Using dance to communicate
Wendy Preston, from Piha, has spent the last 12 years working with migrant youth.
Mixit director Wendy Preston sat down and talked about her efforts to help refugee and migrant youth.
Preston has written a book about the goals and experiences of Mixit, which is due to be released on November 29.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve had a 37-year plus career in the performing arts.
Throughout my career, I have always been really drawn to working with young people. And also in cross-cultural situations.
As a young person myself, I studied dance in places like Bali and India. My parents lived in Papa New Guinea.
I used to like using dance and music and movement as a way to connect with people who I didn’t necessarily have a common spoken language with or cultural similarities.
In 2005, I got shoulder tapped by a philanthropist with her own charitable trust that supported young, marginalised youth.
And so began Mixit. In the beginning of 2006 we set up the first Saturday workshops and we have been running these
‘‘You have to build stronger young people that have some confidence in themselves...’’
workshops as our core programme ever since.
How would you describe Mixit?
It is a social platform that uses creativity to empower young people and make a difference in their lives. It gives them the skills to move forward successfully with their lives and become part of the community.
So it’s not a creative project thats about making arts for arts sake or training artists. It’s not that.
We use creativity as the activity and the language we use, but it’s all about core social skills for individuals who don’t always have the opportunity to develop those skills on a personal level.
There’s a lot of young people without a sense of belonging, feeling they are a part of something. Which is the beginning of some really deep problems in our community and society.
If they come from a different background, there can be some deep seeded cultural differences.
It can be something as fundamental as looking someone in the eye. We take it for granted, in fact we see it as a really key thing.
An employer, if they interview someone who won’t look them in the eye they see it as shifty, a bit dodgy.
Whereas for many of the people whom we work with it’s incredibly disrespectful to look an elder in the eyes, and an elder could be just a year older than them, let alone a teacher or potential employer.
So you have to help find young people a way to do that.
What are some of the key ways you can help these young people integrate but not loose themselves?
You have to build stronger young people that have some confidence in themselves and skills to communicate with the world around them. It is a world that is full of change and difference.
It’s a challenge helping young people and their elders understand why they come to Mixit.
From the outside it can seem like just fun and games - a lot of dancing and singing and [wondering] when are you going to do something serious.
Where does Mixit go? Ideally, our future is mixers running Mixit.