Dance teachers know better than anyone that there is so much more you can do with dance training than simply perform. Case in point: Clemencia Vargas, creator of Vive Bailando, a program that supports at-risk youth in Colombia, who has used dance to open professional doors not only for herself but for the community she serves.
Vargas was born in Colombia, but fled the country with her family as a child. At 6 years old she found herself in Miami, where she discovered a passion for hip hop at a school called Hip Hop Kidz. She quickly moved through the ranks into the program’s production company, where she performed at events like Madonna’s birthday party, and Destiny’s Child and *NSYNC concerts. At 18, she decided to put a pause on her professional dance career and move to Massachusetts to attend Babson College, where she earned a degree in business administration and continued to take and teach dance classes on the side.
Following her degree, Vargas landed a job working in financial advisory services for Deloitte. The company eventually relocated her to Colombia, where she quickly observed community issues (like large numbers of teen pregnancies, and mental health challenges brought on by years of living amidst violence) that she felt inspired to address through dance. By 2014, she quit her job and created her own company, called Vive Bailando—an organization that includes a traditional dance academy; a nonprofit program that offers community education in areas like sex education, leadership and STEM; and programs that teach HR departments at companies how to use dance to improve their overall business.
Dance Teacher asked Vargas about how she uses dance to benefit at-risk communities, the teachers who helped her reach her professional dreams, and the advice she has for dance educators interested in using their talents to make a real difference.
How her program combines STEM and dance: “We recently collaborated with an organization called STEM From Dance to teach girls in underprivileged areas in Colombia the basic theory behind a range of STEM careers. The girls learned to code, work with wearable tech (like tennis shoes and umbrellas with lights on them) and animated backgrounds, edit music and video, and match it all to choreography and music for a final performance showcase. This is how we get the girls interested in and excited about STEM careers, but more importantly, it’s how we show them they have the capacity to be successful in them.”
The most helpful advice she received as a dance student: “My teachers taught me that to be an amazing dancer, you had to be disciplined and determined. There is no easy moment where you think you’ve made it. You have to continually fight for your goals and move forward even when faced with challenges. This lesson has carried over into my current work. Just as we were becoming stable, COVID-19 hit. I remembered the lessons I learned through dance; I chose to keep moving.”
Why she combines her passions of dance and business: “In dance, we combine salsa with hip hop or breakdance, or traditional Colombian rhythms with contemporary. It makes things interesting and innovative. Why not combine dance with nondance interests? The more you learn, the more options you have.”
On her most influential teacher: “My most influential teacher was my very first dance teacher, Barbie Hackett. She gave me my first opportunity at Hip Hop Kidz when my family didn’t have the means to pay, and continues to be my mentor to this day. She drove me to auditions and taught me how to be prepared. She believed in me and taught me I could do anything I set my mind to.”
Her advice for dance educators: “No matter if there is one student in your class or a thousand, give the best of yourself to them. You never know the impact you will have on their life. Be a role model.”