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Leilani Neal (Children's Program Director) began her training at “The Dance Network” under her mother Melinda Neal in Fairfield, Ca. She continued to train with schools such as Contra Costa Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Academy of Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and received scholarships with Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and Miami City Ballet. She graduated from the dance department at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco, and was hired by her high school shortly after to be the ballet instructor for the musical theatre department. Leilani has danced professionally with Peninsula Ballet Theatre, Bay Pointe Ballet,Labayen Dance sf, and most recently Oakland Ballet. In addition to dance, she is currently a signed model with Marla Dell Talent Agency in San Francisco and Clear Talent Agency in Los Angeles which has given her opportunities to be in commercials with Intel, Nikon, Microsoft,Visa, and Ford Go Bikes, Grub Hub to name a few. She was featured in the Mr.Carmack Coachella set and danced in the “Romance” music video for island artists CRSB that hit #1 on top charts in Hawaii. Leilani shares the love of dance with her students and aspires to give them the tools to succeed in the dance world and commercial industry.
Melinda Neal (Director) a Bay Area Native received her early ballet training from Yanina Cwyinska and was privileged to further her training under the tutelage of Ronn Guidi, founder of Oakland Ballet Company. She earned her BA from St. Mary's College of California LEAP program for professional dancers. She is also a certified Pilates Instructor. Melinda danced professionally for 16 years with companies such as Oakland Ballet Company, Peninsula Ballet Theatre, was a founding member and Soloist with Napoles Ballet Theatre as well as Bay Pointe Ballet. She has also guested with California Youth Ballet and Milissa Payne Project. As a dancer Melinda danced many classical and contemporary roles as a corp member and a Soloist. She co-owned "The Dance Network" for 9 years and was the Artistic Director for their Non- Profit youth ballet company. She's served as Children's Ballet Mistress for State Street Ballet, Peninsula Ballet Theatre, and Bay Pointe Ballet. Melinda has taught in the Bay Area for many years with various schools including Alonzo King Lines Dance Center, Alameda Civic Ballet, SF Arts Education Project, Peninsula Ballet Conservatory, Bay Pointe Ballet, as well as served as Ballet Director and teacher at Roco Dance. Her students have gone onto prestigious ballet schools, summer intensives, and college dance programs such as San Francisco Ballet, Alonzo King Lines Training Program, Alvin Ailey Training Program, Rock School of Ballet, Ballet West, Joffrey Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, School of American Ballet,UCLA, Fordham University, and NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has a passion and love for training the future generations with a focus on the physical, emotional, and mental health of the dancer. This passion and love for the Arts instills a fresh outlook on ballet, passion, creativity, discipline, and individuality in her students.
Charles Torres Born in Mesa, Arizona, he began his ballet training as a young boy. Charles received full scholarships to San Francisco Ballet School, School of American Ballet, and others as well as earning his Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree from St. Mary’s College. He is currently a ballet master/coach in demand throughout the country. He was a principal dancer and guest artist with Ballet West Arizona, Smuin Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, and San Francisco Opera Ballet. He has danced all the full length ballets, a full Balanchine repertory, and a vast repertory of contemporary works. Charles received his Masters degree in 21st Century Leadership from St. Mary's College and is Floorbarre certified through the Zena Rommett foundation. He is currently A free-lance guest Dancer, Ballet Master, Coach, Mentor, and is at San Francisco Dance Center (Lines), DSG studios in San Francisco.
Isabelle Sjahsam began her study of the Royal Academy of Dance with Connie Vaughan, and at thirteen, moved to England to continue her training and complete her major examinations in London with Susan Robinson. While in the United Kingdom, she competed in the All England Dance Competition, reaching the Quarter Finals with her ballet solo. She has an International Baccalaureate from the American Community School in Cobham, England, and a BA in Dance and Political Science from Mills College.
Ms. Sjahsam has performed with Bay Area dance companies including SF Renaissance Dancers, Em Space Dance, Jenny McAllister/13th Floor Dance Theater, and Anna Halprin and Dancers. Most notably she spent 10 years with Leyya Tawil's Dance Elixir and was fortunate to tour internationally with the company. She has danced and taught under the direction of Michael Lowe since 2005 with; Moving Arts Dance, Black Diamond Ballet Theatre, Menlowe Ballet and Menlo Park Academy of Dance. Sjahsam's teaching style has been shaped by the late, great Augusta Moore with whom she studied for 15 years.
Sjahsam's choreography has been presented in venues including Counterpulse, Temescal Arts Center, Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival, Cal Arts Electronic Music Festival, and West Wave Dance Festival. From 2005 to 2011 Sjahsam collaborated with actor and director M Trimble to create new works for their dance-theater troupe ArtFace Performance Group. In 2008, she received a new work commission by Middlebury College Dance Company. The work she created there, Standing Mother, premiered in Vermont and was also performed in Tabor, Czech Republic. In recent years she has collaborated with Saint Helena based Ehlers Art Society, and Los Angeles based artists Daniel Leland Crook and Luka Fisher. Her work with Crook and Fisher has been shown at film festivals internationally.
Christopher Lam was born in Brisbane, Australia, where he trained with Betsy Sawyers and Beverly Flanagan before entering the Australian Ballet School. After graduation he danced with The Australian Ballet for six years, before dancing abroad with Le Grand Théâtre de Genève, Gothenburg Ballet, Croatian National Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, he has taught youth and adult classes at ODC, Berkeley Ballet Theater, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Smuin Ballet, Menlowe Ballet, Bay Pointe Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center and Jessica Lang Dance. We are honored to have Christopher Lam teach with MCD this summer!
David Fonnegra was born in Venezuela where he began his ballet studies at Ballet Teresa Carreno. At the age of 14, he became a principal dancer with Ballet Nacionál de Caracas and performed the leads in all the great romantic ballets including Raymonda, George Sans, Swan Lake, Giselle, Romeo & Juliet and Don Quixote. While on tour in 1995, Mr. Fonnegra joined the Miami City Ballet with its legendary founding director, Edward Villella. During his seven years at Miami City Ballet, he danced many principal roles in their Balanchine repertoire in addition to the classics. In 2002, Mr. Fonnegra came to California dancing with State Street Ballet and Channel Island Ballet as a guest artist. In 2004 he joined Diablo Ballet, where he continues to perform and choreograph on the company. As a dancer with Diablo Ballet, Mr. Fonnegra has been featured in The Legend of Taj Mahal, Petrushka, Who Cares?, Stars and Stripes, Once upon a Ballroom, and Jazz Fever to name a few. He continues to be a sought-after guest artist in the United States, Europe, and South America: as a performer, teacher, and choreographer. He has taught extensively in the Bay Area for almost a decade for such organizations as Lines Ballet, Contra Costa Ballet, Benicia Ballet, Ayako Ballet School, Livermore Ballet school, Western Ballet, Diablo Ballet, and Peninsula Ballet Theatre as well as for New World School of the Arts (Miami), Ballet National De Caracas, and Houston Ballet.