Meet the Dance Artists & Judges
Company director Melanie LaJoie’s choreography highlights the transition from the classical “Raks Sharqi” Oriental belly dance into modern belly dance, then broadens the presentation into Andalusian and gypsy moves.
Another newcomer to FusionFest, Ada Bobola will be performing as “A.D.A.” to demonstrate the kinetic energy of a traditional Middle Eastern belly dance.
The ensemble is the cultural performance arm of the African Heritage Alliance Center, a community resource organization in Orlando. Under the direction of Yves Bouele – who will also be providing live drumming for the group’s inaugural FusionFest performance – these talented, energetic performers will be showcasing the dances and cultures of Central and East Africa.
In their first appearance at FusionFest, This Russian duo will perform the Kalinka, a routine set to the 1860 song of the same name by the famous Russian composer and folklorist Ivan Larionov. First performed in Saratov as part of a theatrical entertainment Larionov had put together, the Kalinka was soon added to the repertoire of a folk choral group, and a folkloric dance was then choreographed to the music.
Attired in authentic Alpine dirndl and lederhosen costumes, this well-traveled group – a favorite at Oktoberfests and other gatherings – represents the German style of “Schuhplattle” dancing, in which the men slap their thighs, legs, and shoes to imitate the mating dance of a flirtatious German bird called the Auerhahn.
Dance is a family business to professional performer and teacher Angeliya Mahadeo, whose father was trained by one of the most famous Indian classical dancers. While she teaches her own students both classical Indian and Bollywood forms, it’s the classical side they’ll be exploring in this, their inaugural FusionFest outing.
Brazilian-born Aretuza Garner, an internationally celebrated classical ballet teacher, adjudicator, and Brazil America Council Arts Board Director, founded Aretuza’s Ballerina Project in 2016. Her group is making its first appearance at FusionFest, demonstrating the classical training and technique they bring to contemporary ballet and folkloric performances – and working in some North American hip-hop and Caribbean influences for extra fun and variety.
Venezuelan folkloric dance blends elements of Spanish, African and American Indian styles for a true cultural fusion. It’s showcased here by FusionFest newcomers the Casa de la Cultura de Venezuela (House of Culture of Venezuela), who got together in 2015 to celebrate the arts, dance, theater and music of their namesake country.
New to FusionFest stages this year is the Afro–Brazilian art of Capoeira, which as presented by the CBP Martial Arts Academy fuses martial arts with dance moves, acrobatics and music. Since 1995, CBP (Capoeira Brazilian Pelourinho) has been instructing Orlando-area children and adults in this exciting art form that was developed in the early 16th century by enslaved Africans in Brazil.
The club’s Chinese cultural dance division returns to FusionFest with a well-known traditional folkloric dance entitled “Gathering Is A Song.”
The group that won the Entertainment grand prize at 2018’s inaugural FusionFest dispatches a team of national champion dancers to perform a traditional Irish ceili dance and Irish steps. (Elsewhere at the festival, see Central Florida Irish Dance founder Sarah Costello profiled in the film “Peace Through Dance.”)
New to the Central Florida arts scene, this Winter Park-based group also holds classes in Casselberry and Kissimmee. Their student company will be presenting a dance that incorporates the moves of many Latin cultures.
Founded last year, the school promotes “Bomba,” the style of Puerto Rican music and dance imported from West Africa during the time of slavery, and “Plena,” a native style with a highly syncopated rhythm. Solo dancers and pairs (who never touch each other) interact with the drummer in a show of technical diversity that’s full of surprises.
The choreography of Jamaican-born Sandra Rose reflects island traditions like reggae and dancehall, while making room for her ensemble of about 20 to also exhibit a bit of African flair.
Under the direction of Tammy Milnar, dancers from this pedigreed school and performing company return to FusionFest, reintroducing us to the exciting artistry and costuming of flamenco and classical Spanish dance.
Under the direction of professional performer and instructor Lacey Sanchez, Florida Tribal Dance returns to FusionFest for another look at its unique form of belly dance that combines the performance, costume and musical styles of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, East Asia and Northern Eurasia.
This newly formed group celebrates the diversity of Panama in dances that reflect both Native Panamanian and African influences. In their colorful folkloric costumes, the members of Grupo Folklorico Mi Panama further traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation via routines like the Tamborito (the absolute king of folkloric dances) and the Cumbia (which, like the Tamborito, is a mix of Hispanic and African musical and dance styles).
Making an encore appearance at FusionFest 2019, Maria Fernanda Saavedra’s group performs classic dances from four of the five main regions of Colombia. Look for their performance to include: the Cumbia (Atlantic Coast), the Currulao (Pacific Coast), the Guaneña (Andean region) and the Joropo (Oriental Plains). And in their contest entry, their Colombian focus expands to encompass styles from Brazil, Italy, the Dominican Republic and Africa.
Well-received at last year’s inaugural FusionFest, this energetic troupe directed by Jere’ James has also been showcased at events like Immerse and SHADES. This year, they’ve brought a choreographer from Africa to further hone their youthful presentation.
Under the direction of Shawnkevia Stafford, this Lake Mary-based group of about 30 returns to FusionFest with separate dances that represent, respectively, the cultures of Africa and the Caribbean.
Performers from this family-owned and -operated dance school (with locations in Orlando and Hale’iwa, Hawaii) are back to beguile us with the movement traditions of Oceania and the Pacific Islands. This year, they’ll give us a taste of the music, dancing and drumming culture of Tahiti. (See company director Charlene Oloa profiled in the FusionFest short MYgration film “Polynesian Culture in Orlando.”)
Nakeria Henderson and Nagida Mercer, performing together as KNG, are first-time participants in FusionFest. The routine they’ll be unveiling represents the hip-hop culture of our own United States.
Founded 14 years ago by Indian expatriate Nimmy Babu and her daughter, Jane, the school is making its first impression on FusionFest by having its 25 performing dancers present a variety of popular Bollywood routines.
The Praise and Dance Team of the Lion of Judah Academy, a K-12 private school located in Pine Hills, brings the joys of worship and West and South African dance to the FusionFest performance stage.
Taking its name from the Samoan term for “fire bird,” this Orlando school focuses mainly on the traditional and artistic art of Samoan Fire Knife dancing. Their performance will see students ages 4 and up spinning the Nifo AFI, a blade set afire at both ends, to the backdrop of live drumming. Also on view: the Maori Poi, a 4-oz. ball attached to flax reeding and swung with pinpoint timing rhythm and agility.
FusionFest returnee Yessica Lizarraga dances a number that represents some of the most popular traditional songs of the Mexican states of Jalisco and Sinaloa. Jalisco is home to mariachi music and elegant, long-sleeved ladies’ attire, while Sinaloa’s banda musical style is the famous “Tambora.” The beautiful dresses are derived from turn-of-the-century fashions and typically consist of calico ruffled blouses and skirts.
This Kissimmee-based group directed by Dr. Gizela Maldonado returns to FusionFest to present folkloric dances from several of the Mexican states — including Jalisco, home of Mariachi music, gauchos and tequila. Their program will include such dances as “Jarabe Tapatio” (known here in America as the Mexican hat dance) and “La Negra.” Meanwhile, their dance contest entry will have its foundation in Mexico, but will add flourishes of Israel, India and Africa. (Also see Dr. Maldonado profiled in the FusionFest short film “Gizela y Isabel.”)
Traditional Egyptian belly dance is the specialty of this professional performer and instructor making her first appearance on the FusionFest dance stage.
Since establishing her Academy here in the early ’90s, director Geeta Raaj has traveled across Florida teaching the sacred and meaningful movements of classical Indian dance. For the first time, FusionFest is getting a look at the fruits of those teachings, as her students demonstrate their proficiency in this ancient art form.
Formerly known as Nulook Dance Theater and under the direction of dance coach and choreographer Carol Cudjoe, the Emporium ventures onto our dance stage for the first time with a program of African dance that fuses Afro-Jazz and Afro-Hip Hop.
Having brought the Peking Opera to Orlando audiences last January, this highly focused group now makes its sophomore appearance at FusionFest. Traditional Chinese music provides the soundtrack for a demonstration of the 24 forms of Tai Chi.
In 2018, this group favored FusionFest with an exhibition of the distinct cultural heritages of the five Chinese ethnic groups. This time, they’re performing a traditional Chinese dance entitled “Beauty of Tai Lake” to demonstrate the culture’s tradition of storytelling through movement.
The members of this recreational folk dance group are making their second visit to FusionFest. Once again, they’ll don a variety of colorful ethnic costumes to bring about a fusion of cultures, with folk dances from Europe and Northern Eurasia.
In their second appearance at FusionFest, the members of this group – based at the Roth Family Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando in Maitland – continue their mission to spotlight dances that were created in Israel by Israeli choreographers, using Israeli music. Attending workshops in the U.S. and Israel has kept them abreast of the latest dances coming out of this young and diverse country.
Another first-timer at FusionFest 2019, Peru Art will showcase the emphasis on Peruvian folkloric tradition that artistic director Italo Alvinez instills in his company of teenagers and young adults. Dances from all areas of Peru join a wide range of other South American steps in their repertoire.
This professional entertainment/dance company is ready to shake things up with the pulsating drums of Tahiti, and to tell stories of their ancestors via the graceful Hawaiian hula. (Elsewhere at FusionFest, see Polynesian Luau’s Tee Buchin and her family profiled in the short MYgration film “Aloha from Orlando.”)
In their sophomore outing at FusionFest, the elegantly costumed group presents three dances that represent different Indonesian provinces: the Bajido Kahot (West Java), the Katreji dance (Maluku) and the Ruai (Kalimantan).
It’s the FusionFest debut of this Tampa-based organization directed by Dr. Sabrina Madabhughi, who has studied, performed, and choreographed the fine art of Bharatanatyam Indian dance for 35 years. But for their performance here, they will instead be focusing on Bollywood choreography, as performed by a group of six boys and six girls.
For over 30 years, this Orlando non-profit Panamanian folkloric dance group has entertained audiences across the state with their authentic traditional costumes, dances and live instrumentation. This year marks their first time sharing their moves and music with the FusionFest audience.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, this professional ensemble focuses on tap dance as a musical art form. Their choreography is created the same way music is written, with a focus on complex elements of music theory and composition. When they aren’t presenting this truly American art form to appreciative audiences all over the country, all of the performers are also dance educators in schools and studios across Northeast Florida.
New to both the Orlando international dance community and the FusionFest stage, this group from the St. George Bulgarian Orthodox Church has adult and youth performers donning traditional costumes to perform exciting Bulgarian line dances with Romanian and Serbian influences.
The venerable pre-professional company presents variations from Don Quixote, a Spanish-style classical ballet. The group promises familiar music, exciting choreography, and vibrant Spanish costumes in its second FusionFest appearance in as many years.
Formed in 2011 by veterans of another local Panamanian dance troupe, Sentimiento Panameno entertains audiences while educating them in the dance, costumes and musical traditions of their country. The children of the group’s founders now make up its junior company of 16 to 20 performers, who will appear on our stage accompanied by live accordion, strings and drums.
A teacher at the A Magi Temple Belly Dance School (and also a member of Orlando’s Phantasmagoria steampunk performance troupe), Serafina comes to her first FusionFest ready to demonstrate a traditional Middle Eastern belly dance with some Asian cultural influences.
FusionFest newcomer Aleksandra Vargas will be appearing as Shatritsa to perform the dance of the same name, which has its roots in the Russian gypsy culture of Northern Eurasia.
In her first FusionFest appearance, Dr. Usha Jain and her husband, Manohar Jain, demonstrate the lifelong study of Indian dance, music and beautiful costumes that she and her husband, Manohar Jain, continue to pursue (when she’s not serving the Orlando community via her medical practice, that is). A veteran producer of international festivals in her own right, Dr. Jain is profiled in the MYgration FusionFest short “Don’t Go Chasing Lakshmi,” at the film pavilion.
A Florida non-profit based in Eatonville, Step One teaches the children in its dance company a repertoire that’s meant to connect them with their heritage. Following up the group’s recent “Wakanda Forever” performance at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, director Katherine Webster Baker has prepared a set of dances from East, West and South Africa to show off her young performers’ discipline and training.
Al Aki, an expert instructor in Tai Chi and Qigong, will demonstrate the more than 2,000-year-old Chinese art forms that blend martial arts, philosophy and dance moves. Al Aki is actually of Japanese heritage, and is a professional artist in their art of origami. He was also a professional Japanese storyteller at Disney’s EPCOT for several years.
Central Florida’s only training school and competition team for rhythmic gymnastics brings this Bulgarian-born art form to FusionFest for the first time. Director Sonya Petrova and her coaches are all from Bulgaria, where Ms. Petrova was an award-winning competitor on the Bulgarian National Team. As members of USA Gymnastics, the academy and team will be hosting the Third 7 Cup Invitational in early 2020 at the Orlando Sports Center; here at FusionFest, they’ll be demonstrating how this women’s-only sport, combines elements of ballet, gymnastics and folkloric dance.
Another first-timer at FusionFest, the artist will perform a piece that welds Russian, Romanian and even some Spanish elements.
The name Thuyền Mây translates to “cloud boat,” and represents the group’s ideas and mission. Thuyền Mây Productions acts as a weightless, all-encompassing cloud that drifts freely through communities, contributing our performances and preserving Vietnamese culture.
We enthusiastically welcomes everyone, young or old, to our group. Thuyền Mây hopes to rift clouds of silence with our poignant and dynamic performances while promoting and preserving Vietnamese culture. Contact us for information on lessons and cultural events!
Thuyền Mây Productions is founded by the principal choreographer Mai-Huong Nguyen. After her short-term PhapVu Dance Group project was realized and completed, Thuyền Mây Productions was started as a way of bringing Vietnamese cultural dances & entertainment, cultural education, and Asian community involvement to all of Central Florida and beyond.
The Orlando Chapter of USA Dance is an all-volunteer, non-profit, community-based educational,
charitable, performing-arts organization that promotes ballroom dancing and its social, physical and
health benefits. The local chapter is known not only for its exhibitions, performances, dances, classes
and competitions, but also for its sponsorship of youth and special-needs programs, the latter of which
bring the joy and experience of ballroom dance to those with mental and physical disabilities.
Members of the USA Dance competition and exhibition team will be performing smooth, Latin, swing
and country dances from the USA, Europe, and Latin America at this year’s FusionFest.
Having served as the voice of Indonesians in Florida for the past six years, VIDA makes its debut on our stage with an offering that reflects the cultural diversity of that country’s more than 700 ethnic groups.
This school offers its adult students classes in dance styles from around the world, including belly dance, samba, Polynesian, heels and Bollywood. For their FusionFest bow, they’ll be showcasing an Egyptian belly dance.
Under the direction of Yessica Lizarraga, Zumba Yessica is back on the FusionFest stage this year for another group demonstration of the art of Zumba, the Latin-American-based aerobic dance workout created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in the 1990s. Latin and international music are combined with dance rhythms and interval training: Expect a fusion of Colombian, Caribbean and Brazilian cultures, with elements of soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo and even American hip-hop.
Dance Fusion Judges
The founder of the Orlando School of Cultural Dance and its president for 28 years, Julie Coleman wrote grants and administered programs for area children, and showcased their talents in the annual Cultural Dance Showcase at what is now the Bob Carr Theater. She collaborated with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the City of Orlando to bring arts education to children who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to experience the arts. In addition to running the school, Ms. Coleman taught African Dance and African history as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida, and provided lecture/demonstrations of dance for students of Orange County Public Schools and more.
Currently, she is a Certified Life Coach at Life Begins Now, Inc. and a program host on the Caribbean Rhythms Radio Network.
John Davis has been a producer and judge for dance and talent events for 40 years. John has also been President of the Orlando Chapter of USA Dance for the last 18 years. USA Dance is a national non-profit performing-arts organization of social and competition ballroom dancers. (Ballroom dancing includes ALL partner dances: Latin, swing, smooth and country.)
Dance — expressing oneself through movement — has always brought me great joy. Throughout the years, I have enjoyed many types of dance, including ballet, modern dance and flamenco, as well as Mexican, Latin American and international folk dance. But my passion has always been folk dance, the cultural expression of a group and the physical voice of its culture. The groups I have danced with include:
- Folklorico de la Universidad de Guadalajara (Mexican)
- Grinnell College International Folk Dance group (European)
- Alpine Festival Dancers (Austrian, Swiss, German)
- Italian Festival Dancers
- International Folk Dance Ensemble (Europe; Northern Eurasia, Greece, Israel)
- Cefra Folk Dance Ensemble (Hungarian)
- Bailes de Argentina
- Venezuela Baila
- Grupo Folklorico de Costa Rica
I have also been:
- A member of the Orlando International Folk Dancers (a recreational folk dance club)
- An international folk dance teacher and student (I recently learned some Ecuadorian dances as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador)
- A director, choreographer and principal dancer of the Mexico Lindo Folkloric Dance Company
- A director and choreographer of the Latin American Student Association Folk Dance Ensemble of the University of Central Florida (for two years)
- Co-producer of the annual Hispanic Latin Fiesta, Orlando’s celebration of Latin American culture — including dance, song, music, food and crafts (for four years).
Chinese Folk Dance: From 1978 to 1990, Cecilia was the instructor, choreographer and leader of the Chinese Folk Dance Troupe of CAACF in Orlando, Florida. In 1995, she founded the Chinese Folk Dance Troupe of Lansing, Michigan, and led it until 1999.
Notably, for performances by both of these troupes, Cecilia designed and hand-made a total of 10 different sets of costumes, some of which are still in use. Cecilia’s significant solo performances include “Apple Blossom” at the 2008 Crystal Boot Awards at Blackpool, England, and the 2006 World C&W Dance Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
Line Dance: Cecilia and her husband, Ivan Mao, were the leaders/instructors of the Nesset Linedance Club at Eidsvåg in Norway for three years (2001~04). Between 2004 and 2016, they taught as many as four weekly classes in various locations in the Orlando area. Cecilia was part of show teams performing in many events in Scandinavia from 2000 to 2002. She was the lead dancer of New-Age Dancers, presenting shows at many events in Florida in 2006~2010.
Hula Dance: Cecilia has been a member of Halau Hula O Kaleooka’iwa led by Kawahi Punahele since 2008. This celebrated Hula dance troupe has been invited to perform at many events in Florida.
Organize Dance Performance Events: Cecilia assisted her husband, Ivan Mao, in organizing and conducting the World’s Festival offered by the Rotary Club in Casselberry, Florida in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Each edition of The World’s Festival featured 11 performances representing several cultures in Asia, Europe, Middle-East, Africa, Polynesia, and in Central and South America.
Global Experience: As a renowned professor/scientist in agriculture, Cecilia’s husband, Ivan Mao, has been invited to visit many countries in Europe and Asia since 1982. While Ivan worked, Cecilia visited local dance groups to study the music, choreography and costumes of their respective ethnic dance genres.
Dance Instruction and Coaching: Mao and his wife, Cecilia, were the instructors/ leaders of the Nesset Linedance Club at Eidsvåg in Norway for three years (2001~04). Between 2004 and 2016, they taught as many as four weekly classes in various locations in the Orlando area. Currently, Ivan Mao teaches only one weekly class at the advanced level. He has coached and trained dancers for competitions.
Ivan guest-taught and conducted workshops in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Florida, including the three workshops at the 2006 UCWDC World Championship Event in Stockholm, Sweden.
Performance: Ivan Mao was in show teams performing in many events in Scandinavia from 2000 to 2002. He founded and led New-Age Dancers, the American version of which was invited to present shows at many events in Florida in 2006~2014.
Organize Dance Performance Events: As the founder, organizer and overall chair, Mao conducted the World’s Festival offered by the Rotary Club in Casselberry, Florida in early May of 2009, 2010 and 2011. Each edition of The World’s Festival featured 11 performances representing several cultures in Asia, Europe, Middle-East, Africa, Polynesia, and in Central and South America
Kentucky-born and late to begin dancing, DJ was the fortunate recipient of a scholarship at age 18 to the renowned Harkness House for Ballet in New York City. Though the training was world-class, DJ wanted to expand upon his ability to sing and act and so turned to musical theatre, going on to university to earn a BFA in Performing Arts. DJ’s first job immediately after graduating was as a World Dancer at Epcot. After nearly two years on the stage at Epcot (with additional performances in The Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree at the Magic Kingdom), he became a company member of Orlando’s Southern Ballet Theatre (SBT is now Orlando Ballet) with the incredible ballet master Russell Sultzbach. There, in addition to dancing in the company’s concerts, he had the privilege of choreographing a jazz theatre piece for the company (“Schuur Steps”), a children’s story ballet for the apprentice company (“Wynken, Blynken and Nod”) and SBT’s lecture/demo set piece, “Smooth Criminal.” DJ thoroughly enjoyed performing the role of Drosselmayer in the company’s The Nutcracker for two seasons. Upon moving to NYC, he was cast in the international tour of My Fair Lady, and in the original production of Jekyll & Hyde (choreographed by Jerry Mitchell) in Houston. Subsequently, he originated a role in Susan Stroman’s Rhythm Ranch, and then assisted Jeff Calhoun and Tommy Tune on the workshop and Broadway production of The WIll Rogers Follies. After two more national tours (as dance captain and swing for The Will Rogers Follies and Grease) and the Madison Square Garden production of The Wizard of Oz (starring Roseanne) and its national tour (starring Mickey Rooney and Eartha Kitt), many performing roles in regional theatre, and associate choreography work, DJ shifted his career focus to writing, choreography and direction full time.
DJ has directed and choreographed shows in theaters across the USA, including Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ, Dallas Summer Musicals, TOTS-Atlanta, Kansas City Starlight, California Musical Theatre, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Musical Theatre West- Los Angeles, Pioneer Theatre- Salt Lake CIty, Intermountain Opera- Montana, and Riverside Theatre-Vero Beach. In Colombia, he choreographed a Spanish-language production of Annie and co-wrote and directed 30 Years of Christmas for MISI Producciones. Favorite directing experiences: Man of La Mancha, Into The Woods, La Cage Aux Folles, The Full Monty,Evita, Ragtime and The Will Rogers Follies (10 productions!). His production of Les Miserables for Orlando Shakespeare Theater was lauded for its staging. Select choreography: National touring events for the television shows Dancing with the Stars and Dance your A** Off, and specialty choreography for The Rachael Ray Show. NYC: Director-Choreographer for the Lincoln Center solo concert of Disney composer Alan Menken, Femme Fatale (starring Grey’s Anatomy’s Sara Ramirez), Dance Assistant on Broadway’s The Will Rogers Follies and Titanic, and director of Off Broadway’s CHIX 6. DJ has worked in various capacities with Broadway heavyweights Jerry Mitchell, Kathleen Marshall, Rob Ashford, Rupert Holmes, Lynne Taylor Corbett, Susan Stroman, Jeff Calhoun and Tommy Tune. Also a writer, he wrote book and lyrics for The Man Who Would Be King (with composer Neil Berg), Whisper Darkly (with composer Andrew Gerle) and Moonshine & Mistletoe, and he has written the opening song for three Tournament of Roses Parades.www.djsalisbury.com
Raquel Tacon was born in Spain and became a professional dancer there at age 15, dancing with famous flamenco and Spanish dance companies in Spain and around the world. She was also a well-known choreographer, teacher and director of her own flamenco and Spanish dance company, Tacon Flamenco. After she married and relocated to the Orlando area to raise her family, she began coaching local students in the art of flamenco dance. She also became a Spanish radio-show personality and a producer of classical Spanish and flamenco concerts, in which she often performed. In addition, she owned and operated Tasca Tacon, her own Spanish restaurant in downtown Orlando, which featured flamenco entertainment.
For many years, she has been the Vice Consul of Spain for the Spanish Consulate of the area from Florida to Atlanta. She still coaches and choreographs, and has her own radio show, La Otra Espana, on Mas 100.7. She is producing her next Spanish and flamenco music and dance concert to be performed here in Orlando in April 2020.