Abusy life of dance, family, waka ama
When some of her 11 grandchildren are loudly belting out kapa haka songs in the car as she drives along, there is no place Gaylene Sciascia would rather be.
‘‘To hear them singing like that, so happy, and to be surrounded by such things makes me happy,’’ she said.
‘‘My life has always been about people and this is the stage I’m at now.’’
The 68-year-old Whitby resident was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to dance in the New Year Honours List.
She is considered a visionary and inspirational leader in her field, helping contemporary dance to flourish in New Zealand in the 1970s, mixing it with the country’s cultural diversity.
Sciascia founded New Dance, New Zealand’s first professional modern dance company and instigated the inaugural National Dance Congress at Rongomaraeroa Marae in Porangahau in 1976.
‘‘You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of the elders when these dancers were jumping around in leotards and tights. It was something else.’’
While she scaled the heights of the dance world when choreographing for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, it was helping start Whitireia’s Performing Arts programme in Porirua in 1991 that perhaps gave her the most pride.
Teaching at Aotea College, she rang then Whitireia head Turoa Royal, who said he was waiting for her call.
‘‘This award is really just as much for him and many, many others. I’m honoured and humbled to receive it on behalf of all those who made these dreams come true,’’ she said.
Although her stewardship of Whitireia ended in 2011 - she was disappointed to see the performing arts programme move to Wellington - Sciascia hasn’t slowed down her involvement in dance, helping to organise a number of festivals and events.
These days much of her energy is devoted to waka ama, which she took up in 2005.
‘‘I wish I had found it years ago. It’s so inclusive, teaching the right attitudes and life skills to people young and old - and it continues to grow in Porirua.’’
Beginning her dancing career in Highland dancing, tap and ballet, her career has taken her all over the world.
She especially loves seeing it bring young people out of their shell.
‘‘Economists don’t like dance because they say there’s no money in it.
‘‘But it brings people together, it brings happiness, and has the power to touch people’s lives.
‘‘I wish politicians could dance together.’’
Gaylene Sciascia was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for services to dance.