In North Macedonia, local dancers and dance clubs are getting ready to “graduate” from the Virtual American Dance Academy (VADA), enthusiastically working on their dance hall techniques with King Kayak, aka Wendell Bullen, a renowned New York City-based dancer, artist, choreographer, and entrepreneur originally from the West Indies. VADA is not a formal dance school, it is rather a virtual project of ECA’s Arts Envoy program, in the Cultural Programs Division of the Office of Professional and Cultural Exchanges. By bringing the best of American street dance styles along with lessons and discussions on the business of dance, from starting a dance studio to dancing professionally, this unique online ECA exchange program is forging stronger U.S.-Macedonian ties and providing tools and know how to help young people build the creative industries in North Macedonia.
The program is the result of collaboration between the U.S. Embassy in Skopje and local dancer and teacher Ivana Balabanova from the Beatrix Cultural Center, who saw an opportunity to inspire Macedonian youth by engaging them in what they loved – American street dance and hip hop – with an emphasis on how to turn a talent for dance into a business. The Arts Envoy program provided the vehicle for this effort, using virtual platforms to cost-effectively bring multiple U.S. dance artists and instructors to North Macedonia for workshops on dance, culture, the history of hip hop, and arts entrepreneurship. From February to June 2021, under the leadership of American Dance Abroad Co-Directors Carolelinda Dickey and Andrea Snyder, the program brought to North Macedonia weekly workshops in popping, hip hop musicality and improv, house dance, waving, and dance hall, from outstanding artists such as Marie Poppins, SlimBoogie, Jesse Sykes, and Nubian Néné.
An important goal for U.S. Embassy Skopje is to help North Macedonia build a strong and diversified economy and become increasingly self-reliant. One way to support that objective was to provide creative opportunities to young people to minimize economic migration and the brain drain from which the country suffers. That is the heart of the Virtual American Dance Academy: building capacity through dance and promoting the growth of a successful arts industry. In addition to workshops on dance technique, the program was also designed to transfer knowledge and knowhow on the business and entrepreneurship of dance. In April, a three-week lecture symposium brought participants together with artists such as Ephrat Asherie and Princeton University professor and choreographer-in-residence Raphael Xavier, who spoke to the local participants about individual professional development and project development. Other arts experts lectured on the mechanics of building a school and institutional management. In addition to the business of dance, VADA also covered the history and culture of American street dance and hip hop, providing the critical background of the dance styles the world loves and reflecting the ideals of a diverse, democratic, and inclusive society.
The Virtual American Dance Academy will conclude on June 29 with a virtual panel discussion of dance experts. Representing a broad spectrum of the American dance community, the experts will inspire the students with personal success stories of creating new artistic and business ventures along with examples of community engagement.