Vaune Charles is an accomplished dance historian, technician, choreographer, instructor, performer, storyteller, costume designer and seamstress. Vaune is a graduate of the Cincinnati School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. Additional training affiliations include: University of Cincinnati Corbett Center of Performing Arts, Southern Illinois University Dunham Dance Department, CoSaan African Dance Company, International African American Ballet, Muntu Dance Theatre & African American Dance Ensemble. She received extensive training in Ballet, Horton, Graham, traditional and contemporary Jazz and African, Dunham & Tap dance techniques. She has worked extensively within the arts for many nonprofit organizations for over thirty years and was the program director of arts education for Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago for 12 years. Awards and special recognition include: Black Women’s Caucus honoree for Academic Excellence, Black Theatre Alliance best costume design Fat Tuesday & All That Jazz, Rites & Rituals, and Woloba for Muntu Dance Theatre, City of Aurora Certificate of Appreciation. Memorable performances include: Jacob’s Pillow with Muntu, the movie “Believers” director John Schlesinger, Anti-Apartheid dancer for Stevie Wonder Circle Tour, Cervatino Festival in Vera Cruz Mexico, Brighton Festival in England, Dance Festival in Scotland, Ghana Panafests.
Tell me a little about yourself?
I am a veteran in the field of dance with 30+ years training, teaching, performing, and directing dance productions throughout the nation and abroad. I’ve been employed as a teaching artist, storyteller, choreographer, costume designer, seamstress, and wardrobe supervisor. Administrative positions directly related to arts education include; program coordinator, program director, board member, and professional development presenter. I have two children that I love tremendously and recently moved closer to my daughter to codify my education. Future plans involve publishing, owning a business, choreographing world-renowned works.
I also have a passion and need to help people get to their next level. Through support, encouragement, research, finding resources, and tuff love. My avenue for this type of change and motivation is usually within the arts and/or cultural awareness.
You were born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio how was growing up in the Midwest?
The Midwest was an ok place to be raised…clean, segregated, some arts, some culture. A Cincinnati is a German town, used to be extremely racist, people of color and different nationalities lived in designated parts of the city when I was young. I remember going to college seeing the KKK lead officials on the front cover a newspaper in Columbus Ohio and I believe they still march in Cincinnati downtown area known as the Square. Cincinnati was an ok place for me because I received my hard knocks, learned a lot about politics and the importance of knowing one’s own history.
Do you recall an influence in the arts as a child?
Definitely. During my 5th grade year of school, an arts center was opened in my area of town. Classes were free so my Mom made my sisters and I go every day. We took art, drama, creative writing and my first love-dance. I met and trained with dancers that had traveled the world and it made me want to see places that I read about in books.
Not long after I auditioned for a performing arts school and many of the professional performances I saw were experiences that other children in my community did not get to enjoy. We frequented the theater for classical concerts, operas, the ballet, and some musicals. The most memorable was a Sweet Honey and the Rock acapella group. Their expertise being African American folklore, history, political situations and life experiences.
How did you start your career in the non-profit sector, working for Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago?
I seem to have worked for nonprofits/community based organizations all of my life. My first job was teaching dance in the same community center I began training, the Arts Consortium in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there the next was the Over-The-Rhine community center. Office of Minority Affairs was my work-study job on the Ohio State University campus. Black Repertory Theater in St. Louis MO, Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, Henry Street Settlement NY, Contemporary Dance Theatre in Cincinnati OH, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago IL, Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre in Evanston IL, Chicago Theatre Company, ETA Creative Arts Foundation Chicago IL, Gallery 37, & Pegusas Players in Chicago IL.
Where else have you traveled to explore arts & other cultures?
National: New York, Ohio, Mexico, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania, California, Texas, DC, North Carolina, & Georgia. International: Africa, England, Scotland.
How does the arts influence civilization?
Art distinguishes one nation from another. It denotes its similarities, political and social change, also can represent time or an era of time. Example: The foundation of Hip Hop was built on young black people finding a way to express themselves verbally and through their music in a time where they felt the adults in their lives had failed them. This voice was not afraid to speak about the social, political, and financial oppression of a people. The language was big on making one stand out or on top. It was able to spread across many races, ethnic backgrounds, and social arenas because oppression is represented through a class system not just a color. The movement (dance) began with pop locking, break-in’, shakin, pumpin’ and waving the body in such a way to demonstrate a control of being out-of-control. Young people could do and create words and movements that made them ’the best/original/unique ’ which made them feel on top, instead of the bottom. Hip Hop has influenced dance, music, poetry, fashion, and yes the way some people view themselves in the world. It is a nation that has unified many races and destroyed many preconceived discriminatory biases that still linger today.
What is the importance of arts education in the school system?
There are many learning modalities that students and adults use to attain knowledge. I feel that the arts represent many ways to nurture and increase learning levels. For learners that do not get it one way, try another. Arts education can offer additional use of kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and tactile learning strategies and advance student learning to new heights.
What is the Vaune Charles “startup” story?
I have made a name within the African dance and theater costume arena and aided many entrepreneurs/visual artists in making their designs more professional exposing them to the utilization of different textiles. I have also been very instrumental in dancers training and guiding their professional journeys. Since my previous entrepreneurial excursions of costume designer and program director of arts education were very profitable, the new Vaune Charles wants to emerge as a business owner, private fashion label, with a nonprofit foundation to continue spreading the arts through involvement and engagement of cultural arts.
Vaune Charles will be the name brand for my clothing line. I think that when people look better they feel better and do better. Also feel some of the top designers cater to the small petite Hollywood bodies (for women 1-3) and not the norm. No matter what the structure, a person should be allowed to define his or her own beauty within creative realms of fashion.
Many entrepreneurs started based on life changing/altering events. What defining moment made you become an entrepreneur?
Dance is and will always be the force that spiritually motivates me and because I did not have lots of money for travel and training, I had to figure out ways to keep the bills paid and raise my children. Teaching dance was the first, sewing second which lead to costume construction (Alvin Ailey). When I found out how much money I could make doing dance costumes/maintenance and repair, I was ready! I toured with Alvin Ailey’s second company as the wardrobe supervisor for a year and half. Unfortunately I didn’t know once you’re in the backstage people forget your front stage. The more I taught, designed arts curriculums and costumes, the less I was able to perform and get dance gigs. For example, for my last 22-year employment search was with a traditional African & African American folkloric theater company-Muntu Dance Theatre. I auditioned and became one of their fulltime paid company members. My teaching experience put me in the position to become an instructor. Sewing and construction moved me into being a costume designer and wardrobe supervisor. Dance training and precise teaching technique put me in the position of dance captain, assistant artistic director, and choreographer. Last but not least my experience, knowledge, math background, and dance/art history studies opened the door to arts education program coordinator and finally program director. Yes, financial gain was the basis of my entrepreneurial endeavors with my art(s) being the sole backbone.
What part of your formal education if any helped towards your journey as an arts entrepreneur?
Definitely English, Creative Writing, Literature, Math, History (American, African American, Dance, Music, Civilization), Science, Geography & Psychology.
How do you keep up with best practices and current events in the industry?
I entertain myself through technology, internet, music video and television for the latest in music, dance, and some fashion. For arts education, the Kennedy Center in DC has the most update and relevant standards for teaching arts in schools and organizations. I personally have best practices that I retain and continue to develop based on positive outcomes. My children are also a way I stay connected to the younger part of the nation/world.
What role does the economy, environment; social changes have on your business?
As most people know, when the economy changes it can reap havoc on the arts industry. The arts are the first to feel the hit from a recession or depression because family basics are a necessity (food and shelter) not entertainment/extracurricular activities. State and federal funding always decreases for arts organizations, nonprofits, and small businesses. It is a continuous struggle to keep up let alone grow a community-based organization, nonprofit, or small business that thrive on artistic representation of a community/society.
Our environment is ever changing and it helps if your business changes with it. It is very important that people see support efforts of recycle, reuse, and other earthly beneficial efficiencies in practice.
Social change is even more of a biggy because people view things differently in different parts of the world. I am currently undergoing a huge relocation reality from big northern city to small southern city. The support for new and out of the box creativity is not a big thing here. People are more disposed to what has worked in the past and not changing it if it’s not broken. Establishing one’s self without proper education is unheard of here and the windows of new opportunity are smaller because of the population or the prior existence of arts/culture have played out and are so dated that something similar doesn’t have a chance.
What is your greatest failure/ greatest success?
My greatest failure was not getting my degrees at a younger age when my responsibilities were fewer/less taxing and the fear of social acceptance. My greatest success is to be determined because it is not over yet but if I had to say it right now-traveling the world as a dancer meeting big names like Stevie Wonder, Third World, Nina Simone, Oscar Brown Jr., Lerone Bennett, Eddie Murphy, Julian Bond, Carmen McCrae, Max Roach, Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison, Michelle Obama, Lena Horne, Harry & June Belafonte, and many others that although their names may not ring a bell of popularity they are near and dear to my heart, training and personal success.
Where do you see yourself in 5 -10 years?
Published author, master degree, maintaining an exclusive shop, helping to raise my grandchildren.
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs answering the question “If I knew then what I did now…”?
Go for what you know, do what makes you feel good, learn all you can about yourself so no one can change you =)