Community//

Clemencia Vargas of Vive Bailando: “Cases of depression have risen exponentially during quarantine”

It is time to prioritize solidarity, empathy, adaption to change, collaboration and teamwork as well. The government, politicians, society, and individuals must address mental health issues. We need to prevent depression and mental health disorders as well as provide programs that are relevant, successful and quantifiable. We cannot continue to ignore this problem. Cases of […]

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It is time to prioritize solidarity, empathy, adaption to change, collaboration and teamwork as well. The government, politicians, society, and individuals must address mental health issues. We need to prevent depression and mental health disorders as well as provide programs that are relevant, successful and quantifiable. We cannot continue to ignore this problem. Cases of depression have risen exponentially during quarantine.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clemencia Vargas.

Clemencia Vargas received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Babson College with a concentration in finance and economics. She is also a professional dancer who has had the opportunity to dance at Madonna’s house and perform with artists like Carlos Vives, Black Eyed Peas, Backstreet Boys, among others. After working for Deloitte and Touché in M&A, she founded Vive Bailando, an organization that transforms the lives of youth in Colombia through dance.


Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I was born in Colombia and lived in Bogota until I was 6 years old. As a result of the violent circumstances that Colombia was undergoing in the early 90’s, I had to leave my home in Bogota and move to the United States. While I was excited about this new opportunity, I was young, and did not fully understand the implications that this would have on my life. I moved to the U.S. with my mother and had to leave my father and my family behind. Once I moved to the United States, I did not go back to Colombia for over 10 years. Dance became my second language while I found myself in a foreign country. It became a way for me to express my emotions, overcome my hardships and build my own identity. I was able to use dance as an outlet to cope with my situation and it became a tool for recognition and empowerment. A couple of years after I moved to Miami, I was dancing with the Backstreet Boys at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, at Madonna’s house for her daughter’s birthday, and at the MTV Latin Video Awards, among others. After my high school graduation, I moved to Boston to study at Babson College, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a concentration in finance and economics. Then, I moved back to Colombia after more than 18 years of living abroad to work for Deloitte and Touché in mergers and acquisitions. In 2014, I decided to combine my passion with my profession and create VIVE BAILANDO to share my experience with the youth in Colombia. I believe that dance, our body, and movement have the capacity to transform lives.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non nonprofit?

I decided to start this organization because I know first-hand the power that dance has to transform lives on a physical, emotional, cognitive and social level. I wanted to specifically share my experience with the Colombian youth because we are a country that has used arts, music and dance to overcome over 50 years of war. 26% of Colombia’s population is between 11–25 years of age. 17.5 % of girls between this age group are pregnant or are already mothers. Only 1 out of 4 people in this age group perform more than 60 minutes of exercise a week. These are only some of the few statistics that set the tone for the need for programs like Vive Bailando.

Dance intrinsically has many benefits, but, when dance becomes a methodology to educate, it becomes even more powerful. Now more than ever, we need people with the capacity to work in a team, to adapt to change, to have high self- esteem and emotional intelligence, and what a better way to develop these capacities than through dance.

I realized that sometimes even though we hear the music, we don’t feel the rhythm. Rhythm marks the pulse of our life. When we are not connected with the rhythm, we cannot reach our maximum potential. Through Vive Bailando, we want people to thrive and improve their self-esteem. We want our dancers to become leaders through the power of movement. For example, 1 in every 10 individuals suffers from depression or anxiety. When a person has low self-esteem they cannot feel the rhythm of the music, or their heart. As a society, we want people to be effective, efficient, and give their maximum potential. In order to do this, they have to be connected to the beat of their heart. We have to remember that our emotions are a product of our experiences. Humans tend to be more emotional and passionate rather than rational. Through dance, we are able to contribute to the emotional and passionate side of our participants.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

Our mission is to contribute to the social transformations of young people by improving their socio-emotional skills and preparing them for employability. We want our dancers to become agents of change through our Vive Bailando methodology. Vive Bailando is an organization that combines dance and science as a motor for human, social, and business development. We developed a scientific model and an educational curriculum to promote human development and socio-emotional skills through dance and movement. Our model demonstrates how we can achieve different benefits on a physical, cognitive and social level throughout the life cycle of a person. We have a measurement system in place, both qualitative and quantitative, with indicators that monitor and show results for our programs through Power BI.

We design and implement social interventions that are designed and adapted to the specific needs of each community. The first month of the program is always a design, diagnostic and adaptation phase. During this first phase, our goal is to identify the grass-root problems and adapt our curriculum, activities, and metrics to best fit the community and meet strategic objectives. We then carry out an implementation phase where we teach leadership, teamwork and sexual education through dance for an average of 4 hours a week.

Vive Bailando’s social projects are forward-thinking and we follow a unique teaching method. Our two-hour long classes have a pedagogical focus on leadership, self-esteem, teamwork and self-care, among other character-building exercises. Many of our students, such as Anderson & Viviana, have lost family members, suffered abuse, been recruited by guerilla groups or been severely bullied. Through the power of dance, and in a psychologically informed environment, we enhance children’s development and teach the next generation crucial principles and values. For example, we work to teach our dancers important lessons regarding family planning, gender equality, and drug abuse resistance. Our support network keeps our dancers off the street and away from crime. We also work with their families and the community in general to enhance the results of the program.

In the last 6 and a half years, we have worked with more than 10,000 participants nationwide including private companies (Coca Cola Femsa, Puerto Industrial Aguadulce), International Cooperation’s (Swedish Embassy, US Embassy, CUSO International, Canadian Embassy, Latin American Development Bank and the United Nations), and public entities (Alcaldía de Cali, Alcaldía de Madrid). We are also currently teaching animation and code through dance as part of a strategic alliance we have in place with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. Furthermore, our programs are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: promoting gender equality, good health and wellbeing.

At Vive Bailando, dance and movement cease to be exclusive tools for culture and entertainment and are capable of generating change at an individual and collective level. Regardless of gender, age, height, or whatever label society imposes on us, there is nothing more equalitarian than dance. Our mission is not to form professional dancers but to prevent the social risks and empower agents of change.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

One of our participants used to be in a guerilla group. He underwent reintegration into society and then entered Vive Bailando’s program as part of his rehabilitation where he volunteered to work. He is now a leader in his community and utilizes dance as a way to overcome his hardships. He is now a role model for many of our participants and is currently a Vive Bailando instructor in Cali, Colombia.

Another participant of ours from Barranquilla, Colombia, found that dance enabled her to get off the streets. She used to consume drugs but, since she entered our program, she has said that: “dance gave me the same high drugs used to. My mind opens, I feel free. I feel like a bird leaving a cage and I haven’t gone back to jail”. She wasn’t treated well by her family and was bullied at school because her family dressed her like a boy and cut her hair short. All of that anger consumed her and she decided to misbehave and not study. She surrounded herself with people who used and sold drugs, and she got in trouble with the police twice. This participant shared her story and says that her life was a “complete disaster” before entering our program.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Given the current circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, re-designing the educational system in Colombia is a priority. Even before COVID, our educational system was not designed for the type of citizen the world and the labor market were demanding. The quality of our educational system is poor and lacks infrastructure, materials and even high-quality teachers.

Now more than ever, we need to prioritize the design of an educational curriculum that is relevant and can be adapted and implemented even in rural areas in our country.

Reintegrating children and adolescents into the educational system is a priority too. Our public school system has been closed for over 10 months. Most schools did not have time to prepare for remote or virtual education, and many students don’t have connectivity or adequate devices.

In a survey of educators in different countries carried out by Harvard University in March of this year, it was established that the most complex challenge to solve in this COVID-19 crisis is the availability of technological infrastructure. The second most complex challenge to solve is the emotional and mental health of the students. Schools have come to realize that academics are not the only priority.

It is time to prioritize solidarity, empathy, adaption to change, collaboration and teamwork as well. The government, politicians, society, and individuals must address mental health issues. We need to prevent depression and mental health disorders as well as provide programs that are relevant, successful and quantifiable. We cannot continue to ignore this problem. Cases of depression have risen exponentially during quarantine.

Lastly, we need our leaders to believe in arts and dance as a method of transformation, not only as an after-school activity. Arts, dance and sports are all methods to educate, inspire and connect with youth. The traditional educational system needs to change, as we don’t all learn the same way. The development of interpersonal skills as an integral part of our educational system is something that needs to be taken seriously.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

‘Lead by example’ is a quote many of us have heard, but, it is really my underlying goal as a leader. We must remind ourselves every day that actions speak louder than words. In my case, I am not only talking about leading my team, but thousands of adolescents whom I am an example for.

Leadership, for me, is also about a vocation of service and generating change in others through impacting lives in a positive way. I am a young female entrepreneur, with many things still to learn. I have to have the humility to invite my team, coaches, and others to co-create. I really believe in the concept of empowerment based on the psychological safety which allows a true contribution from others. Having an ongoing learning curve is essential, and listening to your team is a crucial part of this process. When I first started this organization, nobody believed that I could create and sustain an organization based on dance. Slowly but surely, with hard work, determination, continued excellence in improving our programs, and well-crafted methodologies and processes, we demonstrated to Colombia that having a sustainable organization from dance was possible.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It is important that we think of our nonprofit organizations as social enterprises with different lines of income. Every day it is harder to raise money and maintain an organization only through a philanthropic model. In my case, being able to provide services that generate revenue with a social cause has allowed me to overcome challenging times, like the pandemic. For example, the Vive Bailando Academy offers paid dance classes to the wider global community, and to corporations for team building purposes. 10% of our profit contributes to co-funding our social programs. Dance with social impact.
  2. It is imperative that we monitor our programs, provide both qualitative and quantitative results, and measure our impact. Social organizations need to continue to shape their methodology until we can measure our direct impact. For Vive Bailando, this has been a goal since day one because dance is intangible. We had to think about how we could measure our results and impact with a cost-effective, realistic approach. We now have physical and socio-emotional measurements as well as assessments as part of our results.
  3. Social organizations must aim to provide scalable solutions to the world’s most urgent problems through innovation. This is not an easy task and being able to adapt and adopt our methodology and programs continuously is key for success. We are still in the process of shaping our methodology. 2020 was a very difficult year because we had to shift our programs to a virtual and/or remote approach.
  4. BELIEVE, BELIEVE, BELIEVE. Believe in your product, methodology and the impact that you can generate. Changing the life of just one person is worth the hard work. NEVER GIVE UP! Be creative, don’t be afraid to innovate and to believe: YES, YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
  5. Communication is key. Being able to share your stories and connect with your audience on why your cause matters is primary. Storytelling is what drives people, organizations and governments to want to become part of your story.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love for Colombian artists like Shakira and Sofia Vergara to support our cause.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

“Every step is a transformation in movement”. Today, I invite you to never stop moving. Take the next step in order to transform into the best version of yourself. To dance is to have the courage to face the world alone, but also to understand that if we do it together, we will go further. Life is a dance floor, and the dance floor is waiting for you!

How can our readers follow you online?

It would be an honor for you guys to follow us on all our social media platforms, both personal and corporate, to see some of our work and be inspired to start moving. Thank you so much for sharing our story.

Instagram

@clemevargas

@vivebailando

Youtube

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.

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