2017 Mentees

CONRHONDA BAKER, a fundraiser and government affairs specialist, is committed to easing access for youth to participate in performing arts activities. Having grown up in a rural community in northeast Georgia with limited access to the arts, she understands the importance of exposing children to creative outlets at a young age and creating communal spaces for artistic expression. Her passion for arts management is grounded in her own dance background, sparked by taking after-school classes at the county recreational facility.

Conrhonda has completed the Josie A. Bass Career Development Program at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and has gained professional experience through working with South Arts, Dance Alloy, Alabama Dance Council, Vulcan Park and Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, ivivva, and currently, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation. Her philanthropic commitments include serving with the Junior League of Montclair-Newark, where she was recently appointed as Communications Vice President, to provide impactful programs for foster youth.

Conrhonda received her Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University and her Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies with a minor in Dance Education from The University of Georgia. 

TOMMIE-WAHEED EVANS began his formal training with Michelle Blossom at the Dance Connection in Los Angeles California. He continued his studies under the mentorship of Andrea Calomee and Karen McDonald at Hamilton High School before receiving a fellowship at the Ailey School. As a student, Evans performed the work of Matthew Rushing, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Karol Armitage, and Debbie Allen. He was an assistant to current artistic director of Ailey II, Troy Powell. Evans professional appearances include the popular sitcom "The Parkers", the Emmy Awards, HopeBoykinDance, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Lula Washington Dance Theater, the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) and  Complexions Contemporary Ballet. In 2006 he founded his company,Waheed-Works. Evans has set choreography  on The Garden State Dance Festival,  Philadelphia Dance Boom Festival, Grace Dance Theater, Verb Ballet, Eleone Dance Theatre, and Boston Conservatory. Evans is the Artist-in-Residence at Philadanco and is currently on faculty at the University of the Arts. His awards include a Dance/USA Philadelphia Rocky Award, Billy Penn:Who Next Arts, Howard Gillman Foundation Fellowshiip Winner, and a BalletX 2017 Ballet Choreographic Fellowship. Evans recently received his Master of Fine Arts in Choreography from Jacksonville University.

MAURA GARCIA is a dance artist who collaborates within communities to create stories of identity and place. Originally from North Carolina, Maura is an Indigenous woman (non-enrolled Cherokee/Mattamuskeet) who brings her own mixed-blood southern story to all of her work. Concerns about the perpetuation of Cherokee life-ways, the environment and social justice underlie her creations. She uses her art to empower, to form connections, to uplift Indigenous cultural values and to explore the rhythms of the natural world.

Maura's specializes in multi-sensory shows blurring the line between audience and performer.  Her repertoire includes solos, group performances incorporating local dancers from the host community and site-specific work incoporating passersby.  She also engages the community in the creative process via interactive arts projects and experiential workshops. To realize community projects, she has partnered with different organizations including the Ackland Art Museum (NC), Charleston Library Society (SC), Kansas City Indian Center (MO) and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MO).

Dedicated to engaging artists from diverse backgrounds to form collectives, Maura has crafted performances with mixed-media artist Alyssa Hinton (Tuscarora/ Osage), Bharata Natyam dancer Anjali Tata Hudson, Ethiopian singer/activist Chachi Tadese, poet/musician Chico Sierra, soundartist MGL, video artist Robert Parker (Comanche/Kiowa/Athabascan /Tlingit/ Dakota) and multi-media artist Soumitra Dasgupta, among others. She is fascinated by stories that have been hidden and the unexpected connections that arise when they are rediscovered.

Maura has performed throughout North America, notably at: American University (DC), ArtsCenter (NC), Atlas Performing Arts Center (DC), The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts (MN), Dance Place (DC), Embassy of Senegal (DC), Folly Theater (MO), Links Hall (IL), National Building Museum (DC), Talking Stick Festival (BC, Canada), Tampa University (FL), Unedited Series (SC), University of Arizona (AZ), Weesageechak Begins to Dance (ON, Canada) and the Woodland Cultural Centre (ON, Canada).

She has been the recipient of numerous honors:  Charlotte Street Foundation’s Urban Culture Projects Studio Residency Award (MO) in 2009 & 2010, a guest artist studio award from the University of North Carolina’s Department of Dramatic Art (NC) in 2011 & 2012, the Jewish Community Center's Community Arts Fellowship Grant (KS) in 2013, an ArtsKC Inspiration Grant (MO) in 2014 &  2016, a 2015 Rocket Grant Project Award (KS/MO) and was selected to participate in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian 2016 Artist Leadership Program.

Maura is currently an Artist in Residence at the Lawrence Art Center.  She hopes to continue to have opportunities that will allow her to connect and create with others.

MARISA HAMAMOTO is a professional ballroom & salsa dancer, speaker, activist, and Founder & Artistic Director of Infinite Flow, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, CA, and America’s 1st professional wheelchair ballroom dance company.  After 20 years of dancing ballet and contemporary dance in both the US and Japan, Marisa started ballroom dancing while recovering from Spinal Cord Infarction, a severe neurological disease which caused her to become temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.  Today, Marisa is back on her feet dancing professionally, and as a way of giving back her love for dance, founded Infinite Flow in March 2015.  It’s mission to mass market inclusion through dance and innovation.  Since then, she has instructed 200+ wheelchair users, and has brought Infinite Flow’s professional dance troupe members to perform 50+ times. She has been featured on over 60 media placements across TV, press, and digital content, including NBC Today, NowThis, Refinery 29, Good Magazine, and others.  Her videos of Infinite Flow have bee viewed 20 million+ times just on facebook alone. Marisa is 4th generation Japanese American and speaks both English and Japanese Fluently.  She grew up in California, but earned both her BA and MA on merit scholarships from Keio University, the “Harvard” of Japan.  While in college, Marisa linked her dancing with her academic studies, and researched and published papers in the fields of Dance Science and Dance Education and served on leadership for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science for 3 years.  She was named “Newcomer of the Year” at the San Fernando Valley Business Journal Women in Business Awards in 2015, “San Fernando Inspirational Woman of the Year 2017” by the San Fernando Valley United Chambers of Commerce, and her groundbreaking “#InfiniteInclusion Flashmob” video was chosen as Video of the Month by Dance Teacher Magazine. Marisa has volunteered 30+ hours weekly since January 2015 to get Infinite Flow off the ground.  She is a leader and artist on the rise and is committed create extraordinary art while creating massive positive impact in the world.

TINA N. MULLONE began her training in classical ballet technique under the late Fernando Schaffenburg. She continued to study character, jazz and modern dance at Texas Christian University’s Summer Workshops. Before attending the University of Oklahoma, she continued her modern dance studies at the Dallas Black Dance Academy under the direction of Darryl Sneed. There, she furthered her training in Lester Horton, Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham techniques. At the University of Oklahoma, Mullone continued her ballet training, the Graham technique and was introduced to the techniques of Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman as well as jazz. Along with her dance studies, she pursued her love for visual art. Mullone graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from the University of Oklahoma. After graduation, Mullone joined the JAADE Dance Theatre under Jubilee Theatre. She not only performed for the company, but taught dance classes for the studio and their numerous outreach programs. She then became Assistant Artistic Director and choreographed for the dance company and the junior dance company, Focus. She also taught dance and art for the Fort Worth ISD’s Fine Arts Program. In 1998, she became a member of Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth and a teacher for the company as well. The following year, she joined the Nova Dancing Company, now renamed Beckles Dancing Company (Dallas), under the direction of Loris Anthony Beckles. She also taught dance classes for the Texas Ballet Theater School as well as their outreach program in Fort Worth ISD. In 2001-2002, she joined two companies in Philadelphia: Bianca G. Harris and Friends, and Kariamu & Company: Traditions. While in Philadelphia, Mullone taught for Freedom Theater, Max Myers Recreation Center and several classes at Temple University as a graduate assistant. During her professional career, Mullone has attended the summer workshops at Dallas Black Dance Academy, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth, Texas Women’s University with Bebe Miller, Philadanco Dance School, International Association of Blacks in Dance, and Urban Bush Women (Brooklyn, NY). Additionally, she has performed in Texas, Louisiana, New York City, Philadelphia, Mexico and Germany.Adding on to her experiences, Mullone has studied under numerous dance choreographers/educators and completed her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Dance from Texas Christian University. After graduation, she taught at several community colleges in the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area; public schools and private studios. She also taught ballroom dancing, in the Dallas/Fort Worth schools, utilizing the Pierre Dulaine method which was documented in the popular movie, Mad Hot Ballroom.

Today, she is Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Not only does she choreograph on the resident dance company, ULM Dance Repertory Ensemble, but also the spring University musical theatre productions. Mullone continues to work with Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth as Associate Artistic Director, and with Beckles Dancing Company. Recently, she and musician, Mel Mobley established M2 (m squared), a performance art collective. They have premiered their work at the Modern Dance Festival at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Houston Fringe Festival. Besides maintaining her academic and performance careers, Mullone is in her second consecutive term as South Regional Board of the American College Dance Association. She is a certified Pilates mat instructor under Balanced Body University. She is an apprentice-in-training to be a part of the Louisiana+ Fellows program. The organization nurtures creativity through arts integration for grades Pre-K to 12 in the state of Louisiana. As of January 2017, Ms. Mullone is certified at the M'Singha Wuti level for the Umfundalai African Dance technique. She strives to keep the arts alive through collaborations, performing, choreographing and teaching.

VIJAY PALAPARTY received dance education in India and the United States, commencing his study in Kuchipudi with Dr. K. Uma Rama Rao at Lasya Priya (Hyderabad). He also began studying Bharatanatyam with Padma Rajagopal at Nupur Anjali School of Dance (Cleveland). During Vijay’s undergraduate studies, he traveled to India with Colgate University’s (Hamilton, NY) India Study Group, which was led by Professor William Skelton, for a semester. Part of his coursework included studying Bharatanatyam with Professor Sudharani Raghupathy at Shree Bharatalaya (Chennai). He has since been working with her and her senior disciples, Padma Raghavan from Silambam (Chennai) and Nalini Prakash (Washington, DC).

For more than two decades, Vijay performed widely in the United States, India and in Australia. For eight years, he gave performances as a duet with his sister, Rajyalakshmi Palaparty. They frequently performed at universities in the United States, and at national, regional and local cultural and community events. A noteworthy performance took place at the Thyagaraja Festival in Melbourne, Australia. During the India Study Group, Vijay performed at the Mysore Palace during Dassera celebrations, presenting a solo performance for the royal Wodeyar family descendants. Additionally, he worked with Shree Bharatalaya and Colgate University on Silappadikaram: A Tale of Puhar, playing a lead role. The performances played at major venues in Chennai during the dance and music festival season. In Pittsburgh, Vijay worked with Sreyashi Dey and her company, Srishti Dances of India, taking part in many company productions.

In the past few years, Vijay has continued to work under the umbrella of his organization, Spilling Ink (Washington, DC), which he co-leads artistically with Nalini Prakash. Founded in 2007 by Vijay, Spilling Ink presents a diverse range of projects locally, nationally and internationally. Its portfolio includes solo, duet and group projects: Alekhya: Spilling InkSamhita: Conversations in DanceMahashaktiGodavariArdhanareeswaraVishnu Maya: Blue Illusion, and Vishala: Expanse. Collaborations include Samudra: Churning Oceans (with Bharatanatyam and Odissi dance), and Deflect Our Light: Articulate a Dance (with Bharatanatyam and classical Russian ballet dance). For more than a decade, Vijay created and led education and outreach programs through Gateway to the Arts in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, and Class Acts Arts in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Vijay was awarded an artist fellowship from the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities in Washington, DC. He was also recognized through its Young Artist Program. While in Pittsburgh, Vijay received numerous grants, and his projects while student were fully underwritten by his alma matter, Carnegie Mellon University. Vijay received the Elizabeth Jones Award in the Humanities and the Arts, and a Senor Leadership Award for contributing to diversity and performing arts from Carnegie Mellon University.A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing and two master’s degrees—in professional writing and in literary and cultural studies, Vijay is a senior communications specialist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (Washington, DC). He also completed his M.B.A. in 2012 at the University of Maryland (College Park, MD).

HEATHER RIGBY is a Los Angeles native and Managing Director for the Ford Theatres, a historic, 1200-seat outdoor amphitheatre in Hollywood. The Ford Theatres is a Los Angeles County venue and its programming represents the rich diversity and cultural practices of the region. Heather found her path to the arts through the social dance world and is passionate about valuing and integrating authentic community partnerships and direct arts participation into the presenting field. She believes in the arts as a vehicle to experience everyday life, connect to personal and cultural modes of expression and build networks of community. She translates this passion into her work at the Ford where programming is firmly rooted in community; in addition to presenting artists of international and national renown, the Ford partners with local arts organizations and independent producers to present a series of music, dance, and theatre events, and supports their professional development, growth, and visibility. The Ford also produces a series of free events on the Ford stage and in local communities where artists and participants dance, play music, and engage together around a different cultural art form each night.

Heather previously served as the General Manager of Productions to the Los Angeles County Arts Commission where she also managed the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Free Concerts in Public Sites program which supports 80 free music events across Los Angeles County each season, and produced the L.A. County Holiday Celebration, a 3-hour live television event that celebrates the diverse traditions of communities across the region through music and dance performance. Heather has a B.A. in Art History from Harvard University, an M.A. in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University and serves on the boards of WAA and California Presenters. 

VERSHAWN SANDERS-WARD is a movement artivist, Founder and Executive Artistic Director of Red Clay Dance Company based in Chicago, IL. A native of Chicago, Sanders-Ward holds a MFA in Dance from New York University and a BFA in Dance from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been presented at festivals in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Kalamazoo, Toronto, Toubab Dialaw, Senegal,Kampala, Uganda and The Yard at Martha’s Vineyard. She is a 2013 3Arts awardee and recipient of a 2009 Choreography Award from Harlem Stage NYC for the creation of her solo work, “New World Afrikan”, which premiered at the Dance Transmissions Festival in Kampala, Uganda.

Vershawn has served as an adjunct faculty member, facilitated residencies, and received choreographic commissions from City Colleges of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, The University of Chicago, AS220, Knox College, and the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda. Recent commissions include Columbia College Chicago, Knox College, and Northwestern University. In 2015, NewCity Magazine selected Ward as one of the “Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago”.  

Committed to uplifting the work of emerging artists, she also curates La Femme: a bi-annual, four-day festival, presented in the month of March in celebration of Women’s History Month, that brings the work of black/African/African Diaspora female choreographers from around the country to Chicago stages. Ward also directs the company’s annual Dance4Peace|Community Hug Awards Concert, one of the few non-competitive youth dance festivals in the city that also honors one individual from the community that is committed to impacting the lives of youth in Chicago through the arts.

Current touring work includes her riveting solo, “#SayHerName”, an examination of the criminalization of female black activists Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and the connection to the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland. Sanders-Ward is also in process with two new works for her company, “The Art of Resistance” and “Blackbird” which will premiere Spring 2017 at the Logan Center for the Arts.   In Fall 2017, Sanders-Ward and Red Clay Dance will embark on a 2-year culture exchange and creative collaboration entitled the “TransAtlantic Project" with choreographer Jonas Byaruhanga and Keiga Dance Company from Kampala, Uganda. This project is made possible from the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund.