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The SOUL AERIAL and Performing Arts Faculty

Nia Burks Artistic Director of Soul Aerial and Performing Arts Richmond VA

Nia Burks, Artistic Director

Nia Burks received her BFA in Sculpture and MFA in Photography and Film from Virginia Commonwealth University. She also completed an MA in Digital Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She attended Takt Kunsteprojektraum in Berlin, Germany following her graduate work. Most recently, Nia was Artist in Residence at The Icelandic Association of Visual Arts in Reykjavik, Iceland. She specializes in video and sound production for both multimedia and stage with a conceptual focus in multiples, nuanced overlooked details, New Media Theory, Gender, and Web Art. Nia’s artistic interests have always included body and movement as a core present element. She has spoken at Pole Expo, International Pole Convention, and The Annual Conference on The Advancement of Women at Texas Tech University. She was guest curator at the inaugural Digital Muddy festival at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Nia has been a visiting artist and taught workshops at Southern Illinois University and Siena Heights University. Nia’s curatorial practice ranges from alternative spaces, web installation, and stage, and she is particularly interested in subversive visual techniques as a means to encourage feminist discourse.

Kat Weakley

Kat discovered pole dancing in 2006 and found that it was the one true exercise she could maintain while providing a touch of sparkle. She has mixed the elements of strength, flexibility, and shimmer since the age of 12 as a synchronized swimmer, competing both locally and nationally. Cross training provides an essential foundation for Kat's technique. In 2013, Kat started traveling across the country to train with pole superstars, bringing the tips and tricks she learned along the way back to Richmond, Virginia. She was awarded the bronze medal for the 2014 Atlantic Pole Championships Level 4 Entertainment division and she loves bringing out the inner artiste in every student. Kat is proud to train with the many talented individuals at SOUL AERIAL and Performing Arts Center.

Juli Garrett instructor at Soul Aerial & Performing Arts

Juli Garrett

Juli Garrett has studied all forms of dance for 29 years. At the age of 17 she was selected to travel the United States and Canada with Hoctor's Dance Caravan. While in high school she did several years of student teaching in her hometown studio in Louisa County. Juli has a BFA degree in Dance from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. While in college, she performed with the GMU Dance Company, Captain of the Masonettes, and recently performed in the Alumni Homecoming Dance. She performed on MTV Spring Break in 1996. She received a Presidential Citation from the Governor's School for the Visual and Performing Arts in the summer of 2004. She is the founder and director of her hip-hop company, "FLAVA", which performs around Richmond and has performed as backup dancers for EMBASSY. Juli enjoys coaching and choreographing for the James River High School Dance Team, "RAPID MOTION". She has received numerous Choreography and Overall Awards throughout the years. She had the pleasure of starting her teaching journey with the late Alice Dumville which later transitioned to Jessica Morgan and now the current Marianne Kelley School of Dance for 18 years! As she continues to grow as a teacher, dancer, and mentor she is so excited for the journey that SOUL give her to reach out to those that want to learn or continue their growth in dance. BELIEVE!

Heather Williams instructor at Soul Aerial & Performing Arts

Heather Williams

Heather Williams began her gymnastics career at the age of seven. She placed first in her age division two years in a row at the Virginia State Gymnastics Competition. After her successful career, she went on to coach gymnastics for all age groups and levels for the next five years. Heather’s specialty in flexibility, body awareness, and balance led her to a successful aerial career. She has expertise in pole safety and creative recovery technique. Heather works to create well rounded and transitionally compelling works for stage. Heather is ACE Personal Trainer, CPR and AED certified.

Bitsy Buttons instructor at Soul Aerial and Performing Arts Richmond VA

Bitsy Buttons

Bitsy Buttons has been hoop dancing her way into the hearts and minds of all those who have seen her grace the stage for some time now. She has dedicated countless hours developing her skills with the hula-hoop, not only to dazzle audiences but also to teach newcomers the tricks of the trade. She finds enjoyment by combining her passion of community with the health benefits of an active lifestyle. She has been seen across the State demonstrating these benefits of hoop dance and teaching her skills to all ages in places such as Richmond’s Vegetarian Festival, Benefits for Wayside Center, Outreach programs at the YMCA and other youth directed programs, The Big Brother & Big Sister Duck Race, and her local ‘Music in the Park’ at Forest Hill Park. Bitsy has also made appearances in Richmond’s Christmas Parade, InLight and completed the Walk for Autism with her hoop in hand. She also hand crafts her own hula-hoops to provide at community events as well as for individual sale.

Paul Garbanzo of Soul Aerial and Performing Arts

Paul Garbanzo

Paul "Garbanzo" Hudert grew up in Richmond and juggled up and down the east coast for several years until he went to live in San Francisco in 1999. He quickly joined the juggling scene at Pier 39 and auditioned for an opening with his juggling heroes The Flying Karamazov Brothers. Getting the role as "Misha Karamazov" he toured with them for two years before returning to his own works and collaborations. In 2003 he taught at FLIC, the circus school in Turin, Italy, which started him touring throughout Europe. in 2007 he won the International Jester Competition in Muncaster, England, making him the only American to win, thus being the only American Jester of a European castle. Traveling on the renaissance festival circuit, the European festival circuit, and performing in the cabaret and burlesque world Paul has years of performance experience and showmanship to add to his juggling abilities.

Madame Onça O'Leary belly dance instructor at Soul Aerial and Performing Arts

Madame Onça O'Leary

Lauren ‘Onça’ O’Leary is a career entertainer, event producer, internationally touring performer, and published author and artist with twenty years in the arts business. She has taught and performed in Germany, the UK and Czech Republic, as well as across the US, and in international waters. A veteran Tribal Fusion Bellydance instructor, she was the first in the world to be certified by Carolena Nerriccio in General Skills, and has worked with thousands of students of all ages in competitions, colleges, festivals, and everywhere in between.

Onça has a background in visual, movement and music arts, co-founding and directing the Future of Tradition Center for Folkloric Arts from 1999 to 2006. She stages several festivals and events annually. Produced in Asheville, NC, her award-winning ABSfest: the Americana Burlesque & Sideshow Festival, is now is in its eighth year of bringing together artists from around the world to perform, study and network. The Virginia Burlesque & Sideshow Festival is in its second year bringing the Revival of Vaudeville Arts to Richmond, VA. Bandit Queens Tribal Cafe is her monthly family-friendly bellydance showcase, drawing artists from Florida to NYC to share their skills with audiences in Richmond, VA.

Onça’s North Carolina bellydance festival, TribOriginal: Tribal Dance, Music & Culture Camp ran for seven years, and was nominated for Best Event in the Golden Belly Awards. Her dance company, Baraka Mundi Live Music & Dance Ensemble, was nominated likewise for both Best Kept Secret and Best Dance Company. Madame Onça traveled steadily for five years with the Balkan fusion project the Mezmer Society, and for over ten years with the Accidental Circus, directed by Jester of England’s Muncaster Castle, Paolo Garbanzo. Under her given name, Lauren O’Leary, she also co-authored The World Spirit Tarot, and illustrated it entirely, with 79 original color block-prints. This work was hailed as an instant classic, and has been translated into Spanish. She writes for numerous national bellydance magazines. In 2014, she will release the first two in a series of instructional bellydance DVDs. It is her stalwart belief is that “The greatest expression of Rebellion is Joy.”

Heather Bailey

Heather Bailey is the Artistic Director and the founder of Host of Sparrows Aerial & Circus Arts, the first professional aerial circus in Virginia. Her performance experience began in film and television, and she has twenty two years of experience in acting, production, and casting. She completed her film training at The Actors’ Place in Virginia Beach with Sylvia Harman, then she earned a BFA in Theatre Performance at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her love for progressive and relevant performance art, and her insatiable need to express through movement led her to Circus Arts. Heather studied in a traditional circus mentorship for four years with Robin Berry of Artisan Athletics. Since then, Heather has participated in various national festivals including the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, Colorado and the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, and currently performs, workshops, and teaches throughout Virginia. She has risk management, safety, and rigging training through Simply Circus, and is a professional member of the American Youth Circus Organization, American Circus Educators, and Circus Now. She loves the empowering kinesthetic expressive art of circus, and strives to be inclusive to anyone who wants to run away with her and join the circus!