Artistic Director Vanessa of Cairo'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. For a full bio of Vanessa, click here.
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.
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 Jawaahir's folkloric style. Aria is a resident performer at the MN Renaissance Festival and dances in two other local troupes.
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.
Laila Sabouni is a Syrian-Chilean dancer who has been involved in the culture and the dancing since she was a child. She started studying Oriental dance, ballet, and jazz in her adolescence in 2000. She has trained with internationally renowned dancers and musicians such as Farida Fahmy, Hossam Ramzy, Serena Ramzy, Amir Thaleb, Suhaila Salimpour, Mario Kirlis, Saida Helou, and Cassandra Shore. These multicultural instructors have given her knowledge of the many styles of Belly Dance. She is also a psychologist who started to integrate this dance as a form of art therapy in her practice with women who suffer from anxiety and depression in South America. As an Instructor, she has training in the psychology of learning, dance therapy, mindfulness, and trauma. Laila is always perfecting herself and defines herself as an eternal student, currently enjoying her new journey as a drum student.
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 Jawaahir Dance Academy.
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.
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.
Meghan Porter has been belly dancing for over a decade and is also a member of Baratok Belly Dance and Black Isles Belly Dance. She is a librarian and is obsessed with animals. She currently lives with a dog, a gecko, four rats, and a husband.
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.
Paula Nixa has been involved in Middle Eastern dance since 2006. She started by taking classes in Rochester with Julianna Rohn. In 2010, she joined the Blue Lotus troupe and started dancing at the Mediterranean Cruise Cafe in Burnsville, MN where she continues to perform regularly. She has enjoyed learning from teachers around the world including Cassandra, Virginia, Mohammed Shahin, Mercedes Nieto and others. Paula serves as an officer on the board of the Guild of Middle Eastern Dance. She is also a Reiki Advanced Practitioner, cybersecurity engineer working for Boston Scientific, wife, and mother of two teenagers. She is excited for this new opportunity to dance with Jawaahir Dance Company!
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.
Tanya Finley began dancing with ballet lessons at the age of 6. She pursued ballet for many years before discovering belly dance, instantly falling in love with the music and movements. She has been fortunate to study with some incredible teachers, including Aisha Azar, Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, and Shahrzad. Tanya recently graduated from Rachel Brice’s 8 Elements program, becoming a certified Datura Style teacher. She enjoys performing around the Twin Cities, and loves to make her own costumes. When not dancing, she can be found traveling the world or spending time with the nearest horse.
Tay Zavala is an accomplished dancer and dedicated instructor based in the Twin Cities Metro. With a rich professional journey spanning over 15 years, Tay has deeply immersed herself in this expressive dance form, mastering its elegance and movements. Her career into the world of dance began in Texas, where she pursued formal dance studies at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). Further honing her skills, Tay also studied at Stephens College and Dance Arts in Missouri, broadening her dance repertoire and pedagogical techniques. Tay's commitment to the art form is not just a personal pursuit but a vibrant contribution to the cultural landscape of the communities she engages with, both as a performer and educator.
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 dance instructors from around the world. She joined Jawaahir in 2004.