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Community Highlights: Meet Kasey Viani of Viani’s Performing Arts Academy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kasey Viani.

Hi Kasey, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
My story is a complicated one, seventeen storylines all rolled into one. There was a time I considered myself a traveling gypsy, which is vastly different from the life I have today. I fell in love with the art of dance at the very young age of two when I put on my first pair of jazz shoes and took the stage. It was love at first sight the second I stepped on that stage, only to be dazzled by the beautiful stage spotlights. The adoration from the audience was intoxicating. It would energize me to work even harder for them on stage to ensure their enjoyment of my performance. I’m afraid that I was born to be a performer!

When I was in high school, I had to pursue my dance training outside of my school because my school did not provide a dance program, so I busied myself with studio sessions and theatrical performances during my after school hours. I never really fit in at high school because I have always been one to march to my own drum. I didn’t really like doing what everyone else liked to do, because I knew my destiny in life was going to be so very different. The performing arts weren’t a very big thing in my high school, but academics, sports, and cheerleading were. I chose to participate in cheerleading simply because it was a performance. I didn’t join cliques, or have just a single circle of friends. I had friends that were in all types of activities at school – from softball, soccer, artists, actors, cheerleaders, plus the quiet nerds- as long as they were genuine and authentic. I was a cheerleader but I wasn’t the stereotypical cheerleader who dated the football player and only hung out with the elite crowd. I was different and I was proud of that.

I was also bullied a lot as I grew up. To this day, I am highly sensitive to this ongoing issue among our kids. I won’t go into details, but the bullying I dealt with was significant enough to be life-altering to the extent that even now, I am still very cautious about whom I allow in my life and how close I allow people to get to me. Why do I bring up bullying? Because at the end of the day, it made me the strong, driven, and passionate person I am now. If I didn’t develop a thick skin, I wouldn’t have had the fortitude to attempt working in the professional entertainment world.

In my last year of high school, I went to Disneyland with a group of my theater friends and we saw the new night show entitled “Fantasmic!”. I remember my heart racing the entire length of the show and being moved to tears from the dynamic musicality of the sound track and brilliant and challenging choreography the dancers were executing with such precision. As Mickey closed the show with his famous phrase, “Some imagination, huh?” and the stage went dark, I knew. I turned to my friends and, at the age of 18 said “Watch- I’m going to be in that show.”

Once I graduated high school, I determined that I immediately wanted to become one of the featured dancers and performers with the Walt Disney Company. Knowing that the competition was going to be pretty steep, I immersed myself into an even more rigorous dance training and education in order to be properly prepared for the professional world.

When Disney posted. their auditions for the “Fantasmic!” show, I was beside myself! I knew I was ready to do anything to get the job. When I arrived at Disneyland for the audition, the line of dancers was wrapped around the block. Apparently, I was going to have to beat out 1,500 people to get a job. I had no idea that it was going to be that competitive, but I certainly wasn’t going to back out now. The audition process was a bit daunting. They would squish about 100 of us into one room to quickly learn a routine and then send us outside to practice before the actual cutting process began. After I performed the routine for them the first time, I learned that this was just the beginning of a very long week. The directors would cut others, but chose to keep me, time after time. Apparently there was something they liked about me and I could hardly contain my excitement! After a full week of auditions- 6 hours each night- Monday-Friday- they were finally ready to cast the parts on Friday morning at 1:00am.

Tired and delirious, another dancer and I stood in front of the directors. They were clearly going to choose one of us. I have to tell you, my heart was beating right out of my chest. After deliberating among themselves for a while, the lead choreographer/director got up and handed me a small 3×5 card that had some writing on it. She smiled and said, “Congratulations and welcome to the Disney family.” While I was floating on cloud nine, they whisked me away to take my measurements for making my custom-made costumes and shoes. After spending a lifetime of not feeling welcome or good enough among my peers, Disney was standing there with open arms and said “Welcome home.”

My dad, who had driven me to the auditions all week, was waiting in the car anxiously awaiting the news because, back then, there weren’t any cell phones. After finishing with my costume measurements, I ran out to the parking lot. Dad got out of the car, and I couldn’t contain myself anymore. I jumped up and down in the air with my rehearsal packet in hand and screamed, “I made it! I made it!” My dad and I shared the biggest hug that night, and even shed a tear or two. This is how I started, and this is how I made it to where I am today. Disney reminded me to believe in myself, and to not let others discourage me or put barriers in my way, no matter what. In the words of Disney’s Hercules, “I can go the distance.” Disney cast me in that parade too, and also its national commercial. I stayed at Disney for four years, and it was, by far, the best time of my 20’s.

Light year jump to today and what I am doing now: After I moved on from Disney, I had several other professional entertainment jobs. For example, I toured with my own self-entitled CD with music I wrote and performed, and also on MTV. The professional entertainment world kept me very busy during my 20’s, and then I met my husband and I knew my traveling gypsy days were over. I had always wanted to be married and have a family, and I knew I couldn’t have that if I continued to do what I was doing, so I went back to college. I earned my associate’s degree in dance, a bachelor’s degree in political science, and a masters degree in education, and a teaching credential. While I was completing my education, I realized that I had been teaching since I was 15 years old and that I really loved the whole process. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the decision to become a teacher. After lots of prayer and discussions with my husband, I knew it was the next decision I needed to make for my life because I wanted to make a difference. A real difference. I wanted to be the “Disney” in someone else’s life.

I have been teaching ever since, and it has been ten years now. Where does the time go? I thought I had my whole life mapped out nice and neat. But, alas, there were other plans in store that I couldn’t plan for or anticipate. During my second year residency at a local San Diego high school as the dance and music teacher, Covid-19 hit and my entire world was turned upside down. I was in the middle of productions, costume orders, recruiting, and planning for the upcoming year when all of my plans came to a halt. My students were sent home and we were given the stay-at-home orders as part of the quarantine to help minimize the spread of the virus. As time went on, I started to see my students’ mental and emotional well-being suffer; I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help. We weren’t allowed contact with each other, and my performers weren’t allowed to train or perform, which really served as a lifeline to many of them. I was enlightened about the collateral damage that the virus had caused in the lives of my students, and my heart continued to break for them over and over again. Little did I know that the virus would prevent me from seeing my student performers for nearly a year.

I found myself again being set forward on a path I did not predict or foresee for myself. I quickly had to learn how to teach the arts through a computer and keep the community of the arts alive and thriving. I had to teach myself how to build virtual choirs and virtual performances that had a decent quality to them so they could, in turn, be played for thousands of people at the school-wide virtual graduation. It was a gigantic task filled with a lot of anxiety, but I have never been one to step down from a challenging task. I spent hours researching how to put these projects together and even collaborated with other dance and music teachers as to how they were going to redeem the rest of their academic year.

I know I have a lot to say, but it all connects to why I do what I do today. Due to Covid shutdown, I found myself craving personal contact and a strong desire to continue in-person training with dance and voice students, especially for students who had their studios and programs shut down. I wanted to provide a safe space to dance and sing for students who wanted to continue to train and continue the growth they had worked so very hard to obtain over years of training. This is why I was compelled to open my own performing arts studio. Slowly, one at a time, my student count began to grow. Through a lot of diligence and perseverance, I was able to build Viani’s Performing Arts Academy, and I am thrilled to announce that we will be holding our very first summer camp featuring music from “The Greatest Showman”!

Another development that came from the Covid-19 pandemic was my exploration into the realm of film making. I had spent so much time online making amateur videos trying to salvage the rest of the academic year, I found that my own technical skills had grown. I had been so traumatized by the shut down, by stages being closed, and by the depressed emotional states of my students, I felt I had a message that needed to be proclaimed. But how? All the stages were closed! Then, I heard a beautiful piece of music that communicated the very voice I was looking for, and my vision came to life. Michele McLaughlin’s “Spiritual Awakening” composition literally awakened my spirit, and I knew what I wanted to do. I would create a dance solo that would be built for YouTube viewing that would speak to the pain and depression of the dancer experiencing the Covid-19 shut down. After months of developing this piece and filming it several times, I realized that there was something still missing. It needed a script so that the message could be more literal for a larger audience. I wanted the message not just to touch hundreds, but thousands, and hopefully millions.

Six months later my short film “Surviving Covid-NINETEEN” was finished and ready to be entered in film festivals worldwide. I am still waiting to hear if it will be selected for programming, but I am hoping that one of these festivals will give it the exposure it deserves so the voice of so many can be heard.

Today, I am a proud mommy, wife, and small performing arts business owner that specializes in the art of dance, voice, musical theater, and resume development. I am also a proud new indie filmmaker! I respond to the stories that inspire me, and then I put a script and musical score to it. In addition, I am still working as a full-time teacher. Sometimes I teach online, and sometimes I teach in-person. It’s a journey. But if life isn’t a journey, we aren’t learning from it and allowing the challenges to improve us and make us grow in different ways. Why do I do what I do? I love being the “Disney” in someone’s life. I am that person who is going to believe in you and encourage you to become your best.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road has been full of bumps and challenges. When building my performing arts company, being able to bring in more students has always been the challenge. Recruiting more students and providing more opportunities to train is the goal of all dance studios. I work a full-time teaching job during the day, so being able to transition from one job to the other can be a bit of a challenge. Also, we are building an in-home studio so that presents a planning challenge. I am excited about having it come to fruition because it will be so wonderful to have a nice studio space in my home where the families of my students feel safe.

Regarding the venture of filmmaking, oh BOY! I clearly didn’t know what I was in for, but I am so thankful for the growth. I immersed myself into filmmaking research and read up on all of the technical issues I needed to be aware of before I even started filming. Aspect ratio and frames per second were just a couple of the technical items I researched. I also had to research film festivals and their requirements for entering a film into the competition. Learning new angles with the camera and how to compliment them with a particular moment in music was both mind-bending but also very rewarding. When it all came together, I couldn’t believe what I had completed on my own with little-to-no help. It’s not a perfect film, but I am proud of it. Period. The message of the film is its core, and my hope is that our community hears it and embraces it.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
VPAA is a performing arts academy that specializes in the instruction of dance, voice, acting, musical theater, portfolio development, and audition preparation. Our company is known for focusing on character and story development within the art of dance or voice. Our instruction goes beyond the simple base skill of dance or voice. We dig deeper to help pull out the performer in the student. We work on helping the student hold onto their authentic self while participating in the creative process. We focus on confidence building and self awareness so that the student can take the stage with an unapologetic command.

We are set apart because we also promote the next step into the professional entertainment world. Many times, performing arts students don’t know where to begin when it comes to building their professional career. We can help them make the appropriate steps towards being successful in the professional world. We have access to renowned industry professionals that have repeatedly offered their services to our students simply because of the pre-existing relationship they have with me, Kasey Viani. I bring my resume to the table for my students so that I can give them the future they envision for themselves.

We take pride in the distinguished excellence of our training. We not only provide base instruction in the foundational performing arts skills, but we build upon those to help the student continue to make progress towards the personal goals they have for themselves. We also take pride in our personalized instruction. Each student receives one-on-one mentoring to help them make progress in a smaller time frame. Students learn more effectively when given personal instruction, and this is where we truly are distinguished and set apart.

Students with VPAA not only have the opportunity to perform for a live audience one to two times per term, but they also have the opportunity to be selected for a VPAA production film that gets published on the internet, thus giving them a global audience. Advanced students also have the opportunity to be selected for VPAA’s highest award of being cast in a film built for film festival submissions worldwide.

Other opportunities involve regional dance and vocal competitions and community/national appearances, including performing at Disneyland or even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade! We are starting small group classes soon in addition to the private instruction sessions we already provide.

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Creating, no doubt! It’s a world that doesn’t tell me “No” or “I can’t.” My imagination has always been my refuge, and the best part of it is when I actually see it come to fruition. It is no longer a dream, it is now a reality. My favorite part is the excitement my students experience when performing this “dream.”

I am more than just a choreographer; I am a storyteller. When my students embody the message I want them to portray, there is no better moment than that for both my student and me.

Outside of creating within the realm of the performing arts, the other thing that makes me happy is being a wife and mom. My life did a complete turnaround when my husband and daughter entered my life, and it’s been true love ever since. The icing on the cake is that my daughter is becoming my Mini Me, and is also coming into her own as a dancer and singer at the young age of 8. I couldn’t be more proud.

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Image Credits
Photo Credit: Kasey Viani

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