It’s 5.30pm on a Tuesday evening and the sound of Cook Island drumming music can be heard drifting from the Old Mangere School Hall where families and children gather for Caroline Bishops weekly Aka’uka Cook Island dance class.
Through Whānau Ora funding and the support of the Cook Island Development Agency New Zeland (CIDANZ), last year Caroline Bishop was successfully able to start the Aka’uka Dance Studio as a business teaching 3 to 13-year-old girls the art of Cook Island dance.
The CIDANZ oneCOMMUNITY S.H.E.D is an innovation funded project that is a think-tank incubator that grows business ideas for social and economic development through a collaborative model of development, production, knowledge sharing and financing.
Ianny Greig-Pori who helps with Aka’uka management and has her own children enrolled in the class, recalls when she met with Caroline at the start of last year to talk about the possibility of going into business and where they could find help for the start-up.
“She has always had so many people asking, ‘can you teach my children?’ so I said, ‘hey, I know a perfect place that would give us the opportunity to possibly run this as a business.’”
“I spoke to the people at CIDANZ and gave them a business plan. They were happy to support Caroline’s vision which was to run an ura (dance) class.”
However, Aka’uka classes aren’t just about dancing. They are also a way for families and children to connect with Cook Island culture, incorporating lessons on how to make ‘Ei katu and how to speak the reo.
“We can see today here in New Zealand or even the Cook Islands itself, our language is disappearing.” Says tutor, Caroline Bishop.
“As a little girl, I was told that English was the way to go, which was true. My great grandmother was right because English was the language to be educated in.”
“But, our Cook Island language is just as important because that’s our identity and that’s what they forgot to teach us.”
Her goal with the Aka’uka dance classes is rebuild and strengthen not only Cook Island dance, but also culture and language. Caroline hopes to see children in the next 10-20 years the Cook Island language. She also encourages others to pursue their passion and share their talents.
“For me, I look at dancing as more passion and culture.”
“When I had won my first island dance competition, that was it. No turning back for me, and I just knew that dancing was for me.”
“I just want to give what I have and share it with the world really, with my people.”
The Aka’uka dance classes have had to relocate from CIDANZ Shed as a practice space to the Old Mangere School Hall due to the popularity and demand for the program.
“We started last year as a tester to see what the interest was like and it was amazing. It went from 5 people sharing our post to the end of the year where we had about 30 beautiful young ladies under the age of 13 graduate.” Ianny Greig-Pori recalls.
“Since then we’ve has messages from people outside of Auckland saying, ‘Can you come over to Rotorua?’ – or wherever to run the classes and that just shows that what we’re actually doing is actually good.”
“Whoever is here to learn about the Cook Island culture, we are here to teach.”
CIDANZ have recently developed their Enterprising Families programme to support families over a three-year period where families learn to become ready for business, start and grow their businesses. They have also developed a workbook including enterprising education modules that families follow over the three-years.
Aka’uka Dance Studio plan to expand, hosting classes in Term 2 from The Manurewa High School Hall to cater towards capacity size. They also have development plans to start a males ura class with a male tutor.
Keep up to date and find out more about Aka’uka Dance Studio and their classes here by visiting their Facebook Page.