The Mission of World Arts West
The mission of World Arts West is to support local artists sustaining diverse world dance and music traditions by providing needed services and performance opportunities, while deepening the public’s support of and engagement with these inspiring culture bearers.
World Arts West’s vision is to work with artists, organizations, and communities to increase cultural competence and understanding as a foundational base for social justice.
World Arts West supports over 600 Bay Area dance companies that are sustaining and celebrating the world’s cultural legacy. The work of our organization includes producing and presenting the nationally acclaimed San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival each year. The New York Times has called our annual Festival “a glorious achievement…one of the finest of all American dreams: a setting where cultures can celebrate their own traditions while honoring and applauding others.”
After four decades of extensive work with artists throughout the Bay Area’s diverse communities, World Arts West is being increasingly recognized for creating the epicenter for dance from over 100 unique world cultures, resulting in the most vibrant and diverse dance community in the world. Over the years, the Festival performances have featured over 26,000 artists.
Board of Directors
Amanda Almonte • Esha Bandyopadhyay • Stephanie Bousheri, Vice Chair • Sydney Firestone, Treasurer • CK Ladzekpo, Vice Chair •
Eddie Madril • Indra Mungal • Chandre Sarkar-Singhal, Chair • Daniel Sternbergh, Audit Committee Chair • Sarita Venkat
Brenda Berlin • Bernard Boudreaux • Blanche Brown • Julia Cheng • Lanie Denslow • Diane Goldsmith • Dennis Jang • Marc Kasky • David Lei • Esther Li • Lynn Luckow • Fiona Ma, Honorary Member • David Roche
World Arts West Staff
Festival Managing Director
Sonia D. Pina
Senior Production Consultant
Marketing and Communications Director
Festival Season Production Team
Festival Artistic Directors
Latanya d. Tigner
Artistic Directors Emeritus
Scenic Designer / Technical Director
Patty Ann Farrell
Calvin LL Jones
Assistant Stage Manager
Backstage Manager / Production Assistant
Basic 8 Creative
Program Website Writer
Front of House Manager
Patron Services Manager
Michael D. Lee
Donor Service Coordinators
Nearly 70 dance companies and soloists performed at the Palace of Fine Arts in November 2018 before the Festival Artistic Directors, a panel of dance experts, and people like you who cheered them on. The Artistic Directors created the Festival lineup after consulting with these panelists, who are noted for their dance backgrounds, cultural expertise, and reputations in the field.
Blanche Brown formed the dance troupe Group Petit La Croix in 1988 to fully express and visually explain the Haitian culture by combining western choreography and techniques with traditional Haitian dance and drumming. Blanche has since taught ethnic dance in the California University system from UCLA to Hayward, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz. Blanche has also taught classes at Mills College, Santa Clara University, the Modern Dance Center, the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, and at Third Wave Dance House in San Francisco for many years. Blanche has been widely recognized for her contributions to the dance community over the years: in 1977, she was the first dancer to be appointed to the San Francisco Arts Commission; in 2003, she was President of the Board of World Arts West, producers of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival; and in 2008, Blanche received the Festival’s Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Ethnic Dance and Music. Today, Blanche still teaches and challenges people from all walks of life at ODC in San Francisco.
Shambhavi Dandekar is a well-known performer, teacher and choreographer in the field of Indian Classical Kathak dance. She started her training at the age of 4 with her own mother and renowned Guru in India, Pandita Maneesha Sathe. She also received intense training in rhythm from tabla Guru Pandit Suresh Talwalkar. Shambhavi has a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce and two Masters in Dance. She also holds Diplomas in French and Sanskrit languages. She has performed in reputed dance festivals in Japan, China, the Middle East, Canada, Australia, Singapore, India and the US. She is a member of the International Dance Council of UNESCO. Shambhavi has 25 years of teaching experience, and Shambhavi’s International School of Kathak (SISK) is a prominent institute in Pune, India and Sunnyvale, CA. With her unique teaching methods, she guides performers and students all over the world through workshops and master classes.
Malia DeFelice is best known for her knowledge of Middle-Eastern and North African dance, including Raqs Sharqi, regional folkloric styles of Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf, as well as American forms of cabaret, tribal and fusion styles. She has an academic background in cultural anthropology with a focus on dance and ethnomusicology. For decades she has been a dance and musicology researcher, educator and entertainer for ethnically diverse communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her most influential mentors include Jamila Salimpour, Aisha Ali, and Ibrahim Farrah. Malia conducts ongoing classes and continues to entertain regularly at Middle Eastern venues. Additionally, Malia performed as a core dancer with Rosa Montoya’s Bailes Flamencos for over ten years. She also studied and performed Mexican folkloric dance under the directorship of Susan Cashion and Ramon Morones with Los Lupeños de San José
Smita Singh has spent a lifetime immersed in global issues and has experienced a vast range of world dance and music. She was the founding director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Global Development Program, and prior to that, she was a scholar at the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies, researching the comparative political economy of developing countries. She has also worked for the Commission on National and Community Service (now the Corporation for National Service), where she created programs and funding strategies for dispersing grants to community service and service-learning projects at over 200 colleges and universities. She has also worked for ABC News’ “Nightline” and with community-based women’s organizations in India. She is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Oxfam America and sits on the governing boards of several nonprofits, including the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Twaweza, the International Budget Partnership and the Center for Global Development. She is a member of the Aspen Strategy Group and served on President Obama’s Global Development Council.
Dr. Victor Torres
Dr. Victor Torres, Ph.D., is a full Professor in the Department of Chicano and Latin American Studies at California State University, Fresno. He is currently director of Fresno State’s Los Danzantes de Aztlán Mexican dance program, one of the Central Valley’s most established and accomplished programs. Under his direction, the program has earned top awards in Binational (US-Mexico) and national competitions. It has made three recent appearances in the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Dr. Torres is also on the Board of Directors of the Associación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos (ANGF), serving as Vice-President, Director of Cultural and Educational Affairs, and Parliamentarian. He is the founder of the annual Festival de Los Danzantes folklórico conference, and the annual Cal State Folklórico show (which features various California State University groups). Dr. Torres is also a member of the Danzantes del Valle Advisory Committee for Arte Americas–Fresno’s major Latino cultural center.
Ron Wallace’s love and understanding of Scottish dance and music have made him a familiar name on workshop staffs internationally teaching Scottish Country, Highland, Step and Cape Breton Step. Hundreds of invitations over the past 50 years have brought him to Scottish dance centers in Scotland, North America, Asia, Australia, Europe. He has trained teachers across North America. He examines teachers for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Juried Memberships include: Fellow of the United Kingdom Alliance of Professional Teachers of Dance, Member of the Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance, Member of the British Association of Teachers of Dance and Member Adjudicator Scottish Official of Highland Dance. For the past 27 years, Ron has been the artistic director of Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers presenting many Scottish dance forms in festivals in western United States as well as Europe.
Shannon Yip is a retired educational administrator with a strong commitment to student educational development, instilled with cultural experiences. Her strong background and successes in helping learners reach their full potential includes 37 years in the education field, with a focus on English language development, cross-culturalism and bilingual education as a classroom teacher, strategic instructional development as a teachers’ coach, and as an elementary school principal in a multilingual/multicultural school. As a special interest artist, Shannon has spent 32 years as a dance instructor/program director for the Chinese Folk Dance Association of San Francisco, which was established in 1959. She also danced with the company for 20+ years, and participated in the early years of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Presently, Shannon is on the Executive Board of the San Francisco Chinese Culture Center, supporting community activities that reflect the Chinese culture in its traditional and evolving contemporary forms.
Panel Moderator Tyese Wortham serves artists and arts organizations through real estate development, running Keeping Space – Oakland, a technical and financial assistance initiative, as the Director of Community Engagement at the Community Arts Stabilization Trust. Prior to CAST, Tyese honed her social justice lens as a grantmaker in Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission, and as a presenter and producer of culture-specific artists with the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Tyese is currently a leadership fellow with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) and is a practicing dance artist specializing in the folkloric, spiritual, and performative African traditions of Cuba and Peru.
The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival was the first city-sponsored multicultural dance festival in the United States, and over the last 41 years, the Festival has featured more than 600 dance groups, 26,000 local artists, and 100 world cultures. The Festival has grown from performances in local community centers to some of the grandest stages in the Bay Area, as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Started in 1978 by San Francisco’s Hotel Tax Fund, a municipal agency now called Grants for the Arts, the goal was to “preserve the cultural heritage of the city and enhance San Francisco’s reputation as a center for the arts.” The Festival’s founders felt that, rather than giving many ethnic dance groups performing in the city a small grant, it could be more effective if those funds were combined and allocated towards providing the much-needed service of presenting the dancers and musicians on a good stage, hiring the production crew, and doing all of the labor-intensive marketing and front-of-house work.
In the mid-1980’s, amid critical and audience acclaim, the Festival moved from community centers to the Herbst Theater to accommodate its growing audience, then to the Palace of Fine Arts, and its much-needed larger stage. Many of the dance traditions presented in the Festival originate from large community rituals and celebrations, and it is common for these traditions to be performed by large dance groups. The performances at the Palace were routinely sold out, and to meet the growing audience demand, the decision was made to open the Festival Auditions to the general public, creating an entirely new – and popular – multi-day event.
After 27 years at the Palace of Fine Arts, we lost our home venue with the start of Caltrans’ Presidio Parkway reconstruction project in the Marina District. This venue instability from 2011 to 2016 caused years of damaging financial impact to our ability to present the Festival. In 2017, the Festival was given access to the magnificent War Memorial Opera House, which proved to be an excellent fit for both the Festival artists and audiences. In 2019, when changes in San Francisco necessitated the Festival’s move to Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, we were warmly welcomed by Cal Performances and many of our audience members are thrilled to have us back in the East Bay.
The greatest legacy of this work is the impact that the Festival has had on the lives of the participating artists. The Festival has provided unprecedented opportunities for local dancers to be presented in large scale, highly professional settings, supported by a seasoned production and marketing team. By participating in the Festival, the artists have a rare opportunity to create complex, multi-layered, high caliber artistic work that cannot be presented on smaller stages. The Festival also provides opportunities for artists to connect with other artists outside their own cultures, which has led to many innovative collaborations.
The New York Times has called our Festival “a glorious achievement…one of the finest of all American dreams: a setting where cultures can celebrate their own traditions while honoring and applauding others.”
Now in our fifth decade, we are excited about supporting our extraordinary community of artists and culture bearers to honor our collective heritage, forging new artistic territories, and creating a lasting legacy for the future.
In addition to the annual Festival and many events throughout the City (such as the Rotunda Dance Series), we support Festival artists by providing fiscal sponsorship, letters of support, videos and photos for their marketing needs and grant applications, artist referrals, production advice, grant writing workshops, and other forms of capacity building support. We are currently developing our artist capacity building program in order to provide comprehensive tools for our artists to thrive.
Save the Dates
Mix’d Ingrdnts / Photo: RJ Muna