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 eighteen years ago 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, Ballet, Lyrical/Contemporary, Modern, Performing Groups) Melissa graduated 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 many 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 helps run the Burke Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker, as well as schedules, manages and coordinates the studio's and 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.
Tom Alexander - (Jazz, Tap, Musical Theater, Performing Groups) Tom teaches Jazz, Tap and Lyrical and Judges and Choreographs nationwide for Dance Makers Inc., Southern Association of Dance Masters, Chicago Dance Masters, Jazz On Tap Festival and Jazz On Tap Tour. He began dancing at age 13 with 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 and performed, choreographed and trained dancers for Crystal Cruises where he choreographed a million dollar musical entitled “Standing Room Only.” He has taught for Buffa’s full time since 1996 and gives his students the absolute best by staying current with the ever-changing forms of dance.
Liesl Balatsenko - (Children’s classes, Ballet, Pointe) Liesl is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theater before moving to Orlando, Florida to continue her studies. In 1996, she joined Orlando Ballet, where she performed in numerous ballets. She competed in the Paris International Competition in 2000, coached by Irina Kolpakova, and was awarded a silver score in the Youth American Grand Prix. As a dancer with Ballet Internationale, she toured China, and most recently she was a dancer with Atlantic Southeast Ballet in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nickolai Balatsenko – (Ballet, Pointe) 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.
Linda Boyle - (Ballet, Pointe) Linda has been a part of the 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 for over 18 years. Currently, she is the head coach for the Lake Braddock Varsity Dance Team. Linda is very pleased to be returning to Buffa's to continue passing on her love of the art.
Michelle Chin- (Performing Groups) Michelle has been the head coach of the George Mason University Masonettes since 2000. Under the direction of Michelle this team has gone from a small group of dancers to Nationally ranked as 3rd in the nation for Division 1 college teams in pom. Michelle has worked with many local dance studios and dance teams in the area.
Nikki Gambhir - (Hip Hop, Jazz, Children’s classes, Performing Groups, Boys classes) Nikki co-directs and dances in DCypher Dance, performs with Life Rhythm Move Project, and previously X-Faction Dance Company and Classical Repertory Dance Theatre. She’s performed with Cirque du Soleil, National Dance Day, Culture Shock, A Tribute to Broadway, and was in the Bollywood movie, Ta Ra Rum Pum. She’s choreographed for Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Georgetown University, Oberlin College and America’s D.A.R.E. Dance program. Nikki’s danced at Buffa’s since age three, was in Buffa’s Dance Company and soloist in the BCB's Nutcracker and has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from GMU. She is thrilled to still be a member of the Buffa’s dance family, and hopes that her teaching and performing will touch many lives with the positive influence of dance.
Alison Hall - (Conditioning) Alison graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS and is AFAA, CPR and Spinning Certified. She also holds certifications in personal training, yoga and Pilates. She has been teaching fitness and conditioning classes at Buffa’s Dance Studio for over 8 years.
Nicole Klett – (Performing Groups) Nicole began dancing at the age of 3, choreographed her first solo at 14, and her first group piece at 18. With over a decade of work in choreography, Nicole has performed and put routines on stage at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center, Dance Place, Wolf Trap, Historic Lincoln Theatre, and Jack Guidone Theater, as well as Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. Her choreography ranges in style and size including professional adult dance companies, competition teams, dance programs, Pre-Professional companies, audition soloists, and performance showcases.
Jean Wu Lam – (Conditioning) Jean graduated from Boston University with a BS and received her MS from The University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is AFAA certified in group fitness and ACE certified in Personal Training. She has been teaching fitness and conditioning classes at Buffa’s for over 3 years.
Dawn Majkut – (Ballet, Jazz, Acro, Modern, Performing Groups) Dawn grew up in Morgantown, WV where she danced at a competitive studio. After graduation from high school, Dawn trained at the Canadian Dance Company, Point Park College, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and West Virginia University. She has performed with Alchemy Dance Project, Michael McGowen's Kitchen Sink, the WVU dance team and Orchesis, West Virginia University's African Dance Ensemble, Walt Disney World as a dance cast member, and Azaguno, a touring professional dance group. Dawn moved to Northern Virginia in 2009 after law school and has been teaching contemporary, lyrical, jazz, hip hop, african, and acro in this area. Dawn is very excited to join the Buffa's family.
Lisa Mitchell - (Children’s classes, Ballet, Pointe, Boys classes) 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 8 years.
Kellie Payne – (Ballet, Pointe, Lyrical/Contemporary, Performing Groups) Kellie started her training at a very early age in the disciplines of Ballet (both Vaganova & Cecchetti methods), Pointe, Tap, Jazz, Lyrical, & Modern with her grandmother. This training was supplemented and enhanced by her work at The Duke Ellington School for the Arts and several professional dance companies. She was founding member and ballet mistress of Tony Powell Music & Movement and Adrain Bolton Dance Company. With these very successful dance companies, Kellie graced many area stages including such venues as The Kennedy Center, Dance Place, Publick Playhouse, and New York’s City Center. In addition to being a dancer, Kellie also has over 20 years experience in teaching and choreographing for many studios in the DC, MD, and VA areas. When Kellie is not teaching, she is spending time with her 5 children.
Sonya Pelletier – (Ballet) Sonya Pelletier has been teaching dance to all ages for 20+ years. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a minor in dance education, she went on to teach and develop curricula for children and adults at a variety of studios, preschools, after school programs, fitness centers and more throughout the country. Additionally, Sonya is a certified personal trainer and has taught group fitness for 15 years to both kids and adults. At home, Sonya is a proud military spouse and mother of three wonderful children.
Jenn Pyles – (Ballet, Lyrical/Contemporary, Jazz) Jenn received her dance training in Maryland as a Superstar with Gary Pate and a PM dance company member with Fran Peters. She is a graduate of James Madison University where she was a 4 year member of the nationally ranked Dukettes. She received her degree in business management and minored in dance. Jenn worked for Universal Dance Association for seven years as an instructor, head instructor, Philadelphia parade event staff, and national dance team championship judge. After college Jenn coached two different high school dance teams over seven years. Jenn continues to judge local dance team competitions and is a business teacher in Fairfax County.
Tanya Salewski - (Jazz, Lyrical/Contemporary, Performing Groups) Tanya has danced for 30 years: first performing for her family in her small bedroom turned studio, then as captain of the Robinson high school dance team, and on the George Mason University’s nationally-ranked Masonettes. Tanya loves choreography and was formerly the choreographer for the PVI Catholic high school dance team. She is frequently sought out as a free-lance choreographer by dance teams across the area. Tanya (as Mrs. Salewski) teaches English at Flint Hill School. To her it is still dance: Dance is the poetry of motion just as literature is the choreography of words.
Laura Steen - (Jazz, Lyrical/Contemporary, Hip Hop, Tap, Performing Groups, Jumps Leaps Tricks Turns and Dance Team Technique) Laura grew up in Pittsburgh, PA where she was part of a competitive dance company, and 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 trained at Dance New Amsterdam and Broadway Dance Center, and recently she performed locally with Dancevert. Laura is so inspired by the talented dancers, teachers and choreographers at Buffa's, and is thankful to be a part of such an amazing organization.
Hilary Tone – (Performing Groups) Originally from Los Angeles, Hilary has been dancing for 23 years and teaching for the last seven, from California to Arizona and now DC. She is a product of Retter’s Academy of Dance under the direction of Darryl Retter and Linda Bernabei-Retter, and was a member of the nationally-ranked Rhythm Machine Dance Company for six years, winning titles at such competitions as NYCDA, LADF, West Coast Dance Explosion, Co. Dance, Showstoppers, etc. She has trained with such greats as Brian Friedman, Laurie Johnson, Gregg Russell, Marla Bingham, Suzy Miller and Andy Blankenbuehler. She has been an assistant at Tremaine Dance Convention, NYCDA and DanceMakers Inc., and was Captain of the Santa Clara University Dance Team for two years. Hilary’s students have gone on to perform in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and won scholarships to dance intensives with NYCDA, ABT, and the San Francisco Ballet, among others. Her choreography has been awarded gold, high-hold, platinum and overall awards. Hilary 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.
Katie Weimer - (Jumps Leaps Tricks Turns and Dance Team Training, Performing Groups) Katie has danced for over 20 years. She was a member of the Paul VI high school dance team. She worked for Universal Dance Association for two years. She has a BA and M.Ed. from The Ohio State University where she was also a member of the Ohio State Dance Team. She is the head coach of Paul VI dance team.
Karlyn Williams - (Hip Hop, Jazz, Lyrical, Children’s classes, Tap) 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.
List of Instructors
Jean Wu Lam