Teaching
Artists


Teaching Artists & Mentors

Francisco Gella (he/him)

Founding Artistic Director & Core Faculty
Francisco Gella Dance Works

Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, Improv, Choreographer

Francisco Gella’s distinguished thirty-year career as a compelling dancer, award-winning choreographer, and widely recognized dance educator, began when he took his first formal dance class during his freshman year at the age of nineteen. His innovative choreography and highly effective teaching methods are sought after by professional companies, universities, arts high schools, ballet conservatories, and studios across North America and around the globe.

A 1996 graduate with a BA in dance from the University of Washington, Francisco is a past company member with the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO); Repertory Dance Theater; and Ballet Pacifica. He has been a guest performer with Spectrum Dance Theater; Chamber Dance Company; Seattle Opera; Pennsylvania Ballet; California Ballet; Laguna Dance Festival; and National Choreographers Initiative. In 1998, Francisco performed as a principal soloist at the Closing Ceremonies in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan and was featured in a PBS Dance in America Special in Daniel Ezralow’s holiday satirical work entitled the X-mas Philes.


Julie Rose Friedrich (she/her)

Associate Director for College and Career Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works
Ballet, Composition

Julie Rose Friedrich (she/her)

Associate Director for College and Career Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works
Ballet and Composition

Julie Friedrich’s distinguished career as a professional dancer, mentor, and dance educator in the areas of ballet and contemporary dance spans more than 20 years. Julie received her primary dance education from Meredith Baylis of the Joffrey Ballet School and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Upon graduation, Julie joined the American Repertory Ballet under the direction of Septime Webre; and then went onto join Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal under the direction of Lawrence Rhodes. Discovering her passion for contemporary dance during her time with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, she made the move to Europe where she danced professionally for five years. In Europe she had the opportunity to dance with Compagnia Zappala Danza and Teatro di Bari.

Currently, Julie serves on the performing arts faculty at the Windward School in Culver City, where she teaches, directs, and curates the dance program. Along with her full time work at Windward, she serves as the ballet director for Danceology, and as guest ballet faculty at Westside Dance Project. Since 2012 she has been an integral part of the artistic team at Francisco Gella Dance Works. In 2019, Julie was named the artistic associate of career and college programs for all of FGDW. In 2016 Francisco and Julie created the Pre Professional Dancers Institute, a five day program they direct, serving the highest level of young artists in the nation. Julie continues her work mentoring students in preparation for their entrance into the collegiate world through her College Preparatory Program that has developed into a nationwide program serving students and families. In 2013, through the Young Arts Foundation, President Obama and the White House named Julie one of the most influential arts teachers in the country for her mentorship of young dancers.


Yusha-Marie Sorzano (she/her)

Associate Director for Community Collaboration
Francisco Gella Dance Works
Ballet, Modern, Contemporary

Yusha-Marie Sorzano is an Afro-Caribbean immigrant hailing from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She is a relentless, dynamic performing artist, choreographer, director, and educator who has worked in concert dance, theater, opera, television, and film. Ms. Sorzano is an alumna of Armour Dance Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and New World School of the Arts, and she is a Winner in Dance from YoungArts. She graduated from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, and in her junior year she joined Ailey II on invitation.

To date, Ms. Sorzano has performed in 8 renowned dance companies, including Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, TU Dance, Morphoses, BODYTRAFFIC, and LA Dance Project. She is currently a member of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, having been an original cast member of both the Bessie-nominated Black Girl: Linguistic Play, and Ink, the 2nd and 3rd installments of Brown’s acclaimed trilogy. Ms. Sorzano is currently co-leading and choreographing a new musical titled We Won’t Sleep, and she is special faculty and a mentor at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in the School of Dance. She will rejoin CalArts in Fall 2022 as Director of the BFA Program in the School of Dance.


Angela Carter (she/her)

Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works
Jazz, Tap

Angela Carter (she/her)

Administrative Coordinator, Marketing and Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works

Jazz, Tap

Angela Carter is an award-winning choreographer, highly sought out international master teacher, and creative entrepreneur. She is Co-Owner and Director of Tap Into the Network, a touring tap dance intensive alongside Ryan Lohoff. Started by longtime partner Gregg Russell, TITN is now in their 15th season, providing exclusive training experience for both students and teachers. Within Tap Into the Network, Angela created an apprentice mentorship program offering performance and training opportunities, career guidance, and teaching/choreography coaching for students.

She has choreographed for United Nations International Women’s Month, and opening acts for artists such as Mary J. Blige. Her tap sounds were used in Disney’s Princess and the Frog and tap dance legend Al Gilbert’s Graded Technique. She has assisted tap legends Al Gilbert, Pat Rico and Henry LeTang to name a few. Angela is the author and creator of The Genius Guide to College Dance Programs, designed specifically to assist and coach students and parents through the college selection journey. Her intensive event, Breakthrough, will offer students a unique experience of professional training, mentorship, and access to the industry. Most recently, Angela has worked with Francisco Gella Dance Works. She can be heard on The Made with Purpose Podcast as well as Making the Impact Podcast. She is thrilled to join the team at Francisco Gella Dance Works!


Tara Debevec (she/her)

Operations Coordinator, New Mexico Programs
Francisco Gella Dance Works
Jazz, Ballet, Lyrical

Tara Debevec earned her B.A in Performing Arts Dance from Saint Mary’s College of California, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She has dedicated her life to dance performance and instruction, touring the world as a performer and dance educator for over three decades. Her career has taken her across the United States, Europe, and New Zealand, performing, instructing, choreographing, and producing shows that reflect her passion for the art of dance. Her many professional credits include performing for the Royal Family at the Festival of London, for Bally's Jubilee! in Las Vegas Nevada, as well as touring as the choreographer and production consultant for Celebrity Enterprise.

Her experience and exceptional teaching abilities are reflected in her internationally popular DVD series, Now We’re Dancin’, and her choreography can be seen in movies such as Lightning Jack. Tara currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she is sharing her love for dance as an Arts Administrator and Dance Educator.


Wilson Mendieta (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Jazz, Musical Theatre

Wilson Mendieta (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Jazz and Musical Theatre

Wilson Mendieta is an Assistant Professor in Dance at Chapman University, where he has choreographed for Chapman Celebrates and the Dance Faculty concert. Prior to his arrival to Southern California, Wilson served as the Director of the Musical Theater Program at the University of Washington in Seattle (2013 – 2017), where he also earned an M.F.A. degree in Dance and a Nonprofit Management Certificate from the Evans School of Public Affairs. His creative credits at the University of Washington includes directing a production of Pippin and Sweet Charity for the Musical Theater Program. He also earned a B.F.A. degree in Acting with a minor in Dance from Montclair State University.
Wilson’s other credits include being the recipient of a grant to conduct research on musical theatre production and training methodologies in Latin America. He also is the co-author of a new book about the collaborative nature of dance production to be released in the Fall of 2022.


Steven Sofia (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Jazz, Musical Theatre, Pilates

Steven Sofia is presently teaching at Chapman University and CSULB after serving three years an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Washington for the Musical Theater Program. Steven is an Educator, Broadway performer, dance captain, choreographer and Pilates master trainer. His Broadway and National tours credits include: Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Chicago, Kiss Me Kate, Beauty and The Beast, Guys and Dolls (‘92 revival), Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story, An evening with Betty Buckley at Carnegie Hall and Applause at City Center’s Encores. He danced with The American Dance Machine where he worked with such choreographers as Ron Field, Agnes DeMille, Buzz Miller and Gwen Verdon, to name a few.

He has been an assistant to Broadway choreographers Tony Stevens and Chris Chadman. Steven choreographed the National Tour of Chicago for Troika, a number for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with Andy Williams, productions of Pippin and Anything Goes at the UW, a production for the Wings Theater, and directed and choreographed Pippin for NYU’s Cap21. Steven has been on the dance faculty with NYU, Cap21, SUNY Purchase, Marymount College, Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway. Steven is co-owner of Synergetic Movement and certification program for Pilates, Reki and Yoga.


Karl Watson (he/him)

Founding Artistic Director & Core Faculty
Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, Improv, Choreographer

Karl Watson (he/him)

Founding Artistic Director & Core Faculty
Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, Improv, Choreographer

Karl Watson is a Seattle-based performer and educator. He currently serves as Artistic and Administrative Associate for Whim W’Him, Seattle Contemporary Dance, and is a dancer in the company. Originally from Cleveland, OH, he graduated from Butler University with a BFA cum laude in Dance Performance and History Minor. Karl received additional training through intensives with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Doug Varone and Dancers, Springboard Danse Montreal, FACT/SF, and Countertechnique.

Following graduation, Karl danced with Luna Negra Dance Theater and was a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago. Karl has also worked as a répétiteur and choreographer. He has staged works at The Big Muddy Dance Company, Visceral Dance Chicago, George Mason University, and Fordham University/The Ailey School. He has created original works for Visceral Dance Chicago,Whim W’Him, Visceral Studio Company, Dance In The Parks Chicago, and Olympic Ballet Theatre, among others. In addition to performing,

Karl is passionate about dance education. In Chicago, he had the privilege of working as Associate Director for Visceral Studio Company. Karl continues to share his love for dance through teaching in Seattle and as a guest teacher throughout the country.


Sharmila Mitra (she/her)

Teaching Artist
Pilates

Sharmila Mitra is one of Southern California’s most distinguished Pilates instructors. As an instructor, teacher-trainer, and entrepreneur, she has over 20+ years of progressive Pilates experience. In 1999, she apprenticed with the late master teacher Romana Kryzanowska, a protégé of Joseph Pilates, consequently earning her a certification under Kryzanowska’s tutelage. Sharmila’s 25+ years of dance experience as a performer, choreographer, and adjudicator, in essence, was the precursor for her passion in examining the convergence of technical and artistic human movement.

She earned a secondary Pilates certification through Power Pilates, then expanded her study of human anatomy through New York’s Westside Dance Physical Therapy (WDPT), receiving a certificate in dance medicine. At WDPT, Sharmila studied alongside physical therapists that oversee the health of the New York City Ballet and other professional dance companies. In 2005, she established her own studio, Core Arts Pilates in Anaheim, California. In 2015, she was certified in the Gyrotonic® Expansion System, under master trainer Suzie Lewis, with subsequent concentrations in the application of Gyrotonic® for dancers, to educate dancers to dramatically increase their strength, stability, and range of motion. Sharmila is the developer of BodyStrategiesTM for Dancers, a methodology that applies dance conditioning techniques, along with the latest innovations in the dance medicine aimed at optimizing the athleticism of a dancer.


Jeffrey Smith (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Modern, Contemporary , Partnering

Jeffrey Smith (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Modern, Contemporary , Partnering

Jeffrey Lloyd Smith is currently an Assistant Professor at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida and teaches modern, contemporary, and filmmaking for dance. In addition to choreographing, he stages works by Paul Taylor and serves as rehearsal director for artists like Ohad Naharin, Mark Morris, and Darshan Singh Bhuller. Prior to his current position, Jeffrey was an Assistant Professor at Tulane University and holds a BFA from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and an MFA from Florida State University. Highlights from his performing career include The Paul Taylor Dance Company, The Martha Graham Ensemble, and Taylor 2.


Gretchen Wagoner (she/her)

Teaching Artist
Pilates

BREATHE PILATES MIAMI Instructor/Educator/Studio Owner

NCPT®-Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher

Graduate of the Kathy Grant Heritage Training®


After taking her first class over 20 years ago, Gretchen instantly became hooked on the body, mind, and spirit connection of the Pilates Method.  In 2008, she obtained her first certification in Mat Pilates under Teri Steele through Dance New Amsterdam in NYC.  She then went on to continue her education and received her Comprehensive Certification on all Pilates Apparatus through Polestar Pilates in Miami in 2010 and eventually became an Educator with Polestar Pilates. Gretchen has taken Advanced Teacher Training courses in Osteoporosis, Scoliosis, Woman’s Health (including pre/post natal), Pilates for the Dancer, Pilates for Rotational Sports, and Pilates for Hip and Knee Replacements, as well as Pilates for MS™ & Neurological Conditions.


Benjamin Peralta (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Ballet, Contemporary, Yoga

Benjamin Peralta (he/him)

Teaching Artist
Ballet, Contemporary, Yoga

Benjamin Peralta grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he danced competitively and trained at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. In 2018, Peralta left home to pursue a BFA in dance at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance in Los Angeles, California, as part of the Class of 2022. While studying at USC Kaufman, Peralta performed the works of artists such as William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, Barak Marshall, Bret Easterling, Jermaine Spivey, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, and more. 


His additional passions for both Yoga and Photography influence his expression when executing choreography, as well as his creation process. With attention to mindfulness that is practiced in Yoga and a hyper-fixation on the transitional moments that can be found through photography, Peralta’s approach to dance is an accumulation of multiple different mediums. Peralta has been a part of Zeitgeist Dance Theatre, a project-based dance company, under the direction of Francisco Gella and Yusha Sorzano since 2020. His most recent work experience includes staging William Forsythe’s “Blake Works II: The Barre Project,” alongside Jodie Gates and William Forsythe at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, NY, NY.


Sophia Oddi (she/her)

Teaching Artist
Ballet, Contemporary, Meditation

After attending the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Sophia graduated with the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance in 2019 under the direction of Jodie Gates and William Forsythe. While at USC, she performed works by Aszure Barton, Alejandro Cerrudo, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Crystal Pite, and Dwight Rhoden, among others. Sophia attended Springboard Danse Montréal twice, where she performed works by Ohad Naharin, Micaela Taylor, and Margie Gillis, she also attended Orsolina28 in Italy, and performed at the Music & More SummerFest in Bosnia. 


Sophia is a founding member of Zeitgeist Dance Theatre, co-directed by Francisco Gella and Yusha Marie-Sorzano. She is based in Los Angeles, where she continues to dance and create work for stage and screen. 


Rachel Harris (she/her)

Teaching Artist
Contemporary

Rachel Harris (she/her)

Teaching Artist
Contemporary

Rachel Harris (Charlotte, NC) started dancing at Dance Productions, under the instruction of Lori Long and Denise Britzclarke-Clarke. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance where she received her BFA with an architecture concentration in 2020. While in school, she also trained at Jacob’s Pillow, Ballet X, Abraham.In.Motion, and Ailey School summer intensives and was featured in music video by popular artist Brandy. Upon graduation, Harris joined Zeitgeist Dance Theatre as an inaugural company member. In July 2020, Harris has joined Parsons Dance where she is in her second season and works as Education and Outreach Director and Diversity Liaison. 

 

She enjoys choreographing for film and non-traditional experiences. She has choreographed music videos, “About Sprouts” a Parsons Dance immersive experience for children, and created on Howard University’s BFA students. Harris was awarded the Gibney Dance Converge2Emerge Grant in 2021, named Howard University’s “Spring 2021 Emerging Choreographer to Watch,” and 2022 Professional / Emerging Choreographer Finalist for New Century Dance Project . She is also co-founder of “Make Space,” a program that provides opportunities to mentor and engage young Black artists. Harris works to maintain her performance and choreographic versatility while integrating environmentally-friendly technology into her practice.