Be very clear about your why, and your mission. This is what will hold your vision all along if you are very clear about what you wish and hope to get and make out of this experience. Ask yourself, how will you make a difference?
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Valeria Y Gonzalez.
Valeria Y. Gonzalez is a Mexican-American artistic director, choreographer, dancer, performance artist, and producer. Starting in 2007, she embarked on a learning expedition in Guadalajara, then Montreal followed by a full relocation to NYC to continue her professional education in dance. During this time, she studied at Ballet Divertimento in Montreal and The Ailey School in NYC. Her studies include several dance intensives such as: GAGA, Movement Invention Project, SBDNY Module, Gallim Dance, Vim Vigor, Pirouetteando, and Alvin Ailey intensives. In 2015 she graduated with a BFA in Communication Arts and TV Production. During the NYIT time, she worked for prominent media outlets such as Time Out Magazine (E-Commerce Manager) and at NBC New York (Social Media assistant & Assignment Desk Intern). In 2014 she was hired as a full-time Production Assistant where she worked along with the executive producers, anchors, photographers, assignment desk editors and reporters. Most notably during this time, Valeria found her true calling by founding her dance theater company, VALLETO. From 2016 to 2018, Valeria attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts where she pursued and completed her MFA in Dance with a concentration in Performance and Pedagogy. As a performer, Valeria created her very own solo, “echoes” a durational (6 hours) improvisation performance that premiered in May 2018 at NYU Tisch Dance. She also has performed works by Gioconda Barbuto (Nederlands Dans Theater), MADBOOTS, David Pressault (Toronto Dance Theater), Eric Miles (Les Ballet Jazz De Montreal), Pamela Pietro (NYU Tisch), and more. Valeria’s is currently a part time lecturer in dance at the University of Texas at El Paso where she teaches contemporary dance, improvisation and performance. And is enrolled in the Women and Gender Studies program at UTEP.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I am a borderland native woman who was born in El Paso, Texas but raised in Juarez, Mexico. My childhood truly informed later in my years what my work would be about. I am very interested in investigating through movement the story that women hold in their bodies, and most of them relate even though we have different backstories. My goal is to empower women through a process that feels safe, and unapologetic. I want to encourage them to discover their unique voice and use it to make a difference in the world.
I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was 5. My mom was a great influence for me because she used to share with me how much she loved dance, and singing- even though she pursued Medicine instead. She put me into Ballet from a very young age, but it wasn’t until I was 13 that I truly fell in love with it. Since then, my journey with dance grew into several dance techniques but mostly Classical Ballet. I knew I wanted to fly and live in other cities to “be an artist” however in those years I couldn’t understand why. Of course, now I understand that everything I did was mostly because I had to get out from the society I grew up in. A society where people were close minded, and dance was only a “hobby.” I am very grateful that my parents always believed in my potential, but the truth was that I was the one who needed to believe in myself the most. Being the only “artist” or “crazy” girl who was bullied a lot was challenging. I had to choose what type of person I wanted to be, the one who stayed to please everyone’s desires, or the one who left to make her dreams come true. I chose the second one.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My career path has allowed me to uncover, and unveil so much from myself, and from what I would love to give to the world. As I mentioned in the first question, I wasn’t the “normal” girl in my hometown-I had other interests. My desire for growing and my dreams were bigger than any other thing. And I think that is the main factor that pushed me to follow a career in dance because dance has always been my place of freedom, connection and unapologetic acceptance of myself.
I did have a lot of ups and downs of course, I dealt with some educators who were really tough on me, and who made me fall into a spiral of toxic thoughts about my weight, my dancing and my body. I went through intense injuries and danced through the pain. And some many experiences that could have made me quit, but, I didn’t. This same path led me to also expand my interests to other worlds, such as the world of film, photography, production, and journalism- but somehow dance is always there.
In 2014, I founded VALLETO, an all-female contemporary dance-theater company that focuses on the empowerment of women through performances, projects, collaboration and education. It has now become a platform for women from all walks of life to dance, heal, and perform. I currently teach and mentor students at a university (UTEP), meanwhile I also lead virtually my company of 25 women.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book of poems of Rupi Kaur, but especially The Sun and her Flowers and Milk and Honey were very significant for me. These poems would make me tear up because Rupi is so honest, and raw that when I read her I felt her pain that also resonated with mine at the time. She really speaks up about a woman’s heart.
Some films that impacted me are “Taxi Driver” from Martin Scorsesse,”The Shining” from Stanley Kubrick, and “Irreversible” from Gaspar Noe. And I think that what I appreciate from each and one of them is their unique cinematography which I connect it a lot to choreography, the rawness of their storyline, the suspense, and the sound.
I love the podcasts of Oprah. “Super soul Sundays.” and honestly anything that is Heal related.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think I have so many that I don’t remember them all but here are a few:
“The only one standing on your way its you” — Black Swan movie
“When an opportunity shows up, you take it”- My dad
“Radical acceptance.” — Lady Gaga
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
I started out of nothing in 2014. I had no experience producing or organizing events. It all came out of an idea I had of a performance, and my desire to give choreography a chance. I was a Production Assistant at NBC New York local news at the time, so that definitely influenced me a lot. I learned about what it takes to produce, oversee a team and plan. Since then, I have created more than 10 self-produced shows in which I direct, choreograph, and lead a team of artists for evening-length performances. It became my favorite thing to do. I also currently create events that also offer classes to the public.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
It started when I held my first virtual dance intensive in July 2020. Firstly, I was supposed to have this intensive in person and in New York. I had the space reserved, I had guest choreographers ready to go, but then COVID happened. So life forced me to try the virtual situation, I held the intensive via ZOOM and finished it with a short live virtual performance. It wasn’t very organized, so I honestly was freaking out during the live show because I couldn’t figure out how to remove all the non-camera viewers in ZOOM.
However, in December 2020 I produced an 83 min live virtual performance with 22 dancers. The experience literally felt like producing a live show on TV or a live performance but even more adrenaline. It felt like the audience was there in front of us. The show was all done via zoom but streamed on youtube. During the show I was changing the music, turning off some cameras, spotlighting some dancers, removing spotlight, while simultaneously messaging the dancers along with my assistant their cues. It was intense.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I honestly don’t know, or haven’t found a company that in my opinion has done a fantastic job.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Some errors are maybe giving the option of seeing the performance later. I think these live performances, or events should be taken in real time.
Another error is maybe not engaging with their audience enough. The live virtual events I am mostly talking about are workshops, or community gatherings. I haven’t seen a lot of live virtual performances to be honest.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
It truly depends on what type of even they are doing. There are a lot of things at stake, for example: music rights if you do it via youtube. You have to be prepared
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1- Be very clear about your why, and your mission.
- This is what will hold your vision all along if you are very clear about what you wish and hope to get and make out of this experience. Ask yourself, how will you make a difference?
2- Choose people who are aligned with your mission.
- The people who are in it are truly the ones who make this possible. At least, in the performing arts. Make sure you choose humans who are deeply committed to the process, and who are willing to share and receive.
3- Engage the audience with your marketing posts.
- Other than word of mouth, what makes events possible is the marketing you do for the event. In my experience, I knew I had a specific date for the event, and the specific vibe. So all of my IG posts, newsletters and messages were aligned to that and I also did some IG Lives, and facebook live interviews with the dancers.
4- Have at least two production assistants.
- If you are doing a live virtual event, you need to figure out a way to have at least two more production assistants helping you for any technical difficulties. There might be a chance that your laptop turns off out of nowhere, make your PA’s co-host or trained to be prepared.
5- Give yourself enough time to practice the event with bad wifi, good wifi, and all the possible mistakes. Always record your rehearsals, or practices just in case.
- The practice will also give you peace of mind.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Make sure you have the why clear, and set the date. Does it feel good? If yes, then you are on the right path.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This is a hard one. I think there are already out there a lot of movements that have made a positive difference. Mine would be aligned with radical self love and ending “machismo,” especially in Mexico.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Definitely, Sophia Amoroso because she is just very cool. I love her authenticity, her energy and her style. She is very open to talk about taboos such as mental health, and is unafraid of taking risks with her company. I think meeting with her will be very fun.