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November 10 - Newark, NJ
Wofabe African Dance and Drum Festival
Umoja Dance Company
Company Biographies
Karen Love

Karen Love
Founder/Artistic Director

Born in Montclair, Love earned her MFA from New York University Tisch School of the Arts and her B.F.A. from Montclair State University where she was awarded the 1992 Excellence in Choreography Award and the 1993 Senior Award. She received The New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship Grant in 1995 and the Harkness Choreographers Space Grant at SUNY Purchase in 1993 and 1994. In 1997, Love was invited to The Bates Dance Festival in Maine as an Emerging Choreographer and later returned to teach for the Young Dancers Program. She was selected as a choreographer for the Choreographer/Dancer residency at the Yard on Martha's Vineyard, recognized in Who’s Who Among American Teacher’s 2004 and 2005 and was honored as one of the "50 Women You Should Know in Montclair, NJ".

Presently, Love is the director of the Dance Department at Hillside High School, NJ and the director of the After School Dance Program for Hillside Public Schools District. Love is a certified Pilates Mat Instructor and in April 2007 she received her certification in Yoga and is a registered teacher with Yoga Alliance. Karen is a proud member of Agape Family Worship Center located in Rahway, NJ under the leadership of Pastor Lawrence Powell.

October, 2006 Umoja Dance Company along with Mr. Philip Thomas presented Wofabe! New Jersey’s 1st African dance and drum festival at Newark Arts High School. The two day festival consisted of African dance and drum classes, panel discussions, free children classes, an award reception for Baba Chuck Davis and evening dance concert.

Umoja Dancers: Karen Love, Wilson Mendieta

She has studied West African dance and culture for the past 14 years and has had the opportunity to learn dances from Guinea, the Gambia, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. She traveled to Australia as a representative for the dance department of Montclair State University were she both performed and taught classes in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  She has performed with Urban Bush Women, Gallman's Newark Dance Theatre, and The VonHoward Project She performed in Cole Porter's musical “Jubilee” at Carnegie Hall directed by the late Herbert Ross with choreography by Lynn Taylor-Corbett.

Love was awarded two consecutive Folk Artist Apprenticeships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to study Guinean Dance with Master Teacher M’ Bemba Bangoura. In December, 2006 she attended a three week dance and drum festival in Guinea, West Africa under the direction of M’Bemba Bangoura. In 2001 and 2007 Love traveled to Senegal and the Gambia, West Africa under the direction of Baba Chuck Davis.

Love is a former Visiting Artist in Residence at Kent State University in Ohio. She taught classes in Contemporary Modern, Composition, West African dance, Dance History and served as the advisor for the BFA Senior Projects. Love created a new piece for the faculty concert and set a piece from her performance company Umoja’s repertory on the Kent Dance Ensemble. Her choreography has been commissioned and presented at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, DTW Freshtracks, Aaron Davis Hall, The Yard, Symphony Space, Danspace, Joyce Soho, Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, Bates Dance Festival, Duke University, Northern Illinois University, Bal/Chi Dance Theatre, Montclair State University, NYU, Newark Arts High School, and Kent State University. She has conducted numerous dance residencies and workshops throughout the Metropolitan area.

Rhonda Holland

Rhonda Holland
Assistant Artistic Director

Holland received her B.F.A. in dance education from Temple University and joined Umoja in 1994. She is a former member of the Seventh Principle Performing Company located in South Orange, New Jersey. Holland was the Assistant Artistic Director of the Montclair High School Performing Arts Dance Company for two years. In addition to her administrative and performing roles, Holland free-lances as a studio teacher and choreographer while pursuing her modeling and theatre career in the New York / Philadelphia area. She plans to go back to school to complete her minor in sports medicine. Currently, Ms. Holland is the head coach for the Montclair High School Cheerleading squad.

Amanda K. Ringger
Lighting Designer

Hails from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She recently graduated from New York University Tisch School of the Arts with an MFA in Lighting Design.  She received a graduate assistantship for dance lighting from the Tisch Dance Department where she was allowed, and honored, to work with many up-&-coming choreographers.  Most recently she designed "Down the Rabbit Hole" at Cunningham Studios for The Katie Atkins and Breezy Berryman Dance Theatre Company and "New York On New York" for The Puffin Foundation and Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. Love to friends and family.

Nadia Abji

Originally from Toronto, Canada received her B.F.A in Dance and Broadcast Journalism from NYU-Tisch School of the Arts as a scholarship student.  She has been a fellowship student at Alvin American Dance Center. Ms. Abji has danced with the Lindt Ballet Theater, Toronto Ballet Ensemble and American Youth Ballet. This past summer she had the opportunity to dance with Aretha Franklin. Psalm 149:3 “Praise His Name in Dance”

Zenobia Clark

Received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Drama from Jersey City State College. She has been seen in numerous stage productions as an actress, dancer and model. Her professional dancing/acting career began with Suliman Dance Company, Chuck Davis Dance Company, and Forces of Nature. Credits include; film - Malcolm X; videos - Amber Sunshower and the Fugees; stage - “On Trial”, “Girlfriends” and "For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Was Enuf". Zenobia is currently on tour with Body Language Productions Gospel Hit “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Zenobia gives many thanks to the creator for blessing her with an ounce of talent. To my ancestors, this is for you. Zenobia joined Umoja in 1999.

Sharon Estacio

Sharon Estacio, a native of New York, has performed across the US and internationally since 1999. Her work has been presented by Danspace Project, Dixon Place, dancenOw/nyc (@ Joe's Pub), LaMama and Jacob's Pillow, among others. Estacio has also been commissioned to create new work by Aaron Davis Hall (2001), Mulberry Street Theater with the Jerome Foundation (2004), and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (2006). Currently she works with Clare Byrne (2003-), Will Rawls and Katie Workum, and was a member of the Doug Elkins Dance Company (2000-2003). She has also done various projects with many other talented folks in the downtown scene. Thanks to everyone she has worked with thus far for shaping her artistry; and love to her family.

Kimani Fowlin

Kimani Fowlin received her B.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College where her choreography was chosen to compete in the American College Dance Festival in Columbus, Ohio. She received a grant to teach, choreograph and perform for Dance Viva Dance Company in Lima, Peru where she collaborated with renowned musicians Monogo Mujica and Julio Algendones. Kimani has been a member of Souloworks, Harambee Dance Company and Sewe Dance and Drum Company. She is also former member and assistant director of M'zawa Danz. Kimani teaches dance at Rutgers University, Crunch Fitness and Community Works. Kimani will be entering the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in June for a MFA in Dance.  She joined Umoja in 1996.

Shakura Ismail

A resident of Newark, NJ, received her degree in Music Education from Montclair State University with a concentration in violin. She has worked with Zul Latifa's dance ensemble and the MSU dance troupe. Ismail joined Umoja in 1994.

Sandella Malloy

Sandella Malloy is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer.

Karen Miles

Karen has been a principal dancer with the Maimouna Keita School of African Dance, Message From Our Ancestor and Universal Language for a total of fifteen years. She began dancing 18 years ago with The Suliman Dance Company located in Newark. Miles is the artistic director for the Ebenezer African Dance Ensemble, a children's Dance Ensemble based out of her native Jersey City. Mrs. Miles has performed throughout the United States and has appeared in Njinga, the Queen King and Color Girls. For five years she taught the children's African dance master classes at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for DANCEAFRICA. Her greatest aspirations are to enhance the souls and minds of our children and the community through traditional African dance song, and history. Karen is the Director of Sankofa Dance Company located at African Globe Theatre in Newark, NJ. She joined Umoja in 1998.

Omagbitse Omagbemi

Received her B.F.A. in dance at Montclair State University. She has performed with Mzawa Danz, Sean Curran Company, Ramos Dance, Kevin Wynn Collection and Umoja Dance OCompany. She has performed nationally and internationally. This is her first season with Shapiro and Smith and thank Joanie and Danny for the wonderful opportunity.

Jennifer Uzzi

A NJ native, received her BA in dance and Theatre from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She completed her M.F.A. in Dance at New York University Tisch School of The Arts. While at NYU, Jennifer had the opportunity to work with Tere O’Connor, Sara Hook, Doug Varone and Mark Dendy. Jennifer currently dances with Tap Fusion and Ivy Baldwin Dance. She is proud to be a new member of Umoja.

Imani Jones

Imani Jones-Ratcliffe is a multi-talented entertainer extraordinaire. She is amazing in that she is the true triple-threat. She is a dancer/choreographer, a singer/songwriter and also acts professionally. Throughout her life, she has been a member of various dance companies, bands, and entertainment groups and has also shined in featured roles in independent films. She embraces the many disciplines of entertainment with marked talent in each. For Imani, dance is her first love. She started dance training at age three and has been formally trained in Modern, Jazz, and African dance. She honed her Hip-Hop and House dance skills in the clubs of NYC and Atlanta. Imani also teaches dance and fitness at NYU. In keeping with her entrepreneurial spirit, she has created From I 2 i Entertainment, a company that provides dancers, singers, bands and poets for various corporate, educational and private events around the city as well as a jewelry design company called Aysata Jewelry Design. Imani’s vibrant dance spirit, special skill for penning heartfelt lyrics, melodic voice, and entrepreneurial energy are all evidence that she is a force to be reckoned with. For more info: www.aysata.com and www.myspace.com/imanijonesratcliffe.

Kendra Thomas

Dances out of joy, and is grateful for the opportunity to share that with others. Originally trained in ballet, jazz and modern dance, Kendra began studying various West African dances in 1995. She has been a member of M’Zawa Danz, Harambee Dance Company and Magbana Drum and Dance. She holds a degree in Fine Arts and continues to paint, design and take photographs. She enjoys the buoyancy, grace, power, beauty, freedom and harmony of all movements.

Nikkia Tyrie Neal

Received her BFA in Theatre Arts from Howard University where she worked with choreographers Walter Nicks, Assane Konte, Sherrill Berryman-Johnson, Keith Lee and Ronald K. Brown. Her performance credits include “Inkle and Yarico”(Washington, DC) choreographed by Otis Sallid, Deeply Rooted Productions; “Move”(Chicago, IL) choreographed by Gary Abbott and Kevin Jeff and “Church of Nations”(NYC), “The Making of A Perfect Mate”(NYC) choreographed by Bruce Heath. She has also worked with Passions Dance Project, Keith Anthony Lewis (E-Moves, "America: Zombie Dance) and Umoja Dance Company. She is currently working with the Classical Theatre of Harlem and teaching at Irby's Dance Center; all while serving as full time assistant to the dance department at the Harlem School of the Arts.

Christian von Howard

An international performer, teacher, choreographer and the Artistic Director of the VON HOWARD PROJECT, a contemporary dance company based out New Jersey and New York. In 2006 he received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. Christian’s choreography has been produced in various venues including Trier, Germany, Joyce/SoHo, d.u.m.b.o. arts festival, Dixon Place, DanceNow/NYC Festival and the Spoleto Festival (SC).

Christian joined the dance faculty in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University as their Artist-in-Residence in 2004. He returned to the East Coast from Texas where he was a member of the dance faculty in the Ballet & Modern Dance Department at Texas Christian University. Before heading to Texas in 2003, Christian was on the dance faculty of Columbia College and served as the Associate Artistic Director for the Power Company, South Carolina's leading contemporary dance company. He has also been a member on the faculty at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City since 1998. Christian holds a BFA from Texas Christian University and a MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

Tahitia M. Nesmith

Tahitia M. Nesmith

Tahitia was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she trained and attended many schools and dance programs. Her background includes Modern (Horton and Graham techniques), Ballet, Jazz, African, Hip-hop, Funk, Caribbean, and others. She attended Mark Twain Junior High School for the Gifted and Talented and John Dewey High School as a Dance major. She has trained at many schools, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance, Marie Brooks Caribbean Dance Theater, Brooklyn College Performing Arts, Charles Moore Dance Theater and Broadway Dance Center.

Tahitia received both her Masters of Education (M.Ed) in Counseling Psychology and her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Theater Arts, concentration in Dance, from Howard University. During the Howard dance program, under the direction of Dr. Sherrill Berryman-Johnson, she was able to study and work with master teachers and choreographers such as: Walter Nicks, Assane Konte, Ronald K. Brown, Pat Thomas, Steve Rooks, and Kevin Jeff.

Tahitia has danced in Boot Camp Cliks "Think Back” video, which was featured, on BET. In 2003, she had the opportunity to travel to Ghana, West Africa with the Harambee Dance Company for Pan Fest 2003. She is currently dancing with the Charles Moore Dance Theater (New York), Umoja Dance Company (New Jersey), and OPUS Dance Theater Company (New York) and has worked with Gallman’s Newark Dance Theater Company (New Jersey). Her company, “Passions Dance Project”, has premiered at Dance Space Center’s - Evolving Arts Theater - in April 2003, and at the National Black Theatre of Harlem, New York, NY in June of 2004 as well as other venues. The company will be performing at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater in October 2006.

In addition, Tahitia has worked as a Substance Abuse and Group Counselor with adolescents in different group homes and schools throughout New York City under the ADAPP Agency for 3 years. She is currently on staff at The Alvin Ailey Arts in Education program as a Teaching Artist. Tahitia is also a Licensed Real Estate Agent with Ardor Realty specializing in both sales and rentals. Tahitia thanks God for her many blessings and her family and friends for their unconditional love and their continuous support.

Nzingha Crystal

Nzingha Crystal started dancing at the age of four and has been dancing ever since. Nzingha is experienced in African dance, storytelling, tap, jazz, Orisha dance and hip-hop. She has studied dance from Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Sierra Leone. She has danced with many prestigious dance companies in New York and Ohio. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Schomburg, and the Arrnof Hall. Nzingha has also traveled to Toronto, Canada, Taiwan, Asia, Senegal and Guinea. She appeared in the movie “The Spider Web” which aired on PBS. She teaches African American history, dance, choreographs, constructs costumes and conducts workshops for children in an effort to maintain her passion for African culture and dance. Nzingha is currently a Montessori teacher in Queens, NY.

Shatina (Thomas) Edwards

Born in Queens, New York, Shatina Edwards started dancing at the young age of two years old. Her journey began at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center in Jamaica, Queens, New York where choreographer/dancer Ben Vereen, choreographer/dancer Michael Peters and Baba Chuck Davis of the African American Dance Ensemble and New York based Dance Africa and other greats call HOME. Her dance training at “the Studio” consist of African, ballet, jazz, modern and tap. While fulfilling her dream to become a dancer, she furthered her training by applying and graduating from the High School of the Performing Arts (aka Fame). Straight out of high school she began dancing for Reggae Classic Ini Kamoze and Hip Hop Legends KRS One and LL Cool J. During her thirty-one years of dancing she has been trained by great dancers and choreographers such as Kevin Iega Jeff, Artistic Director of Jubilation Dance Company to Obediah Wright, Artistic Director of Balance Dance Theatre. She owes her West African Dance training and knowledge to Master Drummer and Dancer M’Bemba Bangoura and Master Dancer Youssouf Koumbassa just to name a few. She is a former member and has performed throughout the United States with Tri Shades of Gold Dance Company, Harambee Dance Company and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company including appearances at The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Dance Africa, the United Nations, Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, and The Apollo Theatre as well as at numerous colleges, universities and churches. Currently, Shatina dances for G’Bossikolo Dance and Drum as well as with Kowteff African Dance Company and wishes to complete her endeavors to become a Master Dancer as she travels abroad.

Jakotora Tjoutuku

Jakotora Tjoutuku grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she entered the world of the arts at a young age with training at Philadanco, and Freedom Theatre. In college, Jako was a member of Ernie McClintock's Jazz Actor's Theatre Company which toured the United States performing twice at the National Black Theatre Festival and the National Black Arts Festival. After graduation from Virginia Commonweath University, Jako moved to New York City to pursue acting, but caught the "dancing" bug. She began to study intensively with master teachers Mouminatou Camara, Yousouf Koumbassa, Ronald K. Brown and many others eventually becoming a member of Harambee Dance Company, Umoja Dance Company, and Mouminatou Camara's Seewe African Dance company. Jako has studied dance at the Edna Manley College of the Arts, Jamaica, W.I. dance and drum in Havana, Cuba and Ghanaian Dance in Cape Coast, Ghana. She has performed at Lincoln Center, New York, Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. and at the Panafest in Cape Coast Ghana. Jako gives thanks to God for His gifts he's given and to her family for their lifelong support.

Lisa Morris

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Lisa Morris has been dancing since the age of 12. Her performance experience started with master dancer Mamadou Dahoue. Mamadou Dahoue and the Ancestral Dancers performed locally in NYC. Venues include the Annual International African Street Festival and Good Day New York in July of 2000 as well as the Billy Holiday Theater at Restoration in October 2000. Lisa joined “G’Bossikolo Dance and Drum Collective, founded by M’Bemba Bangoura, in 2004. The company consists of a diverse group of drummers and dancers of African descent as well as African-American descent. This allows each member to bring years of knowledge and experience, which gives the company its own flavor. In addition to dancing, Lisa also acts as the company assistant. In 2003, Lisa joined Harambee Dance Company. Harambee, a family owned dance company, is recognized locally for its innovative fusion of traditional African Dance with the different flavors of African-American dances. As she began her career with Harambee, Lisa was given the opportunity to appear in well known local venues including: Black History Month at Long Island University; the Bronx Zoo summer activities; International African Arts Festival, and the annual Kwanzaa event at the Children’s Aid Society in Harlem. The highlight of Lisa’s Harambee career was the company’s trip to Taiwan in May of 2005. International known Ju Percussion group invited members of the company to join them on a three-city tour. She was one of three dancers selected to go. The two companies performed pieces that highlighted the individual works of each group as well as a creating a collaborative piece joining the talents of Harambee and Ju. For two weeks, Lisa performed at national theatres in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Taichung. Lisa was recently appointed lead dancer for the Harambee Dance Company in the winter of 2005. With regularly scheduled performances and company activities, she looks forward to contributing to the growth and expansion of the company. With over 20 years of dance training, Lisa continues to take dance classes taught by nationally known teachers in the NYC area: M’Bemba Bangoura, Mouminatou Camara, Mamasata Camara, Pat Hall, Youssouf Koumbassa, Sandella Malloy, and many others. Upcoming venues for Lisa include a dance and drum festival in Jamaica in February 2007.

Farai Malianga

Farai Malianga began his career with the Harambee African Dance Troop, under the direction of Leticia Williams. Since then Farai has worked and studied as a musician/dancer with the likes of Yousouf Koumbassa, Ronald K. Brown, Roseangela Silvestre, Chuck Davis, Reginald Yates and amongst others. Farai is happy to have this opportunity to work with the children of Usaama Dance Company.

Ray Phillip

Ray Phillip began studying Guinean, West African drumming in 1992 at Fareta School of Dance and Drum under the tutelage of master drummer, M’bemba Bangoura and dancer Youssouf Koumbassa. Originally from Trinidad, he currently resides in NY. He has performed at various venues such as, York College, NPAC, BAM’s DanceAfrica, Montclair State University, and Brooklyn College with dance companies including UMOJA, USAAMA, On Stage Performing Arts, Bedford Stuyvesant Dance Ensemble, Jamaica Center for the Arts. He is a member of Gbassikola Percussions Unlimited drum and dance which has toured internationally and throughout the US.

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