Leadership Corner: Isabel Miranda, President, Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company


What Are Your Golden Dreams?

Non-profits and the arts are Isabel Miranda’s calling. Born and raised in Orange County, California was the ideal place for Isabel to find an organization to get involved with during her college years. At age 20, she joined the board of directors of Relampago Del Cielo (RDC), a non-profit dance group in Santa Ana, CA., and kept herself highly involved in numerous areas of that organization for 17 years. She served as board secretary from 1992 to 1998; vice chair from 2005 to 2011; and served on the Parent Board Committee from 2005 to 2011 and the Special Events Committee from 2004 to 2011. In 2009, Miranda was named one of “100 OC Influential Women of the Year” in recognition of her many volunteer efforts. In 2012, she brought her daughter, Valeria Miranda, to Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company (GMFBC) for professional artistic growth. For the past five years, Isabel Miranda now finds herself highly involved. She is president of GMFBC’s board of directors and also forms part of the Marketing Committee and Grant Writing Committee. Miranda’s experience in the non-profit sector is taking GMFBC to new horizons. In five years she increased the community-based organization’s budget from $5,000 to $150,000 annually. She has also overseen a Grandeza concert collaboration with the Grammy and Latin Award-winning Mexican-American singer/songwriter Lila Downs, which formed part of the 2016 Ford Signature Series in Los Angeles, and was such a success that Lila Downs has invited GMFBC to do a world tour with her. Miranda is currently working on a collaboration with the world-known La Banda de Tlayacapan from Morelos, Mexico.

Dance/USA: Tell us about yourself and how you got connected to Grandeza Mexicana.

Isabel Miranda: I’m a native of Orange County, California. I studied psychology in college, but by gift, I think, I’m an event planner. Whether it’s a fundraiser, a concert or another event, it’s really important for me to make it as incredible an experience as possible for the guests. I want everyone to take something positive away with them. As a volunteer board member, I started discovering my gift when I was very young.

While I was still in college I was helping my sister who wanted her daughter to take dance classes. I found Relampago Del Cielo, a community-based dance school in Santa Ana. I would bring my niece there every week and sit in the lobby and do my homework. A board member of RDC invited me to join the board. He saw a lot of maturity in my behavior. I was sitting there working on homework while my niece was in class, not going out to parties like most college students. I was an old soul – I wasn’t doing what most kids my age were – I was helping raise my sister’s children. I was working full-time and going to school full-time. My friends were older peers and I wanted to hear their stories about working, raising families. I look back now and those friends and fellow board members, who were 40 then are now in their 60s and 70s, and we’re still connected.

I was maybe 19 or 20 when I joined the board. It was overwhelming at first. They needed a secretary so I did that, learning from the previous secretary and assistant to the president. They encouraged me to take courses on non-profit management and fundraising and the do’s and don’ts of non-profits because I really had no idea what it meant to be on a board at first. 

D/USA: Tell us why it was important for you at this young age to dedicate your time to a board? What did you get from it?

I.M.: Satisfaction for doing something without expecting anything in return. I learned about setting goals and meeting deadlines. It was just so interesting to be a part of something that one did not expect a paycheck for. As I get older, I see so many needs out there and so many non-profits that have a need. So my involvement feels like something special, like I have something I can offer.

Today we are seeing young people who have a cause starting up their own non-profits, so I hope my example is planting the right seeds. I always want to engage others, parents and their kids, to help, because, as we know, kids are always watching our example.

D/USA: In your five years with Grandeza, you increased the organization’s budget from $5,000 to $150,000. How did you become so successful in raising funds? What’s your secret?

I.M.: First and foremost, it’s a positive attitude and having a mindset that through failure you will learn what works. I’m always willing to try things that others may not be as willing to try. Whatever works, we elaborate on and what doesn’t, it’s okay, we learned from it.  

Nothing’s going to stop me from making the good grow. Through fundraising and special events, RDC grew from a 25 young dancer group to a 250 dancer group. We grew the membership through our drive to create these experiences for families who want to be part of it. I’m now doing this at Grandeza, where I’m president of the board. I truly believe that a good attitude and persistence are the elements of success. I always ask, and put on the whiteboard at Grandeza: “What are the golden dreams?” We have to dream big to succeed.

D/USA: Have you encountered challenges in the Latino community about understanding the non-profit model here in the United States? How do you address those challenges?

I.M.: Yes, it is true. The main focuses in the Latin American community are church and sports. It is a challenge to reach the Mexican and Latino communities because often in our upbringing the idea is you pay for something and you get something. I see non-profits as what you give and what you get back in return don’t have a price. You receive far more in return for your volunteering or your contribution. It is something very hard to transmit, to get people in my culture to understand that. It doesn’t come only with education, but with really embracing people and inviting them in.

Here’s an example: Before I say Grandeza is a community dance organization, I have to reach people on their level. So I talk about food. It’s something that everyone has in common. We were recently doing a production that featured the 12 different regions or states of Mexico and we needed to raise funds and sponsors for it. My goal was to find someone from every state and sell them on this experience and this opportunity. My plan was to invite them to sponsor their state in the show. I didn’t know most of them, they were connected to me through friends or friends of friends. When we were introduced, I asked which state they are from, and I did my homework, I knew the food traditions from that area and that’s how we started the conversation. From there, I could then talk about the program and what they could do to share their culture. 

Many people from Mexico don’t see their dances as valuable, they’re not a big deal. My job was to help them understand that their dances do have value. When they came and saw their childhood experiences in Mexico staged, with music and costumes and a story, then they saw their experience can be beautiful, that their culture can be beautiful. It takes them somewhere else and helps them realize that, yes, they do want to continue their traditions. For example, Grandeza’s Christmas production has a focus on bringing together grandmothers and great grandmothers because that’s the real importance of the holiday – that it’s multigenerational. 

Another show we did, called “Third Roots,” shows links to African ancestors and culture. We did it in February for Black History Month and what was so wonderful was that we were able to tap many new audience members. I made sure that everything was accessible, whether you’re Latino or not. We are telling the story on stage and I make sure the advance material, the marketing and the program are accessible and help everyone understand what is happening in the performance.

We were embraced by both cultures. We also saw an incredible mix of people in the audiences of all ages and cultures. When that happens, it shows us that that our culture is valued by others.

D/USA: What advice would you give to a young person to convince them that they should commit to a non-profit and what should they do to grow?

I.M.: Every chance you get, go to training and networking events. They are so needed at this time and they are critical to continued growth. 

I would also say that giving back is very important to the soul. There’s got to be something in life that really moves you. Find that something, that identity and connect yourself with an organization. Or, if you don’t find it, start something. Today we have so many resources that it’s easy to get involved with something that makes you smile and makes a difference. There are so many causes – dance, the arts, poverty, hunger – the list is endless. I even tell my daughter that she needs to find an interest, a cause, and get involved. It doesn’t have to be big but it has to be rewarding. Everyone needs that. We need more giving and less time on our phones and computers – as wonderful as technology is – we need more face-to-face connecting. We need more human interaction. Dance is one way of getting together and connecting with other people. 

We are also living in such a challenging time and I’m a big believer in ignoring your fear. So for those individuals involved in non-profits, I say to keep being inspired, stay on the path, continue to desire growth. And for those encountering so much fear, remain hopeful. For those who are fearful, continue to work on your challenges and continue to evolve. 

Interviewer Lisa Traiger edits From the Green Room, Dance/USA’s online journal, and writes frequently on dance and the performing arts for a variety of publications including Dance, Dance Teacher and Washington Jewish Week.

Photos
First image: Isabel Miranda with Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company, courtesy of Isabel Miranda
Second image: Isabel Miranda, courtesy of Isabel Miranda

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