Everyone has their own personal superpower. Some people can open the fridge and make a masterpiece with two eggs and a radish. Others can solve complicated mathematical equations in their head. Jacinda Richards’ superpower is getting young people moving with dance. Jacinda believes everyone has the ability to dance within themselves and it’s her job to help us feel connected to our bodies and gently help us bring our inner groove out.

Jacinda came to dance in her later teens and pursued it professionally after finishing school. In her twenties she started running community-based dance workshops for young people, which eventually transpired into the launch of L2R Dance in 2009. L2R is a not-for-profit based in Melbourne’s west that makes dance and arts leadership programs accessible to children and young people and their families who are unable to access them because of social and financial barriers. L2R has grown extensively in its 11 years and now delivers four free dance programs a week, engaging with 140 young people aged between 6-25 years. L2R also offers a mentorship and pathways program for students entering young adulthood called their ‘Igniting Legends Program’, aimed at those who want to pursue dance and the creative arts industries.

For Jacinda dance is an important tool everyone should have access to, not only those who benefit from privilege. She believes dance is an outlet for self-expression and a way to personally feel self-empowered in a safe, non-judgemental space. This sits at the core of the work she and the L2R team do together. She recently chatted to us about her not-for-profit, the songs that always get her dancing no matter her mood and the best part of her job: being a curator of very good people.

Hi Jacinda! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m the founder of L2R Dance, a not-for-profit based in Melbourne’s west that brings dance and community together. I like to think of my job as a curator of good people from the young people we work with to our teaching staff and everyone in-between at L2R.

A large part of your job is making dance accessible to young people but when did you yourself start taking dance seriously?

I was a late bloomer for a dancer. I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was in Year 10 at high school and started doing the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge. From then on I pursued dance after school and worked as a freelance contractor for many years before starting L2R.

You’ve now been running L2R for over a decade, congrats! Can you tell us about the path you took to launching L2R in 2009?

When I was working as a freelancer, I started running some community Hip Hop dance workshops for young people that were having difficulties in the western schooling system. Word travelled quickly among these awesome kids and their teachers and I ended up teaching at the Flemington Community Centre. I realised there was a need for dance workshops that were community focused and weren’t run like a traditional dance school, I wanted to spend more time getting to know participants and serve the community through community engaged practices. I was then referred to Western English Language School (WELS) in Braybrook where I ran another workshop onsite after school, where I still work now 12 years on. WELS is for newly arrived migrant and refugee children and young people who have been in Australia within a year. After 6-12 months of learning with us they enter mainstream schooling, but what kept happening was my students would call me up still wanting to dance but I didn’t have a way to teach and support them once they left.

So this motivated you to start running your own voluntary workshops that would eventually transpire into L2R?

Yes! I was upskilling these kids and helping them achieve their own sense of belonging and empowerment through dance and it didn’t feel right that it was cut off once they entered mainstream schooling. So I started a little voluntary program on a Saturday, where I would run a dance workshop, and young people could attend for free. Instantly heaps of kids were showing up and I was like ‘wow’! I ran these classes for a few years with little resources and only myself as a teacher, L2R was building momentum but didn’t feel sustainable, so I had to think of a way to continue its growth and along the way be able to reach more young people who wanted to dance.

And the way to do this was to become a formalised not-for-profit, which you successfully achieved in 2015.

I decided to go down this path as it was the only viable way L2R could grow and keep doing the work we were doing. So I sat down with a mentor and applied to become a not-for-profit organisation endorsed as a Deductible Gift Recipient and Tax Charity Concessions, when I got the call from the Ministry of Arts we were successful, I was so happy – I could really hit the accelerator and grow L2R. We went from reaching 15 kids a week to engaging with 140 kids a week in 2020 with our dance programs – it makes me so happy.

For someone who is yet to come across L2R, how would you describe the work you do?

We’re a not-for-profit based in Melbourne’s west and in a nutshell we make dance and arts leadership programs accessible to children and young people and their families that can’t access them because of social and financial barriers. If they have a barrier stepping into a regular dance school, then I say L2R is the space for you. We are very much about community vibes and deliver four regular free dance programs each week. L2R harnesses the power of Hip Hop dance and culture to tell stories that are relevant to our land, people and cultures. One language...DANCE!

What’s one of the most fulfilling parts of your job?

I think one of the most exciting developments with L2R in the last two years is our Igniting Legends Program, which is focused on mentoring those interested in creative leadership in the arts industries. There’s a group of young people who have been doing our workshops since 2010, we’ve watched them grow up and wanted to create a program for them as they entered young adulthood, especially those who wanted to navigate their interest in dance and the arts professionally. We invite them to apply to the program and those successful are on paid internships with L2R, working with our Youth Arts coordinator to help them foster their dream and aspiration, it’s really cool. Besides this, obviously the other fulfilling part of the job is what we do best, dancing with kids and young people four days a week!

What are some of the dance programs on offer at L2R and what?

We’ve got Panda Squad for those aged 6-12, then Next Gen and Breaking at Braybrook for youth aged 12-25. For the young people who want to take their dance practice to another level and pursue it professionally, they can then apply to be part of our Igniting Legends Program. But the best thing about dance and our programs is that our students can opt in and out in a way that suits them. We might see a kid for a while and they will then emerge again, I think the consistency of community engagement has been a huge part of this. Dance can serve a purpose for different spaces in people’s lives, it might be really good for one year and then you can park it, knowing it’s a tool that can empower you and that you can pick back up at any time.

L2R has grown a lot since you first started but you’ve still been able to keep your core missions at the centre of everything you do, can you tell what these are and how they anchor your organisation for the better?

L2R wants to shift the idea that art and creativity is for the elite. We amplify marginalised and creative voices to ensure the arts are representative of everyone who lives in Australia, not just those who are the benefactors of privilege. We make dance accessible to young people in our community and support them as they gain confidence, empowerment and explore the world through dance.

What’s a song that always gets you in a good mood?

Oh, there’s so many! I love anything that’s old school and I am a sucker for Salt-N-Pepa, Notorious B.I.G. and Arrested Development. A song called ‘Gal a Bubble’ by Konshens gets me off the couch too!

A podcast you’re listening to and loving?

Footscray Community Arts Centre have recently launched a podcast showcasing Melbourne’s west and creative arts voices, which I’ve been loving. Humans of Purposed hosted by Mike Davis is also great, he profiles a wide range of inspiring people from different sectors with a passion and a purpose.

How would you describe your work uniform?

It really varies depending on what I’m doing that day. If I’m teaching it will be baggy trackies and a baggy t-shirt with Nikes, typical me is a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and Nikes, and if I have a work conference it’s probably a dress and boots. I remember once my students saw me in a dress and said they didn’t recognise me, they thought I just lived in trackies!

And lastly, how would you describe Gorman to a friend?

Colourful, creative and flexible!

Find out more about this not-for-profit and the wonderful work Jacinda and the L2R Dance community do in Melbourne’s west on their website and keep up to date with their-on-the-go happenings on Instagram. Word-of-mouth is a big part of spreading L2R’s work and reaching more young people, and the team is grateful for those who are able to share L2R Dance with their networks.

Story by: Lisa Marie Corso
Jacinda wears: Zazu Shirt Dress