Vanessa's Danse Orientale training includes such greats as Mahmoud Reda, Dr. Mo Geddawi, Hassan Afifi, Raqia Hassan, FiFi Abdo, Dina, Lucy, and Aida Nour. She is an international performer, instructor, and award-winning choreographer whose credits include regularly teaching at the Nile Group Festival in Cairo during her 12-year residence in Egypt. She is currently Artistic Director of Jawaahir Dance Company.
Angela Skrade (Angelina) attended her first Middle Eastern dance classes in 2001 through Community Ed. After a year of learning with various local instructors, she moved on to classes with Cassandra, where she continues her studies to this day. Angela performs regularly as a soloist in local restaurants, and teaches through The Cassandra School. She joined Jawaahir in 2011. When Angela is not dancing, you can find her working as the administrative assistant in Jawaahir’s office, or practicing the beautiful art of henna through her business Ancient Traditions Mehndi.
Helen Voelker (Helen) has been a member of Jawaahir since 1990. She has performed with the Nancy Hauser Dance Company and the Continental Dance Theatre. Helen is a medical researcher at the University of Minnesota.
Jessica Paquin (Iscah Paquin) has been studying Middle Eastern dance since 2003, where she was first drawn to the joyous expression of women and camaraderie. In addition to continued study with local and international masters, she studies extensively with the Dervish Society of America to deepen her understanding of dance as meditation and inquiry into embodied spirituality. She is a popular soloist at area restaurants and the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She joined Jawaahir in 2016.
Laura Crocker (Laura) attended her first Middle Eastern dance class with Cassandra while studying linguistics in college. In 2007 Laura joined Jawaahir Dance Company, realizing that the interplay between music and movement was her new favorite language. She enjoys performing as a soloist on the restaurant stage, and has had fun teaching now and then at The Cassandra School.
Lauren Olson Fraga (Lauren) started studying Middle Eastern dance in 2006 at the Cassandra School, and immediately fell in love with the art form. She has studied with a number of different artists, both locally and abroad. She joined Jawaahir in 2010, and in 2012 moved to Brazil and continued her studies of Middle Eastern dance there. She is now back and performing with Jawaahir Dance Company.
Megan Cunningham (Megan) began studying Middle Eastern Dance through the Cassandra School in 2011. In addition to regular classes she attends various dance and music workshops, Oasis Dance Camps, and Cassandra’s Weeklong Dance Intensive. Megan enjoys traveling and learning about music and dance styles of different regions. She joined Jawaahir in 2016.
Miriam Samuels-Schwartz (Miriam) grew up in the Twin Cities performing Israeli folk dance. In 2005 while attending the UW-Madison, she took her first Middle Eastern dance class with Mona N'wal, and fell in love with the form. After returning to the Twin Cities, Miriam continued her studies under Cassandra Shore, and has since performed with multiple local groups. Miriam has also studied Brazilian samba and Javanese court dance.
Paula Miller (Paula) began studying Middle Eastern dance in 2006 at The Cassandra School. She quickly fell in love with the movement and music. This sparked her love for dance and she went on to study lindy hop, charleston, blues dance, and ballroom dance. She moved to Michigan in 2011 where she studied and danced with Unveiled Dance Company. Returning to Minnesota in 2016, she continues to study with Cassandra, joining Jawaahir in 2016.
Renee Szudy (Renee) began studying under Cassandra in 1996 and joined Jawaahir in 2006. She was drawn to Middle Eastern dance after attending the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) where she saw Arabic women perform social dances. She liked how they took their scarves off their heads and wrapped them around their hips in order to accent their movements; she was particularly inspired by their shimmies. Renee has a 12-year background in gymnastics.
Tamara Borchardt (Samira) studied gymnastics as a child and performed regularly in musical theater productions throughout high school. While working as a street character at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in 1993, a friend suggested she take belly dance lessons. She began studying at The Cassandra School soon after that and fell in love with the dance form. The endless complexities of Arabic music fascinate her, and she feels extremely lucky to study with Cassandra Shore. She has attended workshops with Raqia Hassan, Dina, Ansuya, and Lebanese Simon. She enjoys performing folkloric pieces, including the Saidi cane and the Tunisian pot dance (Raks
Al-Juzur). She re-joined Jawaahir in late 2021 after moving back from Colorado, where she studied the ancient art of perfumery for eight years. Photo by Roshan Dahal.
Theresa Kane (Theresa) began studying Middle Eastern dance in 1998 after attending a performance of "Shoma" and being struck by the beauty of the movements. She performs regularly as a soloist, teaches, and continues to study extensively with Cassandra as well as dance instructors from around the world. She joined Jawaahir in 2004.
Heidi Waldron (Zahirah) began dancing with Nadia Sahar in Milwaukee, WI in 1995. Relocating to Minneapolis in 1998, she continued her studies at The Cassandra School and, in 2004, joined Jawaahir. Heidi currently performs at several Twin Cities restaurants and is an active member of the Guild of Oriental Dance. Her performance highlights include Milwaukee’s Symphony Ball and annual Arabian Fest.
Erin Garayt (Aria) fell in love with dance as a young girl and has continued to find it healing. She grew up studying ballet, tap, and jazz and has competed for both dance team and studio. Aria started belly dancing in 2009 when she joined the Julianna and Blue Lotus Belly Dancers. She was inspired by the music, artistic expression, and loved the opportunity to continue dancing with women. She joined Jawaahir in 2019 and is excited to enhance her love for this dance with Cassandra and Jawaahir's folkloric style. Aria is a resident performer at the MN Renaissance Festival and dances in two other local troupes.
Courtney Faragher (Courtney) has been fascinated for decades with the rhythms and melodies of Latin and Middle Eastern music. Her dance studies first began by taking salsa dance lessons at a local social dance studio. She loved how dancing made her feel and how it was a physical expression of the music she had enjoyed listening to for years. She soon decided that since she also loved Middle Eastern music, why not try a belly dance class through the local community education
program. After one year of classes she then continued studying this art form more formally with The Cassandra School. She joined Jawaahir
as an apprentice in 2018.
Louise Indritz (Salome Alexandra) has been a student of Cassandra Shore since January 2000 and is thrilled to be an apprentice with this talented group of dancers. Through her contact with Cassandra she has had the good fortune to
attend workshops in many other Middle Eastern Dance forms; with Dahlena (Raks Sharqi), Tamalyn Dallal (Raks Sharqi), Habiba (Tunisian), Meera (Bollywood), Amel Tafsout (Algerian Rai) and Aishia Ali (Raks Sharqi), Leili TajadodPritschet (Persian), Colette Marie Illarde (Flamenco) plus many talented local dancers.
Olga Sydorenko was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, and was introduced to Middle Eastern dance for the first time in 2007. After moving to the United States, she continued her dance training and attended workshops with local and international guest artists. Olga is also proficient in Latin dancing styles such as salsa and bachata, and she has been exposed to many styles including ballet and ballroom dancing. However, Middle Eastern dance remains her favorite as this art form helps her stay connected and engaged with her most authentic and feminine self.