of the most vulnerable elderly Matavai members, and following their closure they had to consider how the centre could sustain itself in these challenging times.

"At the time it seemed like we were losing six years of hard work, the financial strain and the uncertainty was indeed a stress and burden. However, rather than succumb to defeat, we sprung into action and began to provide lessons via video links for our students, putting in place ways to sustain the business," she added. 

"We run on terms, so we decided to open up the lessons to the rest of the world through our website for Term 2. These times have taught our family the importance of community, it is not what you have that matters it is who you have with you holding your hand through tough times."

The centre offers a variety of dance classes from Pacific island countries such as Samoa, Fiji, Maori, Tonga, Hawaii, Tahiti, Siva afi and oceanic dance which is an introduction to various pacific dances. 

Their dance lessons are taught by respected and knowledgeable cultural arts practitioners.

Mrs Schwenke said siva has been a means to learn more about fa’a Samoa and to fulfil their role and purpose in life which is to serve. 

Siva has always connected her to her aiga, God and tua’ā, she added.

Registration can be done through their website

Online enrollments are coming in from Japan, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, America and around Australia. A video and class information will be posted each week, students will complete an assessment, quiz and be awarded a certificate of completion. 

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