Today we’d like to introduce you to Monique Barashango ( Founder/ Creative Advisor of ViZion Dance, Inc).
Monique , please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m Monique Barashango, Founder/ Creative Advisor of ViZion Dance, Inc. (ViZion Dance International)- Artistic Director, DeWayne Jamar Brown. ViZion is a non-profit, multi-cultural, all-inclusive dance production company of diverse artists and entrepreneurs that perform and create a “high level and demanding” repertoire of inspirational, patriotic and historical works that evoke a moral and social consciousness in humanity. The Company is also dedicated to the development of individual purpose in talented artists and the global community through the promotion of self-esteem, non-violence and positive mental and physical health, while using the arts as a visual stimulator.
While being committed to developing entrepreneurship and building a foundation for the individual artistic growth of dancers and choreographers desiring a professional career in the art form, the company is also made up of talented musicians, creative artists and health educators who are determined to make a positive impact on the local and global community through original dance, music, visual art and health/fitness initiatives.
I established the company in 2007, while working as the Children’s Program Director at Dance411 Studios and a Substitute teacher in Dekalb County Schools, as an inspirational empowerment resource to nurture the talents and self-esteem of youth with behavioral and/or physical challenges.
I grew up surrounded by family active in community service and entertainment so it felt organic for my purpose to be aligned in these areas. My mom is a retired music educator and was a singer on Beale Street and on the Memphis Queen riverboat for many years during my childhood in Memphis. In addition, my Uncle/GodFather, with whom I spent my summers, was the choral music director of an HBCU so my world was constantly immersed in music. I had a couple of cousins in the Harlem Globetrotters as well as the NFL so fitness and athleticism were also important to me. In 7th grade, I became the lead choreographer of our show choir in middle school and we won the National Show Choir Competition in Florida, which really proved to validate my passion for the arts.
I went to a performing arts high school and Science Academy and later graduated from Spelman College. I was then commissioned as an Air Force officer and found myself still dedicated to the Arts and community service. I would produce original musicals featuring base personnel, served as the youngest president of the African American Heritage Council in the base’s history, and went on to be awarded the Maj Gen Archer L Dunham Award for being the African-American with the most community service at Dover Air Force Base. I was also an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc and was the Science/Math director for our local Dr. Betty Shabazz Academy for Girls. Upon leaving the Air Force, I went back to Atlanta to work at Spelman as the Biology Lab Manager, and even then, I was participating in movies, choreographing theatrical productions and putting together performance ensembles in my spare time. It was also during this time that I became a certified personal trainer and pilates instructor and began to experience how fitness truly transformed lives mentally and physically.
I knew I wanted to do something that combined many facets of the things I was passionate about. I then saw the vision manifest when I got the opportunity to work with Dance411 Studios and their professional talent agency. I was suddenly constantly in the presence of world-renown dance choreographers as well as talented youth. I later began to substitute in a local school system and saw the need to form a group where the talented youth I encountered (both in the schools and at the studio) could come together, pray, fellowship and share their gifts with the world while also navigating their way through life as well as the entertainment industry. This proved to be a magic formula. Before I knew it, the youth of ViZion Dance International were sweeping all the local hip hop dance battles on all levels and really making a name for themselves both as a collective and as individual artists. I brought in some of the professional artists at the studio to teach them various styles of dance to prepare them as much as possible for the movie and dance auditions that Dance411 afforded them. I also brought in well-known psychologists and mentors to equip them mentally for both success and possible rejection in the industry.
As ViZion began to impact the community on a broader level, we saw a need to provide a global platform for talented youth to be able to express themselves in front of both peers and established music/TV industry veterans as well as enhance their social and physical skills. As a result, we established “Blaze the Floor National Dance Battle and Tour” in which some of the most respected street dancers and crews compete in a positive and inspirational atmosphere (while learning to uplift and empower one another as they strive to become better artists). Several of the crews and dancers that participated in these battles went on to compete in the finals of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Some are also now social media sensations as well as highly regarded performing artists. It was truly one big family and still is to this day. ViZion youth also became the first hip hop inspirational dance ensemble to perform at the Apollo in its then 75-year history and several members went on to Broadway and star in Oscar and Emmy winning movies and TV shows.
We officially established our Non-Profit, ViZion Dance, Inc in 2016 (headquartered at Rockwell Dance Academy in Acworth, GA) and pride ourselves on our ability to collaborate with various other dance organizations throughout metro Atlanta to bring the artists in ViZion, our partnering organizations and the general community as many opportunities as possible in the arts along with positive entrepreneurial, mental and physical development. At Rockwell Dance Academy (founded by world-famous B-girl, Honey Rockwell, along with her husband, Legendary B-boy, Orko Romero), artists are provided the opportunity to learn foundational and professional dance skills from legendary and iconic hip hop artists from around the world. Our long-standing partnership with Dance411 Studios also provides our company artists with Professional and Artist Development opportunities and resources. We have also partnered with Spelman College during their “Inside The Dancer’s Studio” series, “The Business of Dance: Building and Preserving Legacies” forum. Moreover, we are collaborators with The Dunham Institute in the presentation of our Bi-Annual “A Day of Respect” in which we honor “unsung” luminaries in various fields in the local and national community through workshops, panel discussions and an awards gala.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road was definitely not smooth. Dealing with parents is not always easy. However, most of the parents were very supportive and still are to this day (although their “babies” are grown up professionals in various fields now). Our youth programming is now done in partnership with Rockwell Dance Academy, where they are training their youth to compete in the Olympics in the recently established Breakdance division. This has been a dream come true in our quest to continue to bring out the best in the young people of today as well as the continual development of our young adult professional artists! The struggle is always worth it once the young person emerges as a self-confident, grounded individual ready to take on the world in whatever way their purpose and vision sees fit!
In addition, government funding and community resources in the Arts are not as prevalent as they used to be so we ended up funding most of our activities through personal donations from our community circle of individual supporters. Every year, we take a trip as a part of our annual “New Legacy USA Educational Tour”. This is an ongoing social change project which involves artists’ interaction and dialogue with civil rights and performance arts icons. These educational trips also include visiting historic sites, artist cultural exchange opportunities as well as forums and interviews that they can use to gather and process information that can be used to help facilitate their creativity and civic engagement. We also use the funding for our bi-annual “Day of Respect” project and awards gala. However, due to the pandemic and lack of funding, we were unable to present these opportunities this year. Instead, during this time, we focused our vision on what we “could do” which is to support our other initiatives in the Arts and Humanities by continuing to pursuit economically beneficial artistic opportunities for our artists and choreographers while also partnering with our long time community collaborators (Rockwell Dance Academy, The Dunham Institute and others) to present both virtual or in-person international dance training opportunities and dialogue for all ages.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with ViZion Dance – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
As a culturally diverse dance and dramatic arts institution, ViZion Dance, Inc also prides itself on being an emissary of African-American history and culture by using our gifts to experience history through the African-American vernacular. Moreover, we help edify the empowerment of women and youth in our local, national and international communities. One of the accomplishments we are most proud of is establishing the bi-annual “Day of Respect” (in collaboration with The Dunham Institute), which highlights the contributions of leaders from the community in the fields of Education, Law, Medicine, Entertainment and Arts & Culture. Many of the honorees are the ones that sacrificially sowed into and mentored popular and legendary artists and well-known community leaders of today. They are truly our local and national community “Unsung ” Heroes!
Through the tutelage of an incredible advisory team and Board of Directors consisting of Emmy and Peabody award-winning artists that have composed music and performed with Alvin Ailey Dance theater and others, as well as those that have worked with some of the greatest choreographers and civil rights footsoldiers in history, ViZion continues to impact the world with its unique and creative, yet inspirational approach to drama and dance. We are known for our seemingly effortless and organic fusion of various styles of dance including Breakdancing, Step, Bollywood, African, Jazz, Tap, Salsa, Liturgical and more! One such original production includes “The New Legacy: Reclaiming The Dream” (based on the life and times of Pres. Barack Obama). This work premiered at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Center, where it was presented with a Proclamation from the Georgia House of Representatives. Through our Rock-A-ViZIon Production company (in collaboration with Rockwell Dance Academy), we have numerous exciting upcoming productions featuring some of the most iconic hip hop dancers of our time. Our one of a kind ensemble is led by authors, filmmakers, fashion designers and music composers, which gives our productions their creative and superior edge. All of our productions feature original music composed by our artists so the chemistry between the music and choreography is phenomenal.
Due to our hard work and dedication to positively impacting the lives of others, the Company and its artists have been privileged to receive numerous honorable event invitations and awards, including Selma March 50th Anniversary, Dr. Martin Luther King Monument Dedication, Howard University 149th Opening Convocation (in celebration of the National Museum of African American History and Culture Opening), The Global Humanitarian World Summit, the opening act for TV’s internationally syndicated “Gospel Superfest,” Dr Martin Luther King, Jr Birthday celebration (the Historic Ebenezer Church), International Peace Syndicate project, 50th SCOPE (Voting Rights Act Footsoldiers) Reunion, featured guest act for McDonald’s “The Gift” National Talent Competition Finals, The Superbowl, The Essence Festival, The Kennedy Center Honors and the Olympic Games.
In addition, we had members featured in the upcoming “Coming 2 America” sequel as well as six members to be featured in the Marvel movie “Captain America Civil War” as well as the iconic “Black Panther.” We have also been recognized as “America’s Most Inspirational Dance Company,” as well as been profiled on CNN’s “Impact Your World,” Good Day Atlanta and WSB-TV’s People 2 People. Artists have also performed with Doug E Fresh, Chaka Khan, Debbie Allen, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Dolly Parton, Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson and many more.
In our commitment to positive physical and mental health, we have used our original music and dance to motivate grade school students preparing for standardized testing during pep rallies as well as toured to universities with our signature “Sole 2 Soul” dance and fitness workshops and forums where community leaders discuss social issues with the youth in an effort to evoke positive social change and combat bullying. Our artists also continue to mentor youth with physical and mental challenges by using the arts as a healing resource. These efforts were most recently recognized in the media as our Creative Advisor, Kendrick Love, spearheaded actor Chadwick Boseman’s meeting with one of his terminally ill students, Ian. We also played a role in another Emmy award-winning story about physical bullying and rehabilitation through the arts featuring one of my longtime mentees, Israel Price. These truly unforgettable moments prove to be life-changing for both these warriors as well as the artists serving their community. Moments like these also give the artists accountability to make wise and positive choices to become noble citizens, not just in their career, but also in their lives, in general.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our main focus is to continue building artists that are committed to using their God-given talents to heal the world and make it a better place. Through training, community collaboration, mentorship, performance and passionate community involvement, we want to continue to enable artists to make meaningful contributions to the Arts and the global community. Even during the pandemic, we have been involved in social justice and voting initiatives. Most recently, our Artistic Director, DeWayne Brown, received an award from the City of Atlanta’s Cultural Arts division for creating an artistic response to the global pandemic which will be featured in the city’s “Elevate” arts festival this fall. The Company was also a part of a “Vote For Change” virtual campaign called “Get Up”! It was initiated by Grammy award-winning Producer Gen Rubio as well as one of our advisors, Emmy Award winner, Wyatt Jackson. We are also super excited about the revival of our “New Legacy” project as well as the legendary dance and music projects we are working on through Rock-A-ViZion Productions as we continue in our quest to “change the world, one STEP at a time”!
- Address: Classes from our choreographers/artists are held weekly at:
Rockwell Dance Academy
4400 Baker Grove Rd NW Suite 220
Acworth, GA 30101
- Website: www.viziondance.org www.newlegacyusa.com www.rockwelldanceacademy.com
- Phone: 678-230-9660
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @viziondance
- Facebook: @viziondance @viziondanceinc @adayofrespect
- Twitter: @viziondance
- Other: YouTube: @viziondanceinc @viziondance