Vickie “Sali” Casanova and her daughter Charis Goodman use their artistic talents to introduce dance to young people. Although their specialty is African dance, both ladies are proficient in a variety of dance styles. They are currently coordinating classes at the Sankofa Cultural Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave. Casanova has worked for many years in the cultural arts, training children and adults in African and African-American dance forms, which include, tap, praise, Latin and Caribbean.
She has spent time at Collins High School, Austin High, Gallery 37 and several years teaching classes free at the Austin Town Hall Cultural Center. She has also worked with the BUSA Family Afrikan Drum & Dance Troupe which is based in the Austin community. She has preformed and led workshops through Chicago Park District programs in drumming and dance.
“I always wanted to dance,” Vickie said. “I actually started dancing in my first class when I was three. So all of those parents who feel like they are throwing their money away, it may not necessarily be what they think.”
She was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Tennessee. “My mother was a college professor, so I grew up on black college campuses. I was always interested in dance, but I kind of grew as far I could go in the dance studio in my community, so my mother let me go away to boarding school. My mother let me leave Tennessee just before I turned 15, and I attended Interlochen Arts Academy, in Traverse City, Mich . There were only 400 students in the entire school, I think there were 50 in my graduating class, but you could study your arts six hours a day, every day. It was really interesting-you majored in your arts, but they also had college preparatory level academics. My mother said I could go because she knew I would come out solid academically.
“It was strong in ballet and traditional modern dance. It was so unique because the chair of the dance department had been roommates with a woman from Ghana. So here we had ballerinas being taught African dance when the core was classical dance, but there was a lot of diverse training. This is when I got really interested in African dance and never let it go after that.
“Like many young people during the 1970s and ’80s, I married young, marrying my high school sweetheart. We went to college together, and it wasn’t long before Charis was born-during my sophomore year. I’ve been a mother all of my adult life. The marriage didn’t last, and I went off to Indiana University where one of my classmates was Tavis Smiley. I was a member of the dance company there, and it ended up something like a hobby.
“I have four children and like most mothers, I think they are so wonderful. My son Ricky is 16 and is a drummer. Carlos is 14 and also loves dance and is very helpful with theater crews and is also a soccer player. My baby Reyna is 11 and actually does backstage design and plays the guitar. Of course, Charis is the eldest and works with me teaching dance.
“I work in the advertising field, but it is the arts that has helped me be the kind of mother I want to be. “It has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom when my children were much younger; it has allowed me to support the community, to give back and be involved with young people. Kids in Oak Park call me Ms. Vickie or Mama Sali or Charis’ mom and it’s wonderful to know that what you are doing connects with them.
“[Charis] was always with me. She would sit in her little seat and watch and she actually took her first steps in the dance studio.”
“They called me their mascot,” Charis recalls. “When I went away to school at N.Y.U., I was a theater major. I studied theater and dance and African-American studies. My mom was doing dance again to help with the finances, so when she went back into advertising, I took over her park district classes. I always was hanging out wherever my mother was, and I also started teaching at West Suburban Montessori. As time went on, I began thinking what type of kids would be able to afford to pay for the classes. I was thinking, ‘Why don’t we have something after school?’ So I spoke with John Hodge at Irving School who was my fourth grade teacher (he’s now the principal), and he had heard what I was interested in. He knew I had worked in a group home as a DCFS worker and was interested in helping those who were falling through the cracks or at risk.”
Vickie said they’re working on building some programs at the Sankofa Cultural Center in Austin, to build on something they did with the BUSA Family at the Austin Town Hall.
“During the summer we actually taught African dance twice a week to the children on a volunteer basis,” she said. “We’re hoping for classes on Saturdays, maybe at Sankofa, because we see there is a need and interest for this art form.”
Chari’s specialty is multicultural dance. “What I try to do is give students an understanding of dance in a historical context and also have an international understanding. We want them to respect themselves but to also respect whatever they see in someone else.”
“A lot of people here in our community and on the West Side have a lot of skills, and it’s good when we can share the information, participate and give back. Dance has always been part of my life. I’m excited as a mother to see one of my children follow in my footsteps and then even step out in front and take the lead. She is an example to me in how to work with children. We want to bring more cultural awareness to our young people. And dance is healthy-there is such a problem with weight and diseases, especially things like diabetes. Dance is another way to obtain a healthier lifestyle.”
Vickie and Charis can be contacted at: email@example.com