Tango for All
Ana Padron and Diego Blanco discuss community building and the healing powers of Argentine tango
By Winter Mendelson on August 2, 2017
Ana Padron and Diego Blanco are the founders of Tango for All, a non-profit dance company based in New York City that began in 2016 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $50,000. In addition to main stage performances for large audiences, they also bring their years of teaching experience to underserved youth at public schools in the Tri-State area that have little or no arts funding. Their mission is to "teach dancers how to respectfully interact with others through body awareness, balance, musicality and creativity and continue to develop teaching methods that are accessible and beneficial to all." I had the opportunity to chat with them here and learn more about their experience managing a production company, as well as how tango can positively impact communities in ways that extend far beyond the dance world.
Winter Mendelson: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do as artists?
Ana Padron: Diego and I are both Argentine tango performers, choreographers, and instructors. We created our dance company, Tango For All, and performed our first show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Fishman Space this year in January. We restructured ourselves in 2015 to become a 501(c)(3) organization. We view Argentine tango as very much a healing dance because it is a partnering dance, and we created this organization to be able to bring this healing power to the community.
WM: That's amazing. When did you start to develop this passion for dancing?
AP: I started dancing very early. My mom placed me in ballet when I was four years old. Then, I auditioned to New World School of the Arts in Miami Florida — where I met Diego. He already knew Argentine tango and taught our class and I became very interested in that exchange. After graduating from the University of Florida with a Bachelors in Performing Arts, we moved to New York City, where I danced with the Martha Graham Dance second company. During that time, one of our Tango mentors that was living in New York City asked us to join his Argentine tango company. And the rest is history.
Winter: And what about you Diego?
Diego Blanco: Well I moved from Colombia at the age of nine. Due to the move I went inside myself and became a bit quiet, not my usual self. Maybe two, three months after that, my dad asked me to go with him to one of his tango lessons because he knew I liked to dance and that I was usually very expressive and outgoing. It is difficult to change from having a big family to just your immediate family in an unknown place with a bunch of unknown people. So, tango helped me out a lot, and helped me familiarize myself with my new community.
My dad started to take me to his late night tango lessons. At first I was reluctant to dance and would fall asleep in a chair. After a lot of persistence from my dad, I took a lesson and realized how tango is like a puzzle of movement. Ever since then I kept on going deep into the movement. My teacher also had an amateur tango group and when I was about 11 years old he asked me if I wanted to try performing. Luckily he had a partner that was my age at the time so I said yes. Because of my love for Argentine tango I didn't want to go to regular middle school, so I went to a magnet school called Charles R. Drew in Miami, Florida, and there I also learned a little bit of jazz and modern. After that I auditioned at New World School of the Arts and it was really funny because even though I previously learned a little bit of jazz modern, the school that I attended wasn't as strict as strict as New World School of the Arts and so I really didn't know ballet or had trained with that much discipline. I went in there kind of “cold turkey.” Time passed and my tango partner wanted to explore other hobbies so I was in need of a new partner. This is when I asked Ana if she wanted to partner with me. We started to rehearse and ever since then we've been performing as partners.
Winter: How was your experience with the Kickstarter campaign you launched to raise funds for your dance company, Tango for All? What made you decide to go that route?
DB: Before doing the campaign, we were hired by Dance St. Louis to teach and choreograph for underprivileged kids for about a month to those who showed interest in dance or the arts. In the rehearsals we re-realized how much we loved choreographing for a group and that our dream of having a dance company had been in the back burner for too long. The last thing that pushed us to form the company was to see the fire these kids had, the desire to out into the world and conquer. At the time we wished that we could offer them a possible position in the company. This is when we understood that this is bigger than Diego and Ana as a tango couple. We decided to open a not-for-profit and do the crowdfunding campaign because we wanted a dance company that unites both the tango and modern dance worlds plus gives back to the community. We spoke to a friend about our dream and she helped us make it happen. We decided to do a show and in order to do a show we needed at least half the funding.
AP: Yeah. We got the status for our organization figured out first and we already had the show in mind. We had budgeted it to the best of our capacity and so putting the campaign together wasn't so bad. We created the language and the video, but the whole month of doing the campaign was, I think, what took the longest. We were so grateful to everybody that supported us.
DB: I actually don't think that preparation for the campaign was just a month or two in advance. I think the preparation of the campaign came from knowing who we were as artists, as teachers, and as people. We have a niche community that we have been serving for a very long time, at least ten or twenty years. Our supporters jumped on the wagon because they believed in us already. They believed in the product we showed them before. They believed in our performance quality and that we would be able to move this project forward. And also of course because there is a charitable component to the organization.
We decided to open a not-for-profit and do the crowdfunding campaign because we wanted a dance company that unites both the tango and modern worlds plus gives back to the community.
WM: Right. In terms of building that community, how have you done that over the years? Through the internet or has it been through more grassroots and in person efforts?
AP: I think it's both. We use the internet and emails to bring awareness to where we are, and what we're doing. We constantly let people know. We especially use social media because some people don't live here in New York where we reside. Tango has the advantage that it's social. We go out and really try to be a part of the community and support each other.
WM: Do you think you're going to do more crowdfunding in the future?
DB: Oh yes, definitely.
AP: Yes. Definitely.
DB: I think we've got to wait for something where people can get onboard and feel passionate about it. This year we're building much more of the organization like policies and procedures, to really refine and understand them. Things like accounting and board development. All of these things are important because they assure you have a good year. In order to sustain something you really need to build it small step by step.
WM: Is there anything you've learned so far about the business and money side that you wish you knew when you first got started? Something you would tell a young artist or group looking to start their own nonprofit?
AP: I think definitely for a nonprofit when you're trying to figure out who will be on your board, it's important to surround yourself with people that know what your strengths and weakness are. Your goal should be to find someone that shares your passion and that has a desire to help you out with those weaknesses. For instance, bookkeeping, that's huge. Finding someone that understands QuickBooks and how to be organized. That's just one example.
DB: I think if I had to give myself a tip I would say plan two years ahead. It depends what you're really starting with. If it's a production company like we are, I would say have at least two productions in mind so that when one is over all you have to do is focus on the next project. I think what's unfortunate about being a creative person going into the organization field is that there's no creating after that. You have to think of the organization first. Most of the time it's going to be spent working and the other times it's going to be spent with another job that you probably have. Then the rest is family time. Also, don't be afraid to delegate. I think delegating is very important otherwise you end up doing everything. There were a couple of people that I could have asked for help but I didn't and that would taken the load off of me in many ways. I think that it's important for people to do that because you can think clearly later, and make better judgments for art, money, quality control, everything. You just have a better head.
AP: Yeah absolutely.
WM: What projects are you working on this year?
AP: This year we're going to perform on September 15th more of a concert with music. We're also trying to choreograph more to expand our show Blind. Each year we've been performing with Mount Sinai West in their oncology department teaching and performing Tango while patients go through their infusions and chemotherapy. Instead of performing once during the holiday season, we want to perform at least once a week, or twice a week if possible during the months of November and December for the holidays while patients get their infusion. So that's this year.
WM: That is very exciting! Can you provide some insight as to the long term vision for the company?
DB: I think in the long term what we want to do is be able to create a work or a collective work every year and present it each year. We also wish to create and solidify our technique, which is unique. I think another thing is to just to keep on building the organization, which is an ongoing process.
AP: Yeah, we're really fusing some Argentine tango with modern dance. Our goal is to continue the tradition of tango and bring in our other worlds: where we came from, our backgrounds, and create something unique.
DB: Also, with our charitable cause we wish to find that sweet spot of people that we feel comfortable working with. We're almost seen in an experimental way right now. We hope to be able to have a niche like High School students or patients, and discover how we heal the world through tango in a more refined way.
WM: Thank you!
Ana Padron and Diego Blanco are without question one of the most exciting couples in the world of Argentine tango today. They are known for their innovative, captivating, and joyful style. To see Ana and Diego dance with their energetic elegance, superb technique, and a keen sense of musicality is to see the rich history of the Argentine tango. As stage performers, choreographers, and teachers, they have danced and taught in tango festivals throughout Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Americas. Most recently Ana and Diego performed in the Berkshires at Jacob’s Pillow, Brooklyn Academy of Music and were commissioned by Dance St. Lewis to teach, choreograph and perform. They danced in Mariela Franganillo’s ensemble piece “Recuerdo Tango” at New York’s Pace University in 2013. You may have happened upon them online through their instructional and informative Howcast Videos, where, with clarity, they demystify the intriguing Argentine tango. For more information please visit tangoforall.org.
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