Rugby league: war cry dance highlights positive side of Indigenous culture, says Dean Widders

WORTHY: Former NRL star Dean Widders instructs students from Croft House at The Armidale School on how to perform the war cry dance.
WORTHY: Former NRL star Dean Widders instructs students from Croft House at The Armidale School on how to perform the war cry dance.

Former NRL star Dean Widders brought an Aboriginal dance back home to Armidale schools this week that has gained prominence on rugby league fields.

Now employed as the National Rugby League’s Indigenous pathways manager, Widders helped create the war cry dance, which is performed by the NRL Indigenous All Stars team.

He hopes the day will come when it is performed by our national sides, the same way that New Zealand teams have embraced the haka.

Since finishing his rugby league career, Widders, whose sporting career began as a kid in Armidale, has worked to assist Aboriginal players. Now he is visiting schools to talk about the positives of Aboriginal culture, which has been exemplified by the war cry dance.

Visiting The Armidale School and Duval High School this week, he described his work as using sport as a vehicle to drive social change.

“I was part of the creation of this Indigenous war cry that the All Stars do before their game, and it tells a lot of the positives of a traditional Aboriginal tribe and traditional Aboriginal culture,” Widders said.

“For me as a young kid growing up, I never got taught any of that stuff.

“I never got taught positive things about my Aboriginal culture and unfortunately I heard a lot of negative things and I saw a lot of negative things in the way we were treated and sometimes in the way our people would act.

Dean Widders scores for the Rabbitohs in 2007. Photo: Craig Golding

Dean Widders scores for the Rabbitohs in 2007. Photo: Craig Golding

“Some of our people would act negatively, thinking this is the way you portray being an Aboriginal – you act a certain way and you do things a certain way.

“I never agreed with that. I thought it was about showing the positives of our culture and this dance really links back to the positives our culture and the traditional values.”

With the war cry gaining popularity since it was first performed by the All Stars side several years ago, now they are taking it to the wider community.

“It could be their first opportunity to learn a bit of our culture,” Widders said.

“Maybe one day this dance might go to the Kangaroos and the Jillaroos and they might perform it on the world stage just to show that tribute to Aboriginal culture, and also connect back to those great values that can be applied in a community, or a sporting team and bring the best out of them.”

Widders said those values included looking after other people first, treating everyone equally and taking on responsibility.

“They’re all very important things when it comes to being in a professional sporting team,” he said.

Widders, 38, played 219 NRL and Super League games.