Written by Ophelia Buckleton
For Taane Mete, the value of the Leadership NZ Programme is clear – it allows you to connect with yourself and identify where you belong in the community.
It has been seven years since Taane completed the programme and his success in that time has been immense, including founding Okareka Dance Company.
“I always knew that being a director was a role I wanted to undertake, but I never had the tools. The Programme gave me vital leadership qualities and the ability to decide what I wanted my shoes to look like before I stepped into them. I had to ask myself, do I fit into these shoes or are they far too big? Or do I need to keep changing what those shoes look like?"
Taane has certainly filled these shoes, gaining his company recognition on the international stage, with sold-out performances in London and Edinburgh this year.
Upon reflection, Taane says the secret to his success in New Zealand and internationally can partly be accredited to what he gained from the Programme.
“I learnt that you have to take care of your product and assure that it is the best quality it can be. Find a niche market that it belongs to, find the connection that enables that product to prosper and then go for gold!”
Although the Programme didn’t click for Taane immediately his advice to future alumni is to “let it sit” and call on the relevant material when required. “I’m still gathering the tools I learnt to this day. I often remember a lecture, or someone I met, or a small quote someone said and it will spark something.”
However what Taane did gain immediately is an insight into how to connect with the community and create productive relationships that facilitate your own thinking. He does just that by providing dance education in schools through a programme run by Okareka.
“It allows Okareka to extend our gift, the power of dance, to young people. They are the next Aotearoa so by giving them strength, we are making the country stronger.”
When asked why he runs this programme in the community, Taane says it is about helping other people with the skills you have to offer. For Taane, these skills come alive on stage through the unique beauty and power of his politically challenging works.
The Programme was a catalyst for Taane to openly discuss difficult issues in his work, including his identity as a takatapui, or gay male in New Zealand. “I happily live in my skin as a takatapui because at the end of the day, leadership is about being authentic. It’s not beating around the bush. It’s basically letting your guards down, being a little bit vunerable and letting others see the true you.”
This inevitably requires a sense of fearlessness. Taane relates this notion to his experience of performing on Broadway as part of Black Grace dance company in 2005.
“I was definitely out of my comfort zone. So I had to connect to myself and connect to my culture. The response from the audience was that we were stand alone because we were different. Not technically or in terms of how high we could jump, but because we came with mana and strength. And that’s exactly it, being fearless in being different.”
For Okareka Dance Company, being different means speaking the truth without what Taane describes as “power dressing or all the formalities.”
Seven years after completing the Programme, Taane says he still sees many of the alumni around town and sometimes at his shows. It is the creation of this tight-knit community that he loves.
Taane advises people do the Programme to identify what they look like, not only as an individual but in their community, and outside of New Zealand.
“Connecting to your culture resonates internationally because if you can’t have a sense of yourself and a sense of Aotearoa-ness, then who are you?” The Programme gave me vital leadership qualities and the ability to decide what I wanted my shoes to look like before I stepped into them.