Tamia Blackman headshot 1

Tamia Santana

Tamia Santana has a strong sense of community and a passion for dance, so it’s no surprise that she founded the Brooklyn Dance Festival. In the interview below, Santana, the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Dance Festival and a proud Brooklynite, talks about her dance training, the dancers and choreographers who inspire her today, her vision for the Festival, and some of her favorite places in Brooklyn.

What inspired you to start the Brooklyn Dance Festival, and what are your goals as it continues to evolve?

The inspiration or idea came as a gift. I was having coffee with friends and was thinking about getting people together for a spring dance showcase featuring professional companies, others that were just starting out, and some friends who dance. I knew I wanted it to be anchored in Brooklyn, and approached Tracie Stanfield, our Artistic Director, first. I had danced in her pieces years ago, when her company, Synthesis Dance, was a skeleton of an idea. Her company was quickly evolving and so was the dance scene. We came up with a great idea of having remarkably talented, cutting-edge professional companies present their work, and in exchange we would help them, to the best of our ability, reach an audience or a presenter they would like to view their new work. The Brooklyn Dance Festival came to be!

I’ve learned that it takes a minimum of $8,000 to $10,000 to present a show, when you factor in costumes, theater rental, dancers, rehearsal space, web and social media outreach. In addition, you need to write and call press and presenters, plan receptions, and print flyers – not to mention the time and creative energy needed for choreographing 15 pieces. Many companies are lucky if they can present once a year given these demands, so I’m glad that the Brooklyn Dance Festival can provide companies with  a platform for their work. It’s also gratifying that we’re bringing cutting-edge dance of diverse genres to audiences in Brooklyn. This year, we have tap, contemporary, street jazz infusion, and an amazing jazz-infused hybrid all in one show. We’re also actively reaching out to press and presenters, have a working board of 12 professionals, and now a new company experience. There are many active working parts.

What is your dance background?

As young girl I trained with presenter, board member and amazing teacher Germaine Salsberg and Fred Albee at my local dance studio. Then danced with Jacques D’Amboise’s National Dance Institute as a principal soloist and went on to study dance throughout high school and college. I was grateful to have performed at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and in Europe.

Who were your mentors, and who are the dancers or choreographers you find inspiring today?

It is going to sound cliched, but I can honestly say that I work with people I love and respect and keep ties for a very long time. One of my greatest mentors for dance is Tracie Stanfield, she has an eye and approach for excellence and strives for it. The quality and detail she takes with her classes and company work is unparalleled. Watching it is like a extraordinary piece of art. Her piece in the festival is my all-time favorite of hers and will blow audiences away. Also having trained with her, I know she builds dancers from the inside out. She is “the dance whisperer.” If you are willing to stick around long enough, she will take you to another level of dance artistry and technique. Being around her, working with or dancing with her, that intention and drive keeps you on your toes. It also keeps you striving too. It’s a great work ethic and energy to be around.

Germaine Salsberg to me is a tap master. She is one of the great “teachers” out there and I respect that she keeps evolving with the tap world. She truly cares about teaching and the art of tap.

I love Derek Mitchell. As soon as I met him and took his class, I knew  I would like him and that he was the next “one to watch.” He had only been teaching a few months, but there was this energy in his class. I am always excited to see what he will do next and obviously he is doing something right. He has over one million YouTube hits. Maybe he will post this? :)

Kristen Sudeikis was recommended for the Festival, and I am so grateful. When I saw the piece she is presenting, I cried. Everyone who was with me cried. It was right after Hurricane Sandy, so her piece struck me deeply. Very inspiring!

I am so happy Rhapsody James is part of the festival this year. To me she is one of the first to put Hip Hop on the map as an accredited dance genre. She taught and built real classes that dancers could understand, follow, and perform. She actually built the syllabus for hip hop/street jazz — and I watched it happen. Many of her students went on to have a lot of commercial success as hip hop became more current. And now here she is with her own hybrid soulful contemporary storytelling. A great piece.

Desmond Richardson, Kevin Maher and many, many others.

My mother, who has overcome great adversity and lives a beautiful, inspiring life. She also has raised over $50 million dollars for non-profit organizations, and is an extremely well-connected arts advocate, so we have her on the festival board.

You have two young sons. Do they take dance classes?

Yes, my oldest went to the School of American Ballet for a stint. I loved it, he hated it. Now he takes hip hop and breakdancing. A much better fit with extraordinary teachers.

You’re a proud native Brooklynite. Where did you grow up, where do you live now, and what are your favorite places in Brooklyn?

I grew up in Cobble Hill and now live on Crown Heights. My mother and her wife built a three-floor, two-family house and my husband and two boys live on the other half. I don’t think I will ever move.

My favorite place is Prospect Park. I try and run there three times a week at 5:45am. There is nothing like the sun rising and the moon still out. Every great idea, like the Brooklyn Dance Festival, has come from running out there. Our family participates in so many activities there — birthday parties, free concerts, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, biking, birdwatching, picnicking, riding the carousel, the farmer’s market, zoo, and now a food truck convention. I am truly grateful for it.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests outside of dance?

I love business. I’ve developed a love for how it works and try and make it as successful as I can for everyone involved. I love numbers and reading The Wall Street Journal, learning what does and doesn’t work for others. Numbers don’t lie. They tell you honestly how your endeavors are going.

I am part owner of the Jete Dance Center, a studio in Brooklyn that cultivates young artists. It’s a miracle and great joy to watch.

At this point in my life, I love being on the other side of the stage. I enjoy advocating for the arts and declaring that they can be profitable for everyone involved. The arts make our lives richer and more colorful. Without art and nature, what’s the point? They need to continue and I feel grateful to help be part of this amazing atmosphere.

To learn more about the Brooklyn Dance Festival or to purchase tickets, visit brooklyndancefestival.org. And check out our Facebook page for the latest Festival news, artist interviews, and more.

Interview conducted by Elisa Lichtenbaum. A Senior Writer at Thirteen/WNET New York, Elisa has written articles on subjects ranging from Woody Allen to Downton Abbey. She studies tap dance with Germaine Salsberg.