Photo: VOU graduates with SPC Deputy Director General Science and Capability, Dr Paula Vivili and VOU Director, Sachiko Soro.
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Making Passion a Paycheck
“Dance has the power to make positive change in the world, (particularly) in an age where people are becoming more and more detached from each other by screens and technology. We are separated by differing beliefs and fear, yet we still have that inner human need to connect to others, to have experiences. Experiences that are real. Experiences that are lived. Experiences that are human. In a time of polarisation and division, dance helps us recognise our common humanity, that we are no different from each other, that we are interdependent, and we are one.”
VOU Fiji Dance company Director Sachiko Soro made the statement at the VOU graduation ceremony for 13 students, held at the Sofitel Resort on Denarau Island, Nadi, Fiji in November 2023.
The students who have graduated with a Diploma in Dance will now join the VOU Conservatorium of Dance. The 13 new graduates are now the most highly, locally-trained dance professionals in the Pacific region, completing over 1,600 hours of dance studio class time in a wide genre of dances, including iTaukei meke, Bollywood, jazz, hip hop, ballet and contemporary dance, to name a few.
The graduates are scholarship recipients of an African Caribbean Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) grant awarded to VOU to support the development of sustainable creative career paths and generate employment in the arts and creative industries sector.
The ACP-EU project is implemented by the SPC in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with financial contribution of the EU and support of the Secretariat of the Organisation of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States.
Officiating at the ceremony, the Pacific Community (SPC) Deputy Director General Science and Capability, Dr Paula Vivili said: “Times change, and culture evolves, but one thing that does not change is how we use our dances to tell our stories. Guided by principles of artistic entrepreneurship, of making passion your paycheck, of sustainable and fulfilling careers, is bound to drive you to success.”
He congratulated VOU for its vision and the commitment to arts and dance in Fiji and for setting a high standard through the development of nationally accredited programmes and contributing in very visible ways to Fiji’s tourism industry.
“This is a wonderful example for the rest of the region on how locally-led and driven companies can make a difference. The cultural and creative industries remain underdeveloped in the region with very limited support or resources. VOU Fiji is recognised as a leading institution that is home grown and is playing a key role in helping to shape and strengthen the arts sector through focused training and education, and in creating viable career pathways for young artists, dancers, and other employment opportunities within the value chain of the performing arts,” he said.
Explaining the components of the course, Mrs Soro said: “This Diploma in Dance took many years of curriculum development under the mentorship of the University of Auckland dance department. (We) then (had) to fulfil the rigorous process of having our level six tertiary diploma program accredited through the Fiji Higher Education Commission. This curriculum is designed so that graduates are prepared to work in a wide variety of professions, such as dancers, choreographers, dance teachers, dance writers and researchers, rehearsal directors, arts marketers, event organisers, festival directors, costume designers, lighting and sound technicians, dance film creators, music editors and many more creative career paths that may not have been even conceived yet.”
“The recognition of this diploma by the Fiji Higher Education Commission puts it alongside any other subject that is taught at a tertiary level in Fiji, such as law, accounting or medicine.”
Part of the curriculum also involves dance analysis presentations, development of business proposals and pitches, choreography, and improvisation.
Addressing her fellow graduates, Valedictorian Adi Senibuli Kula Vautwaliwali said: “While we are blessed to able to say that we are dancers, a luxury hard won by our predecessors, now we must fight to prove ourselves. This only grows harder from this point on. We have a lot to prove, but it's a good thing that we are young, scrappy and always hungry. And courtesy of our great teachers, we are now well trained. We need to keep pushing so that in the future, a kid can, say "I want to be a dancer", and not be questioned at all. We are using our talents and our skills to build something that will live past us. A future so bright and big and all ours.”
Over 100 youth applied for admission into the course, and of these, 30 were invited to an intensive one-week trial to experience the rigour of working as a professional dancer. Of these 30, only 20 were selected and awarded the EU-ACP-funded scholarship. Of the 20 selected, only 13 could fulfil all the requirements of the demanding course and graduate with the Diploma in Dance.
Under the project, VOU aims to support inclusive and sustainable livelihoods for Fiji’s women and youth by creating 100 sustainable cultural and creative industry jobs. With the creation of over 70 jobs, VOU is very close to achieving its goal within its projected timeframe.
The ACP-EU Culture programme is the only targeted funding available in the Pacific to boost the potential of the cultural and creative sector and support its contribution to the social and economic development of ACP countries. VOU was the programme’s first successful grantee in 2022.
With growing international and regional recognition of its value and importance, culture is now seen as a driver and enabler of sustainable development.
This is recognised by including culture as a critical, cross-cutting area in key Pacific regional policy frameworks such as the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. It is also the focus of the SPC’s Pacific Regional Culture Strategy and Strategic Plan and the recently launched Fiji National Culture Policy.