Dance Faculty

Casandra Hillman, Dance Coordinator (Full Time)


Casandra Hillman is a dance educator, choreographer, collaborator and dance historian. She has been performing, teaching and choreographing in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2003 and in Santa Cruz since 2011.   Casandra holds her MFA in Dance from Mills College and her BFA in Dance from the School of Music and Dance at SFSU and is certified in the Evans Technique. Her understanding of movement and the human body is informed by her study of Ballet, Laban Movement Analysis, Bartineff, Jazz, Hip Hop and Limon, Cunningham and Graham modern dance techniques. She has performed the choreographic works of Molissa Fenley, Kathleen McClintock, Dr. Alberta Rose, Susan Whipp and the late Alicia Pierce. She has also performed in the re-staging of Martha Graham’s Primitive Mysteries and re-staged the choreography of Agnes DeMille’s Carousel. She was an Adjunct Professor of Dance at Cabrillo College in Aptos 2010-2016 and during her time there served the community as a Santa Cruz Arts Council Associate and SPECTRA Artist.  


Alyce Finwall, Instructor:

Alyce teaches in the dance and theater departments at SRJC. She is director and co-owner of Moving Arts Academy of Dance in San Francisco, director of Alyce Finwall Dance Theater, and is an American Ballet Theatre certified teacher. Alyce’s wide ranging dance career began after a brief hiatus from dance to study art (with a focus on painting and printmaking) and communications theory at Hamline University. She has worked with the Minneapolis based avant-garde ballet company, Ballet of the Dolls, where she performed in over 20 original ballets in her seven years with the company and was its first ever guest choreographer. She has also danced for Rincones & Company in Washington, DC, performing at the Kennedy Center and regional theaters while also teaching DC area school children creative movement, and in New York City for independent choreographers as well as producing and dancing in her own work. She has studied with the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden, the Cunningham Dance Company and with many teachers of ballet and contemporary techniques in NYC, Minneapolis, DC and San Francisco. Her choreographic work has been presented around the country and in Europe, and she has taught in many college and pre-professional programs such as the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Radford University, Cedar Crest College and Mills College. She has an MFA in dance from Mills College.

Tanya Tolmasoff-Knippelmeir, Instructor


Tanya Tolmasoff-Knippelmeir has been an instructor at Santa Rosa JC Dance Department since 2015.  Her dance classes have a strong emphasis on artistic collaboration, contemporary ballet & release technique, Modern improvisation, choreography and performance quality. She holds her MA in Arts Administration & Cultural Policy from Goldsmith University London, and a BA in Theatre, Dance, and Costume Design from Cal Poly, SLO.  She is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of UPside Dance Company in California since 2012, bringing innovative dance to unconventional spaces. Tanya Tolmasoff is also the newest dance instructor at ArtQuest at Santa Rosa High School.  Tanya has performed Internationally with Variable Velocity Performance Group (California), Deyo Dances (California and St. Petersburg, Russia), Interweave Dance Theatre (Colorado), AMP: Dance (NYC), RE:DS Dance Company (London, UK), and a Viennese Circus Act.  As a designer she created Theater costumes for off-Broadway productions in NYC and directed a Californian Fashion Company called Melanie Renee Design.  

Lea Poisson, Instructor -


 Lea Poisson earned her MA in Education from Sonoma State, her BA in Dance at CSU Long Beach (2003) and her AA degree in Dance from SRJC.  She has found that her experiences and education were immensely imperative in her development as a performer, choreographer, and teacher.   Lea has always enjoyed the art and joy of performing, the creative process of collaboration with others, the composition experience and results of choreographing. As a performer, she has worked as a Warrior Girl for the NBA's Golden State Warriors and a Gold Rush member for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. Lea has performed with modern dance companies in the North Bay such as De/Em Dance Collective and Expressive Motion. Also, she loves practicing methods of teaching dance that will help dancers to maximize their potential. Lea has not only danced but choreographed, taught, and coached dance locally for years and she loves teaching people of different characteristics and those of diverse abilities.

Carrie Stillman, Instructor-







Carrie Lynn Stillman received her M.A. in dance from CSU, Long Beach (2001) and her B.A. in dance from UC, Santa Barbara (1992), and has been on the dance faculty at SRJC since fall 2000. Carrie has also worked as a certified Pilates instructor since 1995, and owns her pilates-based studio, Mindful Movement, in Santa Rosa. She has choreographed, danced, and co-directed for several local dance companies and studios in a variety of settings throughout Sonoma and Marin counties since 1992 to the present. Carrie is continuously striving to stay open, innovative, and present through movement expression and education, not letting the ego block conscious creativity, with the intention of propelling students into a positive state of being through learning and self discovery.

Nzinga Woods, Instructor -


Nzinga Woods is a dancer, teacher, choreographer, performer, and explorer of movement and embodied knowledge. Nzinga's dance and performance training includes: jazz, modern, Dunham, Afro-Cuban, hip hop, and Afro-Haitian dance, as well as multimedia, theatre and somatic techniques. A native of Sacramento, she has danced with and choreographed for many dance companies and organizations in Northern California. She has traveled around the world from Caribbean, Europe and Asia dancing and also working with school aged youth. Nzinga received her B.A. and M.A. at CSU Sacramento, and completed her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography  at Mills College. She has performed in the works of Ronald K Brown, Sonya Delwaide, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Nicholas Leichter, Brenda Way, Jacinta Vlach, Yvonne Rainer, Linda Goodrich, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Halifu Osumare and Keith Washington. In addition to performance and choreography, Nzinga is also passionate about youth empowerment through the arts and remains an active educator in her community. Nzinga Woods was also named Sonoma County's EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR in 2018.  


Lara Branen-Ahumada, Instructor: 

Lara Branen-Ahumada received her Bachelor's & Master's Degrees in Dance from the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder. She has served on the dance faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College since 1988. At SRJC Lara directed dance productions from 1995 through 2016 (primarily with her friend and colleague Susan Matthies). She also choreographed 18 SRJC musicals including West Side Story, Cabaret, Guys & Dolls, Beauty & the Beast, and Anything Goes. She started her dance studies in ballet at Colorado College in Colorado Springs at the age of 12. She was trained extensively in modern dance while at CU including residencies in Graham, Cunningham and Hawkins techniques. During and after her undergrad dance studies at CU, she trained in jazz with Joe Tremaine in Los Angeles, Ed Mock and Ann Marie Garvin in San Francisco, and lived in NYC for a year to study with her primary mentor, Lynn Simonson. Lara is the Founder and Director of the Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop held annually at CU and Artistic Director of resident dance company Interweave Dance Theatre (IDT). Lara received the "Colorado Living Legends of Dance" award in 2018 for her accomplishments with BJDW & IDT.

Alexandra Cummins, Instructor


Alexandra received her MFA in Performance and Choreography from Mills College as well as a BA in Theater Arts with a concentration in dance from Sonoma State University.  She has trained in various dance techniques including musical theater, jazz, tap, ballroom, rhythm, ballet, and modern.  Alexandra presently teaches at UC Berkeley and the Academy of Art University.  In addition, Alexandra was the resident choreographer/dance instructor for Roustabout Theater in the north bay and served as the dance department head for Frenchwoods Performing Arts in upstate New York.  She has had the pleasure of performing around the Bay Area in works by Merce Cunningham, Sheldon Smith, Sonya Delwaide, Scott Wells, Kristen Daley, Nancy Lyons, and Mark Haim.  She has also been privileged to perform with Barclay Broadway Dance Company in San Francisco, CA.  Alexandra competes in Future Champions and Jack & Jill competitions through Arthur Murray.

Tamara Grose, Instructor-


Born into a family of dance, Tamara began her training under the tutelage of her parents in Charlotte, N.C. Her mother was a ballet instructor of the highest International Cecchetti Instructor status, and Director of Charlotte City Ballet.  Her father was a national ballroom and tap instructor and served as president of D.M.A. and D.E.A. The studio was involved with Hit Productions TV and commercial filming.  Tamara went on to further her dance education earning a B.F.A. from the University of North Carolina School of the Performing Arts, Harkness House on scholarship, Certificate of Accomplishment with High Honors in Cecchetti levels 4-6 at Michigan State University’s Cecchetti Conferences, and other numerous national and international dance institutes.  A few of Tamara’s major influences have been Lar Lubovitch, Finis Jung, Margaret Craske, Melissa Hayden and David Howard. Ms. Grose has extensive teaching experience having taught for, Allegra Kent Ballet School in Scarsdale, N.Y., Brooklyn College Dance Department, Master Classes on U.S.A. tour with The Artist in the Schools Residency Program. Tamara was offered the choice of soloist or Ballet Mistress for N.C.D.T., she chose a professional dance career.

Debbe-Ann Medina, Instructor:

Debbe-Ann Medina has taught at Santa Rosa Junior College since 1980, and retired from her full-time position as the Dance Coordinator/dance instructor upon the conclusion of the Spring 2016 semester. She continues to teach now as an adjunct dance instructor in the KAD department. Over the years, Ms. Medina has taught Jazz, Lyrical, Hip Hop/Funk, Introduction to Movement, Latin Dance, Aerobic Dance, Step Aerobics, Weight Training, Aqua Calisthenics, Body Conditioning and Body Mechanics, along with courses involved with performances and the annual Spring Dance Concert. Debbe-Ann received the honorable State Community College Organization of Physical Educators Dance Educator of the Year award for the 2007-2008 school year. SCOPE presented Ms. Medina with this award based on the demonstrated accomplishments she had achieved in over 27 years of teaching. Debbe-Ann’s educational background began as a student/gymnast at SRJC. Transferring to San Jose State University, she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree and Secondary Teaching Credential in Physical Education. While at SJSU she was a competitive gymnast. Her Master of Arts Degree was received from Sonoma State University in Physical Education (Kinesiology), with special studies in Exercise Physiology. During her studies at SSU, Debbe-Ann served as Assistant Professor in the Physical Education Department while also coaching the gymnastics team. Immediately following her time at SSU, Debbe-Ann was a soloist in the Rec Russel Jazz Dance Company. Shortly after she opened her dance studio, The Dance Place, in Santa Rosa. It was at The Dance Place where dance company, Silverlace, originated and where Debbe-Ann began teaching classes for the Junior College. Debbe-Ann has mentored countless SRJC students, watching their progress evolve from budding novices to confident, accomplished artists. She takes great pride and delight in the success and determination of all her students, regardless of activity and skill level. She is a strong educator with a terrific sense of humor who expects as much from her students in class as she demands of herself.

Dawn Urista, Instructor-







Dawn Urista received her MFA in Dance from the University of Oregon in 2011 and graduated from UC Irvine in 2002 with degrees in both Dance and History. Prior to her MFA studies at the University of Oregon she performed professionally in San Francisco with group A dance and with the Conservatory of Classical Ballet. She has participated in the Royal Danish Ballet’s summer intensive in Copenhagen where her instructors included Thomas Lund, Vivi Findt, Johnny Eliasen, Eva Draw, and Raymond Rodriguez. In collegiate and professional work she has danced for  Alexandrous Ballard, Sue Borgeson, Tamara Grose, Walter Kennedy, Valerie Ifill, Alyssa Lee, Donald McKayle, Ann Fisher-Ratto, Michael Lowe, Sally Streets, Xiao Liu-Moore, Larry Rosenberg, Glenda Carhart, and David Allen; and has acquired a repertory of post-modern dance as well as classical and contemporary ballet. Her MFA research entails a comparison of two versions of Giselle's Mad Scene and a look into the historical and cultural reasons for different characterizations. She also harbors an unholy lifelong love of books, bookmaking, and letterpress design and enjoys incorporating the temporality of dance with the physical imprint of the bound pages.