Subject

Tara Hunt

Interviewer

Jessica Raschke

Location

Wollongong, New South Wales

Photographer

Hamish Ta-mé

Date

August 28, 2016

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Tara Hunt: Dancing with diversity and spirit

Every now and again you meet someone who is younger than you, but they have clearly lived so much more than you ever have (okay, I will speak for myself here). Tara Hunt is one of those people. Effervescent, intelligent, energetic, talented and wise, Tara spends her days researching and writing about male suicide … as well fuelling her passion for belly dancing. They might sound like opposing energetic forces, but the ultimate effect is something akin to balance. Embracing life’s dark, as well as its light. Hold on tight for some serious inspiration with Tara Hunt. (And, no, she’s not as intense as the photos appear!)   

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Tara: Well, I grew up in Redfern, right across from the Rabbitohs Stadium on Chalmers Street, so it was really central inner city. It was a great place to grow up, particularly because there was an abundance of different cultures and backgrounds and religious groups constantly around in the area. Our neighbours were Swiss, there were Vietnamese neighbours, and there was a big Indigenous community as well. It was just really fantastic being among so many different groups and I think that that has been particularly formative for me in terms of who I am now, being a belly dancer and being so interested in different cultures in a really in-depth way. It’s just given me a complete fascination with how different people live and make meaning in their lives.

So, when we moved here [to Wollongong] when I was about 12, it was a bit of a culture shock. With most regional areas, although it’s not like this anymore now here, there’s one Asian boy in the entire school.

Jess: It was very mono-cultural?

Tara: Really mono-cultural and I was just a bit shocked. I really struggled for a long time to find my place here. I think it gave me a really different perspective on the difficulties that people can experience in life because this area is middle-class with no evident struggles with homelessness and drug addiction. Mum now tells me stories about the kinds of kids that I would be hanging out with as a 4 or 5-year-old and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t realise that was kind of going on.” She tells me of a friend I had who liked to pretend that she was a mouse, that was her thing, but apparently her Mum was addicted to heroin and was a sex worker. So, there seemed to be none of that here, but one of the primary reasons for moving down here was the suffocation that can happen in the inner city and wanting to have a tree change.

Jess: So, is it just you and your parents or have you got siblings?

Tara: And my little sister, Zoe, she’s 21 or 22 and lives in Melbourne now. So, that was a pretty big change moving down here and a cultural change as well. I grew up in the Uniting Church community in Redfern, which was really fantastic in a lot of ways, just because it had a really profound sense of community that I really value now and I try to create it as well. My parents were very pivotal in creating this. My mother worked in a community development officer role. She organised the community garden out the back and a whole bunch of programs associated with it, which she eventually got really burnt out from doing. I can now understand just how easy that is from things that I’m involved with organising. That deep sense of community and access to people and involvement with people from really different backgrounds that come together for this one purpose, this over-arching goal or interest.

A lot of the stories from my childhood do revolve around these kinds of groups. And it really showcased my parents’ strengths as people as well. I don’t think I know of any people who were more generous than my parents with their time and energy – or anything actually. If they have something and another person needs it more …

Jess: … they’ll hand it over.

Tara: Yes, one of the most vivid early memories that I have – I was probably about six – is of a local fellow in the church, he was separated from his partner and the kids were living in Melbourne at the time. They were young teenagers and I had met them a few times. He was not very well-off financially as a result of the separation and he spent money on purchasing tickets for his kids to come up and visit him – I think it was a holiday or something. But then it turned out that the kids couldn’t come and he couldn’t get a refund on the tickets. It was a sizeable amount for him at that time and I just knew from my interpretation of the event that he just really needed the money.

I remember this really amazing secret mission that me and my parents went on. They found out the price of the tickets and secretly put the money in his letterbox. His house was within two blocks of our place so we went on a walk and I put it in his letterbox. I just remember that it was exciting, and thinking that this was the best thing that could be done at this moment, and this is what my parents could do to help this guy. I try to use that to remember that that is what I should be doing. It’s really easy at times to just go through your paces and you don’t really think about what you’re doing and what people need around you. I try to bring it back to that feeling as much as possible, to think about how I can be the most generous in this moment with what I have.

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Jess: It was obviously a really formative moment?

Tara: Yeah, my parents are full of that kind of stuff so I’m really proud of them for doing that.

Jess: So, if you landed in Wollongong at about age 12, then did you start at a new high school?

Tara: I was in Year 6 so I think that the whole plan for moving was around our school ages. My sister was in Year 2 so she was pretty young. I’d already moved schools a lot. That’s probably also quite an interesting thing. At the time of the big hail storm in Sydney in 1999, I moved from a local Catholic primary school, Paddington Public, and then moved to Mount Ousley Public School which is 300 metres up the road. This was one of the reasons why they picked this place, my parents were very strategic that way, close to the high school, close to the primary school, close to the university…

Jess: They had it all sorted out!

Tara: They totally did. So, I moved there but I didn’t really fit in. Some people go through life never really quite fitting in. If you’re that kind of person, you just have to say, “Well, I’m never going to fit in,” so you stop trying very hard.

Jess: Just going your own way?

Tara: Yeah, you just exist. I went to Mount Ousley which was particularly mono-cultural, then another high school in Wollongong. I still have one really good friend that I made at that school. But I remember sitting down at the table one day for dinner and randomly asking what would happen if I moved schools. I don’t even remember if I was ruminating or thinking very deeply about it. I don’t think that I was particularly attached to the place or felt particularly challenged. I was just coasting because I could and I think in that way I really needed to have been in an environment where there is a challenge present or that I have to rise to …

Jess: … there’s a stimulus, you need that stimulus.

Tara: Yeah, or otherwise you can just do what’s easy. I’m quite lazy at the end of the day.

Jess: Sure not, you don’t sound like that at all!

Tara: Well, you could always be working harder but I usually opt not to.

Jess: You do need to rest sometimes.

Tara: I struggle to remember that. I wasn’t particularly connected and I was really precocious. Throughout all of my schooling I’ve been the weirdo, I’d just sit in a corner and read books, I was a complete and utter bookworm. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time in Year 7. I kept on trying to apply 19th century social norms to the current context…

Jess: Okay, that would have been interesting!

Tara: Yeah, it was an interesting experiment. Nobody really understood. I really enjoyed incorporating insults from those time periods into the current day.

Jess: That would have been pretty classy!

Tara: Yes, calling people ninny-hammers! I need to bring that one back, it’s so good. Yeah, nobody really quite understood what I was saying at any point, they still don’t. So anyway, after that I moved to St Mary’s which is a large, single sex private school and that was really tough because, to some extent, I didn’t have the academic discipline that I needed to succeed well. I was doing well at my previous high school without any effort, but the benchmark was a lot higher so it took me a long time to figure out how I could achieve the benchmarks that I needed to with the lowest effort. Just in terms of not killing yourself in the process of trying to achieve these higher benchmarks. And I’ve always been a complete and utter perfectionist and, at that point, I didn’t really have any other hobbies, all of my identity was dependent on success at school. So, that was really tough but my understanding of what success was at that point was particularly inflexible. I was incredibly disappointed if I got below 90% on anything … profoundly disappointed.

Jess: I can completely relate, it makes sense to me.

Tara: Yeah, I think that was one of the really big things that I had to work through and it took years and years and years.

Jess: It takes a while for that to rub off, doesn’t it?

Tara: You have to find strategies to deal with that inclination and for me, that was all that I really had at that point. I eventually found a group of crazy weirdos like me…

Jess: Misfits?

I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I need to be doing with my life … [It] has been clear as crystal from the very beginning and I’ve got no idea what has to happen for some people to be like that.

Tara: Yeah, there was a long time of trying to figure out girls’ school social dynamics and trying to fit in. There was a lot of adolescent, teenage angst associated with that … lots of psychologist appointments and distressed parents. But I did have a couple of teachers that were really good at noticing that I was a particularly unusual student that needed an additional push and interest.

I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I need to be doing with my life. Some people are interested in so many things and like to taste little bits and pieces of everything, and they struggle to find a coherent narrative for themselves. Mine has been clear as crystal from the very beginning and I’ve got no idea what has to happen for some people to be like that.

Jess: So, what’s the clear as crystal sense of purpose and meaning?

Tara: The thing that gives me the most satisfaction in life is forming connections between things. Whether that’s abstract, practical, physical, or whatever, I love the mental satisfaction of getting two things that look different and finding a way to make them connect in a beautiful and unusual way. One of my earliest memories is that I had a Barbie doll that my Nanna bought for me, it was one of those very princess pink ones. I was playing with it, at the Uniting Church, and I saw this thing on the ground and I was like, “Hello,” and I picked it up and it was a crown. It was the most perfect crown and it fit perfectly. I thought, ‘That wasn’t mine but it works and it’s beautiful.” I get a feeling of satisfaction from making connections, it’s the basis of most of the things that I do, whether it’s in making costumes, bringing together unusual combinations of colours and textures into a coherent whole. In academia, it’s creating links between really disparate models of theories to bringing it together, like framing a new problem…

Jess: Like synthesising them?

Tara: Yes, synthesis. And with dance that’s how you make an interesting and dynamic performance. You want to highlight parts of the music to help the audience hear the thing that you’re hearing within the music that you want to bring to life.

Jess: And, I guess, the end goal is to make it more beautiful, whatever that thing is?

Tara: Yeah, I guess so. I guess that goes to, “What is beauty?” Beautiful, coherent, elegant – to make it make a little bit more sense, maybe?

Jess: Maybe bring harmony to it?

Tara: Yeah!

Jess: I’m just thinking in those terms because I’ve got a similar background experience with my childhood. I’ve got migrant parents and I went to a school that was completely multicultural. It was really strange to see an Anglo person! So I grew up among cultural diversity and it was completely the norm, it was really standard, and then I got thrown into a mono-cultural high school which was just misery for me, I have to say. It was the worst time in my adolescence! I love diversity, eclecticism, and what was so beautiful for me about growing up in that context is that you have diversity and it’s harmonious. There wasn’t any discernible conflict going on. There were Muslim kids, a handful of Buddhist kids, I was at a Catholic school interestingly but we just had kids from all over the place and they just took whoever was in the catchment area.

It really resonates, I was thinking that makes sense, actually, bringing connection and togetherness to what looks like a mishmash – they couldn’t possibly be brought together or you assume that they can’t be brought together.

Tara: Yeah and maybe that is what also drives my interest. Well, particularly in Middle Eastern culture, there’s something within the music, within the group dynamics and the just hanging out culture that is there; that really resonates with me and I can’t access that with people from a more Anglo-Saxon background. I’ve got a really wonderful group of friends now that, like Nadia, who I dance with and Sako, a Syrian-Armenian guitarist and Atif, he’s a Syrian darbuka player. And we just hang out.

I have a lot of difficulty disconnecting the academic part of my mind from social interaction. I think that that was the thing that I really liked about myself for a long time, but now I’m starting to realise that it actually does have negative side-effects about connection with other people.

Middle Eastern culture and music [has] taught me to be more present and comfortable with not having to be constantly intellectually performing.

Jess: The academic side of things?

Tara: Yes, I think so. If I’m constantly analysing stuff in a way that other people just don’t care about … you have to mirror where the other person is at. But within this group, we are all connected by a love of Middle Eastern culture and music. But it’s taught me to be a bit more present and comfortable with not having to be constantly intellectually performing.

Jess: Just being.

Tara: Yeah, it’s just nice when people come into your life that teach you something that you really needed to know. Just opening that extra level of comfort with yourself and not having to play that role all the time is a big relief.

Jess: So, just stepping back a bit then, tell me more about the academic pathway? You’re currently studying a PhD?

Tara: Ten years ago, I was like, “I’m going to do a PhD, yeah! By the time I’m 25!” Well, I haven’t done that. I had this intention really early on and it just happened. Because my parents have social work backgrounds, we discuss our emotions and experiences quite academically in a really abstract way, which is great for psychologising.

Jess: And for sport?

Tara: Yes, it is like a sport! We really commit to it and develop these really complex theories about exploring people’s behaviours and it is like an intellectual sport in a way. So that world isn’t alien to me and it’s quite apt in that way that my father works with engaging fathers and men. Well, I’m now doing a PhD in men and suicide. That’s not entirely of my own choice, there was a certain degree of pragmatism that has gone into the selection of that topic. It’s appropriate and pertinent right now, it’s really important and relevant, and there was funding available for it. It also connects with my personal interests and being able to massage it into a thing that I am quite interested in, which is gender dynamics and how that impacts our responses to other people.

Jess: I was curious to know what led to the male suicide focus in particular. So, let’s start with the suicide first. What was the interest in suicide?

Tara: Well, when I was still contemplating being a clinical psychologist I tried out with Lifeline and did a couple of years as a telephone counsellor. I think that that is a job I could do but it’s not one that I want to do. I find it hard to be as emotionally present and generous as you can with the people in your life in combination with doing that within your professional life. I just made a decision that I can’t do that, it’s just going to be too hard. Academic stuff is like mother’s milk to me, I love it, so I decided to go down that pathway. I was approached to be on the Board of Directors of Lifeline, South Coast when I 19. That was a jump in the deep end!

Jess: That’s amazing!

Tara: It took years to feel even mildly comfortable with the role but it was an amazing learning experience. It was actually Gordon Bradbury, the mayor of Wollongong, he was on the board at that time and he approached me as he thought I might be interested. I think that did really set me up to be doing a PhD in this area. I’m interested in it and I think that it’s really important. Some people come into it with a lot of personal experience in the area, but I don’t have a lot of my own experience.

As a teenager, I was quite depressed and potentially suicidal in that adolescent way, but I don’t feel that experience really provides any insight into the topic of my PhD. My dad’s focus on men’s health. “Do I really even want to go into this?” Doing stuff that Dad is interested in, but that was an illogical concern, I think it’s been great to get his insight into it as well, he’s got a lot of experience and understanding and now he’s sometimes coming to me.

Jess: To seek your advice?

Tara: Yes, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know Dad!’ Because academically I know a lot, but practice is his side of the thing. So, I guess it was personal interest and pragmatism that got me here. It’s horrible and soul-crushing work, a lot of the time. To be able to research it you do, to a certain extent, need to be able to intellectualise it. You have to be really disciplined with yourself so that you don’t force that onto other people as well, because it can seem really callous. So I generally avoid talking about my PhD as much as possible. Because you never know whether someone else has experienced suicide. And anything like that could be triggering because, of course, they are going to interpret what you say through their lens of their own experience so I try to keep a lid on it as much as possible.

I love making connections and forming relationships.

Jess: So, when you’re saying it’s difficult and soul-destroying is it because the focus is on people being suicidal?

Tara: Well, my focus isn’t entirely on people being suicidal. I’m looking at the impact of gender on the interpretation and response to male suicidality and telephone counsellors. So, I’m looking at telephone counsellor’s interpretation of a person’s presentation, rather than the nitty-gritty of their own personal experience. I’m not doing a clinic PhD so that steers me into a policy, research route. It’s more having the discipline to turn up every day and do the same thing, every day, and rarely meeting your personal goals. Just because you have to be so focussed and the concentration you need to be able to work well and frequently you’re just not and trying to reconcile that and not feel guilty. It’s tough but what job isn’t tough? It’s just you and the thing in front of you, your one job is to write this thing. That been really hard for me because I love going off and making connections and forming relationships. I think that is why dancing has been particularly good because I do have a way to do that.

Jess: I was going to lead into that … the antidote to the PhD claustrophobia, I suppose.

Tara: Yeah, it is claustrophobia…

Jess: For you, it’s the dancing?

Tara: Definitely! I started that in the second year of uni. A really important part of identity formation is knowing the way that you attribute your value as a human onto these things that you do. There’s some philosophies that really dislike that. I am what I do, that’s really important to me to take a mind and body approach. I think the thing that I struggled with throughout adolescence was not attributing my value as a person onto my grades, but in second year uni that was a pretty stressful time. I performed brilliantly that year, actually, I don’t know how but it just got to a point where I can’t continue like this. It’s a fragile thing when the confidence and identity you had is dependent on the marks you get – that is just too fragile. I was too enmeshed with my academic practice, I really needed to find a way to step back. At that point I was grinding my teeth so hard that I broke three teeth in one night.

I woke up one day and I was drinking a margarita a bit later. I thought, “Why is this so sore?” I realised I had seriously chipped one on each side and one at the front. I could barely open my mouth for a couple of weeks because the muscles were so fatigued from grinding so hard at night. I just need something that I could do. I had already seen a belly dancer when I was about 15, and I had tried it then. It was Mum’s way of trying to connect with me as a grumpy, moody adolescent. Adolescents are flippant so I ended up not committing to it, but I went back to it as a 19-20-year-old. I was like, “I love this, I really love it!” Over the years, it became about developing a deep personal connection with the music, food and culture.

Slowly I wanted to become good, I never really do things in a half-hearted way. If I going to dance, I’ve got to be a professional. If I’m going to go to uni, I’ve got to do a PhD. If I do anything, I’ve got to really fucking do it, so I tried to be really disciplined and had goals of dancing for hours a week, which eventually prompted me to live quite a healthy lifestyle, which has been helpful in staying sane throughout the PhD process. It meant that my academic failures, even if they were caused by dance, weren’t such a burden upon me. It let me breathe a little bit, in a way, and it let me explore other parts of myself that I hadn’t really done before. Then there’s all the things associated with belly dancing, like costuming, that’s a really big part of my life now. I really love making costumes so it has opened up a world of creativity and performance.

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Jess: So, is there a plan for how you might bring these elements of your life together?

Tara: Yeah, it’s interesting that you ask that. My ideal job probably would be a research position looking at recently migrated men from culturally diverse backgrounds. And particularly my interest is in how meaning is made in this new cultural context and where it is important to maintain past traditions and experiences as well. That’s probably my real research interest and of course I would find a way to bring everything together. That would be perfect but there’s no money in that, that’s not going to happen.

Jess: You never know. You could work in psychology and start writing…

Tara: I’m never going to be an academic and thankfully, with the help of my supervisors, I’ve been able to position my PhD as a bit more of a policy driven, practical applied PhD, which will hopefully get me a job at the end of this.

Jess: I’ve heard from psychology and social worker friends that there’s a bit of a tension between social work and psychology.

Tara: Totally!

Jess: So how does that work in your family?

Tara: Well, I think it means I’m a really bad psychologist because, at the end of the day, I really do hate psychology, the orientation of the practise of it. The rigid focus on the individual is just so stupid. For me, it just ignores all the important parts of the situation, which is relationships, which is everything that surrounds a person. So I think I’m a social worker at heart. I guess my PhD is kind of about that. It’s how meaning is created through communication dynamics and social dynamics. That is an interesting point and that’s probably why I didn’t end up going into being a clinical psychologist, I just can’t entertain for a moment that that’s enough, that diagnosing is enough, and that you can ease mental distress through CBT without looking at other contributing factors. That has only been recent through other conversations that I’ve had recently as well. I was talking with a psychiatrist who is Middle Eastern, he’s from Syria. We were talking about it the other night and I was asking what is the Middle Eastern concept of psychology, is there a practice of that there? Well no, because it’s a collective of society, one person’s pain is everybody’s pain and it just doesn’t work. That means that the practice of psychology is just so restricted and so culturally inflexible and there has been very little work on figuring out how it actually can be applied…

Jess: … in broader terms … more realistically …

Tara: Yes, that’s a complete and utter failure for me – it just doesn’t work.

Jess: Now that I’ve led you to the path of disenchantment … that’s really interesting because it’s like an ambivalence that you have to negotiate as you are completing your work.

Tara: Luckily, I realise that it’d be a bigger problem if I had done a clinical PhD but luckily, whether I realised it consciously or not, being a psychologist was not going to sit well with me. Thank God! Dodged that bullet!

Jess: The Soul Spectrum is interested in what brings meaning to people’s lives, how people fashion meaning for themselves and what they believe to be the source of spirit and soul in life. Would you mind speaking to these ideas?

Tara: That’s a hard one. I’m such an academic I find it really hard because I have to translate what you mean by soul to what I mean by soul or what I believe about the connection between the mind and body. It gets a bit complicated for me. What would I say if I wasn’t thinking about it too hard? Everybody does it differently and the way we relate to ourselves and others in the world is just created through a complex interaction between our biology and our life history and our upbringing.

I’m not sure whether my understanding of soul is going to be helpful to anybody else, which is interesting. So, what do I think the soul is? Everybody has that quiet, internal place … maybe this is what I think about it. I’ve been thinking about personality a lot recently, and I’ve had a lot of discussions with friends about what personality is. It’s kind of related, it’s who we are as people. There is very little about us that is constant. Although it is interesting that I like to describe myself as a very consistent, constant person, but we are always re-evaluating, reassessing how we are in the world and modifying it, and we modify who we are in the process, and the person that other people see is going to be different in every context.

So, every person is a constellation of all of these relationship dynamics and interactions. I enjoy being consistent so I try to make sure that the way I behave in one situation is quite consistent across the rest. But at the same time, I am like a crazy introvert at times, so I really need down time because sometimes I’m just a horrible person to be around. Soul, so what do you mean by soul?

Jess: That’s a good question which is why I’m asking it. When I think about it, it’s that deep and centred place within a person that is quiet and gently guides a person in their own direction. I know that can be separate from spirit, which is more about the energy that a person projects. The sense of a person that is there … it’s like when you encounter a dead body and that sort of sense of essence is divorced from the body, if it’s not breathing and pulsating then it’s not really in possession of soul. I’d say that soul is this core element that makes a person that person and spirit is the energy that gets emitted by that person and they can be different. Because what lies truly deeply within a person may not necessarily be self-evident – maybe that’s persona or something?

Tara: That’s a nice delineation. I guess in some ways I can see that because I use similar terms.

Jess: People can take it very literally to mean when you die the soul leaves the body, that there is some tangible, even intangible entity that exits the body and is reincarnated. People can take it very literally and not take is as a symbolic truth about each person; that there is just something core to their being that only belongs to their being.

Tara: Yeah, I think I believe that, but unfortunately, seven years of studying psychology means that I’ve got all this baggage about the meta-theory behind what saying you have a soul really means. While I may relate to the sentiment non-academically, academically there is a lot of cognitive distance around that I guess. I’m at a very early point in my journey…

Jess: Yes, you’re young!

Tara: I’m only 25. I think I need to think about it more.

Jess: It’s not an essential life question, maybe it’s not meant to be answered.

Tara: No, but I think it’s important to think about it, and a lot of it is caught up in terms. Maybe I use different terms to refer to that as well. You defined what you meant by that really well, and I think I would largely agree with what you are saying because I also think that in terms of energy.

Jess: That’s alright. It’s a life journey thing, the extent to which the question is important to you and where you are in your life. I’m turning 40 this year. There’s certain points in your life when that question takes on some importance.

Tara: Maybe that’s right, maybe now for me it’s more important to be participating in that life lesson. I’m still learning about who I am and how I do change within the world, maybe what also stays the same, and that is the internal part of you. I think in the past year that thing about not over-intellectualising everything has been the biggest important life lesson that I’ve had. You can still have really worthwhile relationships without convoluted academic discussion – that was a really surprising revelation for me. Why the hell didn’t I know that?

Jess: And a liberating one as well?

Tara: Yeah, I think so and that thing about not pushing stuff onto people and just being happy to meet the other person where they are because you always discover new aspects of yourself through that. So, at the moment I’m really more focussed on how to form really good relationships with other people rather than theorising so much about myself. But I think that they are really related – it’s impossible to separate that kind of stuff out.

Jess: I guess maybe in knowing yourself it helps. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to know others. It’s like a mirror thing, because the more you recognise your own complexity and your own contradictions, your own failings, foibles, perfections and imperfections, it’s easier to recognise that in someone else with love and compassion, and empathy surfaces more readily…

Tara: Yeah that’s really true but that being said, I feel like I do know myself very well. So, although you’re always discovering new things about yourself, I’ve always been pretty comfortable with who I am. The challenge has always been to try and figure out how I can co-exist with other people with that sense of confidence of who I am because that’s not always very well received. I think one of the issues that I had within adolescence was that I wasn’t a social chameleon. I was very bad at adapting myself to new social contexts where you had to in order to survive – I just refused to do that. I think people who do that inevitably get a bit more flack at school. I think that that has made life a lot simpler for me in a lot of other ways since then. I have always been very confident in that self-knowledge of myself and that I know myself enough to be able to make the decisions that I need to.

Jess: So where to from here for you? I know it’s been hinted at a bit…

Tara: I’m always thinking about where to from here. Finding a way that I can make the money I need and pursue dancing is the big one. At the end of the day right now, probably the thing that I want to pursue most is dancing but I don’t know if I could do that in a full-time capacity either. I can’t see myself wanting to do too much of anything. My goal is, post PhD, to find a job that will support me doing dancing.

Jess: See where that takes you.

Tara: Yeah, but I can’t imagine that I’m going to be a full-time dancer – that’s really untenable. I want to form more creative relationships with people and be able to contribute to a creative community in which we broaden and extend Middle Eastern dance in Australia. I want to continue with the community engagement stuff that I do, around that. For me, one of the big difficulties of being a Middle Eastern dancer is that we take a lot from the culture. We take music, we take dance, we take all of this really important cultural stuff and there’s rarely a direct way in which we give back. So, I’ve been involved with SCARF [Strategic Community Assistance for Refugee Families], a local community organisation and I really want to continue doing that kind of work, which is supporting people from those communities now coming to Australia because a lot of the war and distress that is going on right now. So, that’s really important for me to be ethically engaged in what I do.

A developing focus of my research has been on how to conduct research that is engaged with communities. This has really inspired me in terms of my future research as well. In this way, dancing has helped me to see what I truly value in academia. My aspirations for my future research is to be a tool for communities wishing to conduct their own research – on things that will improve lives, wellbeing, effective practice! Whatever the community identifies as being important to them. I define “community” quite broadly here, as I find anything that is grounded in the needs and values of people quite inspiring. But immediately, at the end of the day I want to finish my PhD with novel and useful results that will improve professional practice and outcomes for suicidal men.

Jess: I’m sure you will. Thanks very much, Tara.

* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit www.shotbyhamish.com

* Interview very kindly transcribed by Dana Junokas

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