With a multitude of dance competitions and conventions for dancers to choose from, why should you join Artistic Dance Exchange (ADE)? What began as a single event in NYC in 2015, has grown into a national tour, providing the unique opportunity for dancers to participate in international festivals. Dance Informa spoke with co-founders Juan Borona and Alex Chan to hear more about the mission of ADE, the challenges of COVID and the exciting season ahead.
While Borona comes from a professional dance background – he trained in Spain and toured with two of the largest ballet companies there before coming to the states and joining the national tour of Chicago – Chan’s background was in corporate event planning. It was only after meeting Borona, that Chan was introduced to the industry, eventually becoming the general manager of a dance studio in Colorado. While there, both had significant exposure to the world of competition dance, but Borona desired more for dancers.
“Through the years, I started to work more with competition dancers, and realized there were a few things missing for me in that area,” Borona shares. “One was the performance side and the opportunities given to the dancers. It was wonderful for them to compete on the stage, but at the end, they were not seeing a real value award or scholarship. Because I used to teach in Spain and Italy during the summer, I had connections and wanted to introduce those experiences to the dance competition/convention world. One of the most important things is to educate, but also offer real opportunities to the dancers who want to grow by traveling to festivals.”
After the single event was held in 2015, Chan and Borona hosted their first ADE tour in 2017. Since then, the tour has grown by leaps and bounds with what it offers. Although relatively new to the competition/convention space when COVID-19 hit, the team managed this unexpected crisis with flying colors!
Chan shares, “In 2020, we were supposed to go to Boston that weekend. People were flying in and setting up when we got news of the state of emergency and had to shut things down. We pivoted and did ‘In Studios’, which is something we already do over the summer. We were also one of the first companies to pivot to the virtual platform. Our virtual nationals that year were one of the most memorable for us. We rented a hotel as normal and had four rooms, each with a different stage. People could take classes in their studio or at home. We have a very large LED screen, and hosted a virtual audition where everyone was able to Zoom in and see themselves on that big screen as if they were in person. In 2021, we did not cancel a single event. It was a tough financial decision to run a convention, but not skimp on the quality, while being limited to a third of the participants. We wanted to be sure our clients knew we could be reliable and follow through. That season will always stand out to the resiliency of the ADE family. It showed us that we could overcome a lot of challenges.”
One of the trademarks of ADE is its Prodigy Program. “It’s essentially a two-year program, where once dancers win the Prodigy scholarship, they get the remaining awarded season and all of next season for free,” Chan explains. “It gives them two national competitions, access to our Dancer of the Year competition, and the chance to audition for Nobles – our assistants on stage who have access to more choreography and classes. We have about 30 Nobles, and close to 250 Prodigies. It’s a program that’s been growing exponentially because we offer so many opportunities for dancers. We have Noble Prodigies who grew up in ADE and are now guest faculty for us. We have a former dancer, from the very beginning of ADE, who is now Juan and my right hand, as well as the event director. We’re so proud of the program and want dancers to know they can always be a part of ADE.”
Kevin Frey was recently brought on as ADE’s Prodigy Program Director because they wanted someone on staff who could focus on these students. Borona shares, “I’d been following Kevin’s career over the years. We’d been talking about this possibility for about a year, before he jumped into ADE. He is able to challenge the dancers and also give them professional advice, not just for those desiring to become professional dancers but also those who leave dance. He will be with us in every city on the tour, and hopefully will stay for a long time.”
As the conversation continued, it became clear that ADE is committed not only to providing competition opportunities but also education and professional development. Borona explains the heart behind this. “We are first a convention that offers education, that’s number one. The competition is not necessarily secondary, but it’s the second part of the event itself. We bill as an education program. There are all kinds of classes during the day — workshops where they can learn a piece to perform at the closing showcase, the Prodigy Program; there are all sorts of things that happen besides the main competition.”
“For us, we’re always conscious of the dancer’s experience,” Chan adds. “Our memories as adults refer back to those childhood ages. All of us on staff and production recognize we’re creating core memories for these dancers. We pull so many memories of growing up – middle, high school, sports teams – those are memories that shape our adult personality. We want to make sure that the environment we build – the security and dependability that we’re always there – fosters that, and is something they can refer to in their adult life.”
ADE places a high value on giving space for feedback from their clients, and adapting accordingly. “One of the unique things we do at every single stop is have a meeting with studio owners and directors who attend – no matter how big or small,” Chan says. “It’s helped us adapt very quickly to our customer expectations because we want the experience from the dancer, to the family, to the studio owners to be positive. Studio owners are answerable to the families about which conventions and competitions they choose. We want to be sure ADE is the right choice, and when they say, ‘We’re going to ADE this year,’ it’s an easy choice – the brand and experience is dependable and they know the quality that is going to come with that.”
ADE’s new season kicked off November 17, in Jacksonville, FL. As they look to the rest of the season, an exciting addition of cruise ship auditions, and college opportunities provide a “one-stop shop” for those desiring to pursue dance professionally or in college. “This year, we’ll be offering a new audition panel from talent agencies associated with all the different cruise lines, and we’ll also be offering college scholarships,” Borona reveals. “Over 30 colleges will be attending this year. Some of the colleges will participate in an expo so that parents can stop by and ask questions prior to the audition.”
At the end of the day, ADE’s commitment is first and foremost to the dancers – meeting them where they are, and bringing them to greater heights, both personally and professionally. Chan ends with this: “It’s not about one person in particular – it’s about the dancers. We want them to be as relaxed as possible so kids can come out of their shell, try something new and push themselves. We keep striving to be better and expand, because we want these kids to feel secure and grow in their dance journey.”
By Melody McTier Thomason of Dance Informa.