When Vitolio Jeune steps into the dance studio, nothing else matters. The studio melts into a space where he can cry out with movement. Paint the room with a story only he can tell. It’s a story, he may never speak of, but one he’ll surely dance for you.
(Editor’s Note: This is a good time to mention, I’ve never seen Vitolio dance. So, I can’t explain how in one movement he can express an emotion that gives an audience a glimpse at how his life—which has been riddled with strife, poverty and hunger—translates through dance.
And it’s a story I cannot tell you with words because Vitoltio has asked that I do not share it with you. Rather, he says his life as an orphan child surviving in Haiti is one you know of all too well. He’d like to share with you a story you probably haven’t heard.)
“I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor,” said Vitolio from his home located in Rochester, N.Y. He’s enjoying a little downtime after several days of touring. For the last two years, Vitolio has worked as a Soloist for the Garth Fagan Dance Company—one of the most well known modern-dance companies in the nation. “Haiti does not just have one story.”
A New Beginning
Vitolio vividly remembers the day when his life changed: It was a Sunday in Port-au-Prince. 17-years-old at that time, he was dancing in the streets to make enough money to eat. That day, business was slow. He decided to walk the streets to find the Ayikodans Dance Company—the well respected dance school is considered a cultural cornerstone in Haiti.
During these years, Vitolio says he easily could have fallen into the hands of thieves or gang members, but on that day, he ran into Jeanguy.
Less than 24 hours later, Vitolio joined a group of students who were auditioning for the school. Vitolio made the cut. He was admitted through Dance Barefoot—a full scholarship program for students who cannot afford to otherwise attend.
“When I joined the program, I learned that I can become somebody who can make a difference in society.” Vitolio spent the next three years at Ayikodans. When possible, he’d try to enter the dance studio before class. Then, dash off to his academics.
He says that before joining the school, dance was a tool he used to get something he wanted. When he was just a child, he’d get the girls’ attention by showing them his best Michael Jackson moves. As a teenager, it provided him food. Dancing for Ayikodans transformed his way of thinking. “I did not have the audacity to dream until I joined the program.”
Vitolio’s dream carried him to Miami, Fl. In 2005, Jeanguy and he arranged an audition at Miami’s New World School of the Arts during a layover while the Dance Company was on tour. Vitolio was accepted.
The road didn’t end there. He auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance on FOX. He made it all the way to the finals – one of seven male dancers before being voted off.
That same year, he was hired as a Soloist for Garth Fagan. He says he owes his life to Jeanguy’s 24-year dedication to the people of Haiti.
If there’s any story to tell, Vitolio says his life is living proof “Haiti has a lot more to offer. Yes it’s a poor country. You can’t ignore that. I can only do my part by being a great Haitian artist.”