In your own words, who would you say Vivi Boateng is?
Vivian Boateng is a professional dance and drama teacher passionate about using Dance and drama to empower children and young people and give them the platform to express themselves, so their voices are heard fully. She is the Director of Vivie’s Dance Factory.
You are involved in quite a number of things; please tell us about all of them.
I will group my engagements into five categories -entrepreneur, instructor, lecturer, consultant and performer.
As an Entrepreneur, I run a performing arts school for young people, providing graduates with employment opportunities. I have directly employed over 20 teaching and non-teaching staff.
In addition to this role, I am the Principal of the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy in Ghana. The Academy has branches in over 40 countries worldwide. My main task here as an instructor is to improve children’s and young people’s communication skills, creativity, critical thinking, and confidence.
I periodically teach Directing in Theatre and a course on African Plays and Playwrights at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana.
I do workshops on dance therapy for special needs schools and offer dance lessons at orphanages. I also support school productions as the lead choreographer and Artistic Director.
Finally, as a performer. I dance and act when the opportunity arises.
How did your journey with Dance start?
I loved to dance in church and joined the youth choreography group.
I was passionate about Dance and drama at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana. I participated in almost all the productions right from the first year.
My professional training started in 2008 when a ballet school recruited me and trained me at Mandy FouracreDance Academy. I taught ballet for six years before starting Vivie’s Dance Factory.
What would you say has been the most fulfilling part of your career?
Seeing students transform positively is the most fulfilling part of my career. I have seen some students who came in timid but have grown to become confident, disciplined young people who own their space where ever they go. Some of these students are taking leadership positions in their schools which makes me so proud. That is what VDF is about. Teaching children to build confidence and know they can do anything they put their minds to.
What would you say the relationship between Africans and ballet is, and why is it so?
Ballet is a specific dance form that originated in Europe. Ballet, over the years has spread to many parts of the world, and African-Americans have had to fight their way to gain acceptance in major ballet companies. The discrimination pushed some African-Americans to form their own companies. An example is Arthur Mitchelle, the founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
In Africa, Dance is an integral part of our lives. In our marriage ceremonies, funerals, festivals and so on.
Ballet is not far from Africans. It is an art form that allows people to express themselves in a particular way. Africans who dance ballet have several reasons for doing that. I discovered ballet on TV and fell in love with it.
I was drawn to the graceful yet strong and precise way the dancer moved. I wanted to move like that, so I started buying books on ballet whenever our school went to the city on an excursion until I could train professionally. Today, I incorporate ballet movements in my performances to communicate my message to my audience.
As with any form of art, ballet has no colour. If you are trained, skilled and willing to dedicate your time and life to a certain kind of art, there should be no embargo barring how far you can climb on the ladder.
Ballet is art, and art is human. Any true art should reflect reality, and if there are black people, white people, Asian people, Latinos or people of African descent, ballet should reflect that. Every and anyone deserves to learn freely. Ballet is not an idealistic sport for a selected few; if so, then theatres should reject the millions of tickets bought by people of other races, and other races must be stopped from learning our Afro dances.
Aspiration is such a powerful thing. If humans are stripped of their right to aspire, their humanity is stolen. And what I think happens when people tell black people what they can and especially cannot do; how we can not do ballet because of our body types and denying us a fairgrounds for such hideous assumptions, and depriving black people of equal training opportunities and visibility; is steal our freedom to aspire. It is a ploy to silence and dominate. And to most Africans, doing ballet is a way to reclaim our space and to say we can aspire to anything and ballet is not excluded.
Tell us about Vivie’s Dance factory (VDF)
VDF is a performing arts school that provides professional training in various dance styles and drama to children and young people. We teach ballet (American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum-PP to L3), Acrobatics(Acrobatic Arts certified), African drumming and Dance, Contemporary Dance, hip-hop, drama and musical theatre.
Our mission is to raise global champions in the arts industry, use arts to nurture and train the next generation of Leaders and help young people to become well-rounded.
You sure have had an exciting journey so far. But we’re sure it isn’t always easy. Tell us about when it wasn’t easy and how you got through it.
I have encountered two significant challenges on my journey, and they both happened within the same period. One was getting affordable space to run the dance programs, and two was the Covid-19 pandemic. We were blessed with a 3-bedroom apartment in 2018 by one of my dance Families to run our program. By the end of 2019, we were asked to evacuate because they needed the space back. At that time, the number of students had grown from 30 to 125. We were fortunate to get a new space in the neighbourhood, but it would be extremely expensive. I took a step of faith and went to rent the property, pouring every dime I had saved into getting the space ready.
Just two months into classes, covid-19 reared its head. All our partner schools shut their doors to us. We immediately switched our studio lessons to online teaching.
Some parents were happy to continue with us. We had some new students joining and offered free lessons to those who could not afford them. That kept us afloat till the lockdown period passed, and we started opening our studios again. We followed the government’s covid-19 protocols and continued until normalcy returned. Out of this desert season came some blessings.
We got noticed by American Ballet Theatre soloist Gabe Stone Shayer, who reached out to me and helped me gain a scholarship for my Ballet Teacher Certification with American Ballet Theatre.
In 2019, the British embassy denied my visa application to go and do my Acrobatic Arts teacher certification in the UK. But covid-19 forced the organization to bring their training online. That is how I got my training and certification in Acrobatics. Two months after, I got three of our teachers registered to do the Acrobatic Arts teacher training, and now, our Academy has a vibrant Acrobatic Arts program. This year 32 of our students who took part in the first international exams all passed with distinction.
What advice would you give to African girls considering Dance as a career?
Go for it! We haven’t scratched the surface yet in this industry, and there is room for innovation and growth. Have a vision and stay focused.
What would you say to your younger self?
Your dreams are valid. Let nothing intimidate you. You’ve got all it takes to succeed. Believe in yourself because you have something valuable to share with the world.