Meet The Instructors
Buffa Hargett – (Owner, Director) Buffa has a dance background that includes ten years in Europe and over thirty years in the U.S. studying with Dothan Civic Ballet, Birmingham Civic Ballet and Ballet Russes in NYC. Influential instructors have included Alexandra Danilova, David Howard and John White. She has a B.S. from the University of Alabama where she was President and soloist with the University Dancers. Advanced teaching work and certifications include in-depth studies, workshops and seminars in the Cecchetti, Royal Academy of Dance and Vaganova methods of ballet. For over thirty years, she has directed the studio, managing a staff of twenty five dedicated professionals. In addition to teaching, work includes scheduling and coordinating over 125 classes per week and over 1800 students (dance and fitness), and developing and presenting shows throughout the year, especially our year end recitals. She created the Burke Civic Ballet in 1994 with the goal of providing a community-based performing and educational outlet for students and adults. Teaching and sharing the joy of dance is her central goal, and the goal she has set for the studio. Her philosophy is that dance is for everyone; dance builds strong, flexible, disciplined bodies and minds, and enhances the total person — the creative, mental, emotional and social. Through her guidance, everyone at the studio spreads the love of the profession and reflects sincere caring for the students.
Melissa Hargett – (Owner, Director) Melissa graduated with honors from William & Mary with a BBA in Operations and Information Technology, a Minor in Dance and was President of Orchesis, the College Modern Dance Company. She choreographed for University productions and studied Modern, Ballet, Dance Composition and Dance History. After graduating, Melissa was an Information Technology Specialist with IBM. Dancing at Buffa’s since the age of three, she has been an assistant teacher, teacher and runs the Burke Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker, as well as schedules and coordinates the studio’s Ensemble, Dance Company, Diamonds, Crystals and Rhinestones year-long activities. Further education includes Vaganova ballet seminars, University of the Arts program in ballet, Dance Teacher Conferences and numerous yearly conventions and Nationals. She was recently awarded “Excellence in Dance Education” by Hollywood Vibe Dance Convention.
Tom Alexander – Tom teaches Jazz, Tap, Musical Theater and Lyrical as well as Judges and Choreographs nationwide for Dance Makers Inc., Southern Association of Dance Masters, Chicago Dance Masters, Jazz On Tap Festival and Jazz On Tap on Tour. He began dancing at age 12 with Master Teacher Ray Hollingsworth and has worked with stars such as Debbie Reynolds, Dolly Parton, Rita Moreno, Marie Osmond, Ella Fitzgerald and Bob Hope. Tom has danced at Carowinds, Busch Gardens and Tokyo Disneyland theme parks. Tom taught in Japan for Shujiku Kageki Dan and Osaka Kageki Dan National Dance Companies and performed, choreographed and trained dancers for Crystal Cruises where he co-choreographed many lavish productions. Tom was commissioned in the summer of 2014 by CNADM for a jazz piece that would open their banquet show honoring legendary Anne Reinking, Dance Studio Life Magazine has featured Tom in May/June and September/October 2014 issues in two articles on Judging Dance as well as how dance has changed in the 30 plus years he has been in this business. He has taught for Buffa’s since 1984 and full time since 1996. Tom takes pride in knowing that he is not just teaching dance steps, but giving valuable life lessons to all of his students.
Nickolai Balatsenko – Nickolai was born in the Ukraine and began his study of ballet at the Kiev Academy of Ballet when he was 11 years old. Nickolai’s first professional position was with the National Ballet Usti in the Czech Republic, and then the Donetsk Ballet after touring with the Ballet Classique of Paris. In 1999, he moved to the United States and joined Washington Ballet. He later danced with Ballet Theatre of Maryland and Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis, Indiana. He also toured Seoul, South Korea with Universal Ballet and danced with Atlantic Southeast Ballet in Charleston, SC.
Jennifer Baxter – Jen’s love of dance started at age of three when she was a student at Buffa’s Dance Studio. Her daughter started dancing last year at the age of three and it was such a wonderful moment for Jen to experience and share with her. Buffa’s was such an important part of her growth and development as a young child and teen and she came back as an instructor to share those ideas, inspirations, ideals, discipline and self-awareness with other young dancers. After receiving a Master of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communications from Emerson College, Jen taught at Buffa’s for a year before starting her family. She was a member of the Virginia Tech dance team, The High Techs, and was co-captain her senior year. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Psychology. She was the assistant dance team coach at W.T. Woodson High School – where she was a member of the Precisionettes dance team and cheerleading squad. Jen is a Marketing Manager at AECOM and owns her own BAXMarketing business that provides integrated marketing solutions to individuals and small businesses.
Linda Boyle – Linda has been a part of Buffa’s as a student, assistant instructor and instructor since the studio opened in 1980. In addition, she has worked with the Burke Civic Ballet since its inception. Currently, she is the head coach for the Lake Braddock Varsity Dance Team. Linda is very pleased to be teach at Buffa’s and to continue passing on her love of the art.
Emma Bradley – Emma grew up and trained at Buffa’s Dance Studio where she fell in love with dance and the power that movement has to transform lives – as it has hers, and for which she is truly grateful. Emma apprenticed with Conteur Dance Company in Toronto, Canada under the direction of Eryn Walkman and taught master classes at OIP Dance Center in Toronto. She has had the privilege of teaching and choreographing throughout he United States on faculty with NRGDanceProject and NRGDanceProject Australia and teaches at Australia Dance Fest in Sydney. In 2012, Dance Spirit Magazine named her one of the top 15 competition dancers to watch. She was featured in the NRG/MSA Youtube Project and in 2015 Dance Spirit Magazine’s article “Flying Solo” on her choreography. Her training includes American Ballet Theater, The Kirov Academy of Ballet, Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet 360, BodyTraffic and Sidra Bell Dance New York. Performance experience/work includes Capezio 125th Anniversary Gala at City Center in NYC, Dizzy Feet Foundation Gala at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles; Bright Lights Shining Stars Gala at Skirball Center in NYC, choreographed by Andy Pellick; and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet 360 Installation 2013, directed by Alexandra Damiani.
Virginia Britton – Virginia has lived in many locations nationwide and abroad, studying ballet in most of them. She has studied with the School of the Washington Ballet, the Royal Ballet and was accepted into the Corps de Ballet of the Russian-directed Panama National Ballet. She attended college at the University of the State of New York with a Bachelor of Arts. From there, Ms. Britton danced with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theater, the National Ballet of Canada, the Chicago Ballet and Leap Forward in San Francisco.
Joshua Burnham – Joshua was born in Lake Tahoe, CA and started his ballet training at Santa Cruz Ballet under the direction of Robert Kelly and Diane Cypher. He continued his training in Washington State at Mid Columbia Ballet under Debra Rogo. At age 13, he received full scholarships to San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Houston Ballet. In 2004, he joined San Francisco Ballet where he performed in such ballets as Helgi Tomasson’s Meiston’s Mozart, and Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes and The Four Temperments. In 2006, Mr. Burnham joined Cincinnati Ballet where he danced many lead roles. He has worked with choreographers Jorma Elo, Val Caniparoli, Mark Morris, Trey McIntyre, James Kudelka, and Twyla Tharp. In 2009-2011, he performed with Ballet Theatre of Maryland dancing such roles as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and the Cavalier in The Nutcracker. In May 2012, Mr. Burnham became a principal dancer with Manasass Ballet Theatre.
LeeAnn Bushar – LeeAnn grew up in Lawrenceville, NJ where she danced at a competitive studio for 15 years. She graduated from George Mason University in 2013 with a degree in Tourism and Events Management. While at Mason she was a member of the Masonettes, the George Mason Dance Team, which ranked Top 3 in the nation the three years they competed while she was there. LeeAnn is excited to be able to teach at Buffa’s and to share her love for dance with her students.
McKena Driscoll – Mckena attended Lake Braddock Secondary School and graduated from George Mason University where she was a member of the Masonettes Dance Team and Nat Pack Nationals Dancers. She is currently a 4th grade teacher in FCPS and coaches the Lake Braddock Varsity Dance Team. Mckena is excited to share her love of dance and ballet with her students.
Laura Fong – Laura grew up in Pittsburgh, PA where she was part of a competitive dance company and also trained at Point Park University and Carnegie Performing Arts Center. In 2005, Laura was cast as the lead dancer in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s rendition of A Little Night Music. She received her BFA in Dance from George Mason University in 2008, where she performed in many works including those by modern dance choreographers Paul Taylor, Susan Marshall, Patrick Corbin, and Kate Skarpetowska. After graduating, Laura moved to New York City where she worked and trained at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Dance New Amsterdam and Broadway Dance Center. Since returning to Northern VA, she has performed locally with dance companies such as Dancevert and DancEthos, and has taught at Buffa’s since 2009. Laura is so inspired by the many talented dancers, teachers and choreographers at Buffa’s, and is very thankful to be a part of such an amazing studio.
Nikki Gambhir – Nikki currently dances with Culture Shock DC and Tappenstance, and formerly with Classical Repertory Dance Theatre. She is a former director of Hip Hop company DCypher Dance, and founding director of youth Hip Hop company Urban Impact. Nikki has performed with Cirque du Soleil, with the Broadway cast of Hairspray at the White House, and as a backup dancer for 80’s pop star Tiffany, the Flaming Lips, and Kicking Daisies. She has choreographed and performed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the White House Easter Egg Roll, and National Dance Day with Nigel Lythgoe. Nikki was a guest choreographer at Georgetown University and Oberlin College. Television appearances include BET’s 106 & Park and she was a featured dancer in the Bollywood movie, Ta Ra Rum Pum. Wilson High School’s musical which she choreographed, Hair, won a Cappie award for Best Musical. She was also a teacher at Albert Einstein High School in MD. Nikki is thrilled to teach at Buffa’s where she began dancing at the age of 3 and was later a Dance Company member and soloist with the BCB. She believes that the arts are essential to community and hopes to nurture the artist in everyone.
Sylvern Groomes – Sylvern graduated from Frostburg State University with a B.S in Theatre and received the Academic Excellence Talent in the Arts Scholarship, Leonard & Jane Schwab Theatre and Speech Scholarship and the Thelma Shockley Performing Arts Scholarship. A professional singer and actor in the DC area, he has worked with Pandemonium Theatrical Productions, Virginia Repertory Theatre, Riverside Dinner Theatre, Iron Crow Theatre, Workhouse Arts Center, Adventure Theatre and ArtsCentric.
Alison Hall – Alison graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA and has a MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion. She is AFAA Personal Training and Group Exercise Certified and she also holds certifications in Pilates, indoor cycling, and CPR/AED. She has been teaching fitness and conditioning classes for more than 15 years.
Jamee Lyons – Jamee danced was a long time member of Buffa’s Dance Company throughout high school. She graduated from East Carolina University and was a music teacher in Fairfax County before transitioning to Professional School Counselor in 2005. Jamee’s daughter Charlotte is a second generation Buffa’s Dancer and she is excited to share her love of dance to her students!!
Lisa Mitchell — Lisa’s background includes dance at Buffa’s since she was 3 years old and cheerleading at Robinson High School where she graduated in 1998. She holds a degree from Radford University where she majored in English and minored in dance with a concentration in ballet, jazz and pointe. Further education includes an Elementary Education teaching license from George Mason University in 2002. She has taught for many years in the Prince William County School System as well as with Flint Hill. Lisa underwent an in-depth training program with Buffa and has been teaching classes and working with the Burke Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker for the past 10 years.
Stephanie Patterson — Stephanie graduated from James Madison University in May 2014 with a degree in Media Arts and Design and a minor in Communications. While at JMU, she was co-captain and choreographer of her sorority dance team each year for their Greek Sign performance, winning “Best Dance” with her Great Gatsby lead role and choreography her senior year. Stephanie has enjoyed dancing at Buffa’s ever since her first jazz and tap classes in first grade. She adores the talented staff, beautiful facility and unmatched atmosphere that Buffa’s Dance Studio provides. Stephanie is thrilled to join fellow instructors in sharing their love for dance with younger dancers.
Carmen Perez – Carmen began her training with the Ballet of Santiago, Chile. She continued her studies with Ivan Nagy, Julia Prokofieva, and Alicia Targarona. As a soloist of the Ballet of Santiago, she was awarded the Medal of Outstanding National Talent. Ms. Perez was the Silver Medalist of the Latino-American Ballet Competition and was a Semi-Finalist at the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. She has danced with the Tulsa Ballet Theatre, Dallas Ballet and with Ballet Dallas.
Alli Smith — Alli danced at Buffa’s from the first grade to her senior year in high school. She was on Dance Company and the Lake Braddock Varsity Dance Team. She attended the University of South Carolina and was a member of the Carolina Coquettes dance team. She performed at all the home football games and traveled to various away and bowl games. Additionally, she did choreography for the team that included teaching a number to their 200+ member marching band. Buffa’s has always been a second home to Alli. She learned from amazing teachers and made lifelong friends, and is excited to be teaching at Buffa’s and sharing the same joy and love for dance she learned here.
Katie Storch – Katie graduated from George Mason University in the Spring of 2014 with a degree in Tourism and Events Management and a minor in Psychology. While at Mason she was a member of the Masonettes, the George Mason Dance Team, which ranked Top 3 in the nation all four years that she was with them. She started dancing at Buffa’s when she was 4 years old and has found it hard to leave ever since. She is ecstatic to be able to now teach her own students at the studio she has called home for so many years, and feels honored to be able to spread her love for the arts and dance!
Hilary Tone — Hilary Tone, a California native, is a product of the Rhythm Machine Dance Company and R&B Professional Company at Retter’s Academy of Dance in Los Angeles. She has been teaching and sharing her love of dance since 2005, and has been on the Buffa’s faculty since 2012. She has also been an assistant on Tremaine Dance Convention, New York City Dance Alliance, and DanceMakers Inc., and was the Captain of the Santa Clara University Dance Team for two years. She has been a member of the Capitol Movement Dance Company in Washington, D.C. since 2013, and performs locally at such venues as the Howard Theatre, the Lincoln Theatre, and Walter Reed Hospital. She has also performed overseas for U.S. military in Turkey, Italy, Djibouti, and Bahrain on tour with Armed Forces Entertainment. Hilary specializes in tap, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, and hip-hop, and is a choreographer for Buffa’s Ensemble in addition to being an instructor. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Spanish from Santa Clara University and a Masters of Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California. By day, she is the Director of Communications for DC Public Schools.
Karlyn Williams – Karlyn was a member, choreographer and president of the Mozaic Hip Hop Dance Team at James Madison University performing at various venues in the area. She taught hip hop and jazz for three years in Harrisonburg, VA. She has been an assistant and substitute teacher at Buffa’s Dance Studio for seven years and was also a member of the Dance Company. Karlyn also performed in various roles for the Burke Civic Ballet and was a member and captain of the Lake Braddock Dance Team. Buffa’s has been a second home to Karlyn since the age of three. She is thrilled to have the privilege of teaching at Buffa’s.