I remember meeting Vanina at an MPACT class with her family in 2012, and admiring how dedicated she was to dancing with her child, and to the program. She knew quite a few other families, whom I later learned were part of her parent-run co-op. For years, she or husband brought their daughter to dance with us. When classes were huge, they volunteered to help pass out the snack. Now, I have the pleasure of training Vanina in teaching family dance, and I am in awe at how natural leading families appears for her, and her quick ability to improvise when needed in the moment. After a day of robust MPACT teaching I sat down with Vanina to capture parts of her story.
Cherie- What are your strongest memories of participating in MPACT?
Vanina -I remember when I started going to the Emeryville studio. At the first class Paloma was 13 months old and she was dressed in this tutu. We have a picture of Erin playing the drum and she is bouncing. Paloma is looking up at her like what is she doing, and she is flexing her knees and watching Erin with an amazed look in her eyes. I have so many memories. It was great because we were attending with all the families from our co-op. We met Rianne there and she became part of our co-op. Coming to MPACT helped us with being in a co-op because we bonded differently. We became a small family and doing MPACT together made us a stronger community. We were taking care of each other kids with lots of challenges and differences. It was always a happy place for us to be even for me, and my husband Michael too. It put us in a good mood and it was nice that Paloma could see this.
Cherie – What inspired you to become an intern?
Vanina – I had been with you guys for so long and I really believe in your mission. We share the same values. Dance for building relationships was very inspiring, and when you asked me to intern I couldn’t believe it. I knew this was a way to help others be happy. It’s like when you are doing Zumba, and in the moment you forget about everything and are in a good mood. The community and social justice aspect appealed to me a lot. I didn’t experience it in full until I became an intern, but I could see what we do translating to other families who are in different situations. Dance can help and heal them, maybe not completely, but it can. In 2013 I experienced a rough time that was really hard for me. Dance was my sacred space and I became a Zumba instructor. It was such a dark moment for us and I remember when Deborah called me on the phone to invite us to MPACT, I was coming out of my depression and craziness, but it was amazing because that is what I wanted to do. Dancing was my therapy and way to get out of the darkness.
Cherie – Where do you see yourself headed now?
Vanina – I want to continue to bring dance to communities that need it even if they don’t know they need it, like communities that cannot make dance a priority because they have so much going on. I want to help families within the system or work with adoption centers. With all the trainings I feel more confident and understanding of the challenges some families face. When kids have more challenges in their mental or physical development, I now have a deeper understanding and more compassion for those families then before. I can try to imagine what it means to have a traumatic experience that a kid has to go through. I’m very thankful to all of you especially you for your support and trust in me. Your encouragement to do it!