Back in 2004, three local youth workers got together with a common desire to invest in the youth of their local Papanui community. Their intention was to provide a safe place for the community’s young people, a place where they would feel welcome and be able to express themselves. Because the group wanted to make sure that whatever they put together would actually be something that local youth would choose to be a part of, they went out and asked young people what they wanted to see in their community. In 2005, Zion Studios was born out of those conversations, starting with 6 classes over 2 afternoons a week. While Zion Studios is no longer run by those three youth workers, it continues to stand on the platform and philosophies that they put in place. Just over a decade and a couple of morphs later, Zion is stronger than ever – now running more than 20 classes over 4 days a week for 300+ students from all over the city.
Students range from preschool to mature adult, with skill ranges from beginner to expert. At the end of each term, the studio holds a show-case concert where every crew gets to show their stuff to an enthusiastic audience in a consistently packed out 500 seat venue. In fact, we now have to run 2 concerts back-to-back to meet the demand for tickets.
Crews regularly perform across the city at community events, at city-wide events such as Festival 200 and at annual events such as Eastercamp, Christmas in the Park, the Santa Parade and the Lantern Festival. They have provided half-time entertainment as the official dance crews for the Rams basketball and Tactix netball team home games, the Silver Ferns Christchurch test matches and filled a regular slot teaching dance moves on the popular after-school TV programme “The 4:30 Show”. To further engage with local young people, workshops are run for Kidsfest and through local schools. Zion’s crews compete in – and often win – local and national dance competitions. In 2014 our Mega Crew won the Canterbury YMCA Talent Quest. Adult crew Polaroids won silver at the 2015 HHU World Champs in Martinique and our Aperture crew have won selection as NZ representatives in the Varsity section at the same competition this year in Amsterdam. Medals continue to be won across all ages and performance categories at national competitions such as HHU, Shakedown and NZCAF. Our students are also achieving great success in various events for crews that they coach in a number of local schools. Alongside competitive success, Zion has built a reputation for excellent sportsmanship and collaborative, positive interaction with other crews and event organisers.
Key to the longevity and growth of Zion is that the core intent has always remained the same – to provide a welcoming, nurturing, fun environment that invests more than just dance skills in its students. We proactively develop social, teamwork and leadership skills within a positive and supportive environment and continue to look for opportunities to invest in our Zion family and local community. For example:
* We run a 12 month internship programme to develop teaching, workplace and leadership skills in four year 12/13 students annually. Testaments to the success of this programme are that several of its graduates now teach classes and the high number of students that apply for the programme each year.
* A number of scholarships are offered to local primary and intermediate schools for students who have shown ability and aptitude during in-school workshops. We also work with families who have limited financial resources to find ways around cost barriers that prevent their child’s participation.
* We model and encourage collaborative, positive relationships with a family/whanau vibe amongst students, staff and parents. Crews hang out before and after class in an environment which is safe, friendly and has clear expectations of behaviour and attitude.
* We enforce parameters around age-appropriateness for song content, costume and dance movements without removing the essence of hip hop. This is important for the trust relationship that we form with families and for encouraging students to think about how they see and present themselves within youth culture.
Zion Studios is owned by the Northgate Community Services Trust and is run out of specially designed studios in the Northcity church building in Papanui, Christchurch.