Dance nominees – Orange County Register

The following 88 students have been nominated for the 2023 Artist of the Year in dance from teachers and private instructors at Orange County high schools and arts organizations.

This arts discipline has been divided into four specialties: commercial dance, concert dance, hip-hop and world/cultural dance. Semifinalists in each specialty will be chosen by a panel of dance teachers and announced on April 23 at ocregister.com.

The nominees are listed with an endorsement from their nominating teacher and a link to the student’s work.

COMMERCIAL DANCE

Ryan Adamson

“She is a natural born leader, and takes charge of situations with a sense of kindness and compassion that make the other dancers in the group want to follow her. As a dancer, she is an expert technician and there is not a style/genre that she is not more than capable of handling. But she doesn’t just “handle” her dancing. She owns it. She attacks and devours the movement. She is one of my favorite performers to watch.” — Marie Hoffman, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Aleena Aoun

“Aleena Aoun is a dream come true. She has the heart of a lion and the grace of a gazelle. Aleena grew up dancing in all genres of dance and competing with her studios at very high levels, which led her to our school’s competitive dance team. As I recognized her love for dance, I encouraged her to audition for our school’s musical and since then, Aleena found her passion for performing.” — Jennifer Blomquist, Orange Lutheran High School

Michelle Cheng

“I believe Michelle Cheng is truly a special artist. I have worked with Michelle since she was 5 years old, and have had the joy of watching her become the artist she is today. In all aspects of life, not just dance, she shows dedication, professionalism, caring, and creativity. Dance has been in her life for so long, but her dedication to growth is really what inspires others.” — Aaron Chavarria, Orange County School of the Arts

Mackenzie Couch

“Mackenzie is an incredibly hard worker that is eager for knowledge and exposure to professional and pre-professional dance environments. She has the determination of a dancer that has worked for every moment of her success and continues to remain hungry and open, which has been a true dream to work with as an educator.” — Paige Borowski, private instructor

Jasmine Cruz

“She currently is captain our our team and has led by example, always giving one hundred percent. She choreographs for the team, she is meticulous in her written work, she dances outside of school at a local studio. Jasmine has danced and sung in all of our spring musicals and summer musical program. … In addition to being a great student Jasmine is one of those students that loves to learn and push herself to get better in dance. Whether it is  in jazz, contemporary, ballet or musicals she takes corrections well and know there is always room for growth.” — Cyndi Hermann, Santa Ana High School

Ayanna Dowell

“Ayanna is unique. When I first met her, she was recovering from knee surgery. She persevered when the odds were against her. She trained diligently and wholeheartedly. From the young dancer that I met recovering from such a traumatic event to the young woman I call my assistant choreographer, her growth is unreal. And the sky is the limit for her, truly. I cannot wait for the day she calls me and tells me she has booked her first big job.” — MJ Wolff, South Coast Performing Arts

Faith Dunscombe

“Faith is a great student, teammate, and dancer. One thing that stands out regarding Faith is her encouraging attitude demonstrated during class and rehearsals. She is positive and motivating to all around her. I’ve only known Faith for a short amount of time, however I have been so impressed with her worth ethic. She always gives her full effort with a smile.” — Danielle Darwazeh, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

Laci Ganier

“Laci has been an exemplary student from day one. As a dancer, she is precise, yet fluid. As a choreographer, their work is insightful with a certain edge that cannot quite be explained. As a student of dance, Laci is respectful of both the learning and the creative processes and engages with their teachers, directors and fellow students with openness and positivity.” — Marie Hoffman, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Charlie George

“Charlie George is a very talented young lady. She is a hard worker, always striving to be her best. She is very responsible and dedicated dancer as well. … Her classmates and teammates look to her for direction. She is a strong leader and is vocal in a positive way.” — Danielle Darwazeh, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

Devin Alejandro Glass

“Devin and dance are intertwined and it has helped shape him as a young adult and artist. I have seen a consistent growth in him that is fueled by his work ethic and ability to be fearless when he dances. He gives everything in him when he dances, and it truly is beautiful to see.” — Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Nyah Grande

“Nyah Grande is one of the strongest leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with. She is assertive, outgoing, and can get the job done. I admire her commitment and dedication to our program. She accepts challenges and thrives on learning new skills.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

Chandler Rose Green

“Chandler has a heart of gold. Her love for her art form, and her desire to serve her community through dance is unmatched. Her passion for dance allows her to not only dance at an extremely high level, five hours a day, but she maintains a full academic load of honors classes, and serves students with disabilities through dance.” — Jamie Tanzer, Newport Harbor High School

Kelvin Hernandez

“Kelvin is an exceptional human being who lives through dance. … His artistic vision and creativity are extraordinary and shines bright through his performance and choreography. He can captivate an audience through his choreography development and the passion that shines bright through his performance. Last year he presented a solo for the dance concert and it was breathtaking. His piece was about not letting others hold him back.” — Oscar Gonzalez, Anaheim High School

Selah Love Hernandez

“Selah is a special dancer who although started training in dance at a later age, has a natural ability to catch onto styles and technique that many may struggle with. She dances with such passion that it is evident that she is invested in the movement she is performing. As a choreographer, she creates movement and stories that are driven by real life situations and they have a wonderful way of making the audience feel.” — Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Lexington Hutcherson

“Lexington has legs for days and she knows how to use them. She has been highly trained in many dance styles. One of Lexington’s biggest strengths as a dancer is her adaptability. She is good at everything and can quickly mold herself and her style to whatever is being asked of her. She is able to command the stage and is a very creative and prolific choreographer.” — Teri Ross, La Habra High School

Megumi Kikegawa

“Lyrical is Megumi’s specialty. She moves with and elegance and grace that when I watch her perform there is a sense of calmness and an overwhelming feeling of being ‘at piece.’ Although her focus is lyrical, she performs exquisitely in every genre. She has also found a way to share that passion and voice through her own work. Her pieces dig deep into the dancer’s souls and emotions.” — Sheryl Sloate, Irvine High School

Summer Lyn Lewis

“Summer Lewis is a junior but dances beyond her years. She knows her space well and is an excellent “mover.” She is technically trained and has a strong foundation. She is strong in a variety of genres and can transform herself to fit the style and concept of whatever is put forth in front of her. I love watching her dance contemporary. She moves with her whole heart, body and soul. When she dances, you can feel what she is feeling.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

Celina Li-En Liu

Celina Li-En Liu of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Momentum Dance & Performing Arts Center, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kylie Chevalier)
Celina Li-En Liu of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Momentum Dance & Performing Arts Center, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kylie Chevalier)

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“Celina Liu is a bright light in classes and on stage. Celina has always been a quiet achiever with a heart of pure gold. Her dedication to her dance education and training has allowed her to grow at a tremendous speed. …Celina brings all of this emotion, intelligence and power to the stage. A leader in the studio and someone everyone can count on. Her passion transcends through her work and into the lives of others.” — Amber Case, Momentum Dance & Performing Arts Center

Daniela Luden

“Daniela is an incredibly talented dancer and choreographer.  Her infectious stage presence and effortless transitions make her a crowd favorite on our stage. …Her choreography is always dynamic and well-thought out, and she has a great eye for seeing the bigger picture by focusing on the small details.  Something that sets her apart from other dancers is her artistic vision to spread positivity through dance.” — Taylor Finnerty, Trabuco Hills High School

Ella Mack

“Ella Mack is a caring, passionate, and versatile dancer. She is not only able to learn choreography quickly while adding her own personality to it, but she is also able to create movement that is inspired and appropriate to the level of student she is working with.” — Kirsten Harvey, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School

Victoria Meitch

“Victoria has many layers to her artistry in dance. She is well rounded in different forms of dance and in her choreography. Victoria is creating and developing her voice in movement. She is very motivated and focused for dance to be her profession. She is able to connect with her peers and inspire them to grow and be better. … She is a passionate mover and able to possess many layers in dynamics of rhythms and energy in her choreography. Victoria is great under pressure and is able to hold herself with integrity.” — Andrea Greene, Canyon High School

Makayla Middleton

“Makayla Middleton is very well rounded as a dancer. … She is mature, dedicated, hard working, and very respectful. She is a joy to teach and is a positive light in our program! She always gives it her all.” — Danielle Darwazeh, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

Tara Mohtashami

“Tara Mohtashami is a standout dancer on the Mater Dei High School Song team as a confident performer, a clean technician, and an artistic mover.  Her talent for commercial dance is impressive and when she performs, she brings magic to the floor with her captivating presence.” — Rochelle Mapes, Mater Dei High School

Benny Nottonson

Benny Nottonson of Rossmoor, a senior studying at Los Alamitos High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Nottonson)
Benny Nottonson of Rossmoor, a senior studying at Los Alamitos High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Nottonson)

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“It has been a joy to work with Benny and watch him mature and grow. He has gone from being a strong, technical, studio dancer his freshman year with an impressive arsenal of acro tricks, turns, and jumps who was able to ‘wow’ an audience, to now being a committed and dedicated artist with passion and style who can emote and move an audience. I am so proud of how he has learned to connect to the music and let go emotionally.” — Rikki Jones, Los Alamitos High School

Sophia Olvera

“Sophia is one of those people that does not just sit around and wait for things to happen. She is a go-getter and makes things happen. As a dancer and choreographer, this makes her very valuable. … As a performer, she is an excellent storyteller with the ability to emote on even the largest of stages.” — Teri Ross, La Habra High School

Julianna Ortiz

“Julianna is a very strong and technical dancer taking time to work on and refine the details. She has beautiful extensions, great turns and powerful leaps/jumps. She is and always has been a very hard worker, putting in endless hours at the studio and working at home to continue to build strength especially as she battled through some injuries. Julianna is, by nature, a pretty quiet person, but once she is on stage or in competition, she absolutely comes to life, and you can see that she is in her element whether it is on stage or on the competition floor!” — Lissy Burboa, Rosary Academy

Abby Owen

Abby Owen of Mission Viejo, a senior studying at Capistrano Valley High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Bryn Owen)
Abby Owen of Mission Viejo, a senior studying at Capistrano Valley High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Bryn Owen)

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“Abby’s flexibility as an artist and knowledge of movement and dance allows her to transfer her skills into multiple settings. Her understanding of the activity allowed her to choreograph visual moments for the Capistrano Valley High School Marching Band last fall. It is wonderful to see her using her dance abilities across the program. She is an incredible performer  in the color guard and I appreciate her efforts as a movement instructor and choreographer for the instrumental music students.” — Andreas Waldukat, Capistrano Valley High School

Janine Pham

“Janine is a standout dancer and performer. Whether she is dancing on the stage for a full house or running a routine for the hundredth time, she gives it her all and pushes herself as a dancer. She brings a special performance quality to all her pieces; something that is innate and natural and is not easily taught. Janine’s artistic vision to grasp the bigger picture and perform at her highest capability is part of what makes her such an interesting dancer to watch.” — Taylor Finnerty, Trabuco Hills High School

Ella Pintar

“Ella Pintar is a passionate, and powerfully dynamic dancer. She is not only talented, but also finds humor in dance which makes her quite special. Her technique is strong, complex and she has an aptitude for learning a variety of dance styles including jazz, modern, ballet, contemporary/modern, musical theater, and fusion dance forms. Ella is a hardworking student in dance as well as in her academic pursuits.” — Kirsten Harvey, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School

Brianna Racewicz

“Brianna is such a hard worker and very motivated to progress as a dancer and choreographer. She has a strong voice in choreography. She is motivated to create choreography and in her choreography, she integrates many layers rhythms and dynamics energy to her movements. She is very clear and precise when she teaches and able to push dancers to the next level. Brianna possess leadership skills and very responsible when tasks are given to her.” — Andrea Greene, Canyon High School

Emma Ramos

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“Emma has had a glow about her ever since she stepped foot in her first dance class at 3. …Emma’s back surgery recovery did not stop her from growing in her art, she attended several summer ballet intensives including Pacific Northwest Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Her dedication and commitment only grew. Awarded numerous ‘Best Technique’ awards, scholarships and elite dancer opportunities, Emma defied the odds and pushed boundaries. She is a true artist and athlete!” — Amber Case, Momentum Dance & Performing Arts Center

Amanda Ree

“She has a gift in understanding the deeper essence and connecting her movements and pathways. I am always amazed by her capacity to fully engross herself in each and every dance regardless of the genre. Her movement and understanding is flawless. She is constantly challenge herself to find new inspiration, try new movements, and create her own.” — Sheryl Sloate, Irvine High School

Sage Allegra Reeves

“Sage Reeves is an amazing dancer and young lady. She is very well rounded as a dancer and a very intelligent student. … Sage is creative, inspirational, mature, dedicated, hard working, and very respectful. She is a true joy to teach. We are so blessed to have her in our program and at our school.” — Danielle Darwazeh, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

Danica Robertson

“Danica Robertson is one of those rare gems. She is not only a very talented and skilled artist, she is one of the kindest and most positive students I’ve ever met. … As an artist, she is fierce and sharp, soft and flowy, or full of emotion, she can transform into any character and fill any concept. She is captivating to watch and so full of joy. You can feel it in the way she moves.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

Alexandria Rose Schachter

“I can confidently say that Alexandria is a dream dancer and teammate. She has an impeccable work ethic, is extremely dependable, talented, kind and always willing to help her peers. Each year she continues to grow and step up in new ways. She has transformed every year into a consistently better version of herself as an athlete, artist, student and teammate.” — Jamie Tanzer, Newport Harbor High School

Ashley Shanahan

“Ashley is an amazingly talented, focused, and poised young dancer. She is able to perform in a variety of genres including contemporary, jazz, musical theater, ballet, and is open to learning new styles presented to her. Her technique is incredible, including control of movement, flexibility, strength, attack, dynamic range, musicality, and her performance qualities draw the audience into her story. Her choreography is unique because she challenges the expected by utilizing powerful movements and surprising musical intricacies” — Kirsten Harvey, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School

Jonah Smith

“Jonah is truly one of a kind. His artistic vision, personal expression, creative growth and overall talent are a testament to his artistry. … Having been able to observe his journey as an artist, see his growth in personal, as well as artistic expression, has been a bright spot in my teaching career. Even through the pandemic, his work ethic never waivered. He was always in class, was a positive energy, and a joy to be around.” — Aaron Chavarria, Orange County School of the Arts

Daniel Stankovich

“Daniel’s natural talent for emoting onstage is one that performing arts educators come across only a handful of times in their career. He has a magnetic performance energy that makes him entrancing to watch. While he is immensely talented technically, it is impossible to talk about who he is an artist without also addressing his passion. His drive and love for performing drives everything he does both in the studio and out.” — Samantha Gardner, Portola High School

Kaytlin Stinnett

“She has what it takes to be a great dancer. Kaytlin started dancing at the early age of 3 years old, and has been doing it ever since. Kaitlyn’s favorite style is contemporary because she gets to show her artistry through different movements. What inspires Kaytlin is the dancers at her studio that she teaches. Their young passion for dance is what motivates her to keep improving, and to be a good example.” — Mauro Cardoza, Valencia High School

Emma Vasquez

Emma Vasquez of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Rosary Academy, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnes)
Emma Vasquez of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Rosary Academy, is a dance nominee in the specialty of commercial dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnes)

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“Emma has dedicated herself to constant and consistent work to become the best dancer she can be and the best person she can be. She spends her days at school and her evenings either at practice, in the studio or working on technical skills and tricks at home so she can make sure that she is ready for the next day! While Emma’s talent certainly stands out on our team, her grit and ability to overcome any challenge thrown at her is extremely admirable.” — Lissy Burboa, Rosary Academy

Shaelyn Welsh

“Shaelyn has a natural talent for dance and choreography. Her long, sustained extensions, coupled with her flexibility make her a crowd favorite on our stage. The effortless way she translates choreography allows you to feel the intended emotion of the piece and get lost in its message.  She has trained in multiple styles of dance including contemporary, jazz, ballet, and lyrical.” — Taylor Finnerty, Trabuco Hills High School

CONCERT DANCE

Nihar Abhyankar

“He is an artistic choreographer with a strong vision and attention to detail. He has continued to choreograph at every opportunity and he has created his own  unique style, truly growing into his art. In addition, he is a solid performer. Dances from his soul with a strong sense of musicality and technique. He is dynamic and inspirational.” — Judy Scialpi, Northwood High School

Sofia Aniceto

“Sofia Aniceto has been an extremely dedicated, multifaceted performer in our school for the past 3 years. Even before entering our school she had been training hard in her craft and performing in many Orange and Los Angeles County theater and dance troupes. Because of her intense drive and her amazing innate talent, Sofia has risen as one of our top dancers!” — Tim Nelson, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Tatum Bolton

Tatum Bolton of San Clemente, a junior studying at San Juan Hills High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Missy Bolton)
Tatum Bolton of San Clemente, a junior studying at San Juan Hills High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Missy Bolton)

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“Tatum Bolton is a beautiful technically trained dancer. She has trained in ballet most of her life and eventually added contemporary to her repertoire. She is very talented and humble. She is kind, adaptable and works well with others. I’ve noticed her growth within my program both in style and maturity. She’s embodied all the various styles differed from her daily training, such as jazz, to musical theater, to hip hop.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

Courtney Chiu

“She is a fearless dancer who takes risks in her daily practice on a consistent basis. There is a power behind her dancing as well, that adds to the dynamics of her techniques. She has a charismatic presence and allure, complimenting her poise and confidence.” — Steven B Hyde, Orange County School of the Arts

Aimee Cho

Aimee Cho of Irvine, a junior studying at Crean Lutheran High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Eva Nys)
Aimee Cho of Irvine, a junior studying at Crean Lutheran High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Eva Nys)

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“Aimee is a true artist! Not only does she have beautiful technique and grace when she performs on stage, but she is genuinely a beautiful human being. As a dancer and performer, she has exquisite technique and shares her love of dance with others.” — Megan Morphis, Crean Lutheran High School

Audrey Choi

“WOW!  That’s what word comes to mind when I think about Audrey! She is one talented and hardworking young lady! She has been in studio dance since she was little and spends many hours a day working on her craft. She is an exceptional student and hard-working performer.” — Janae Morales, John F. Kennedy High School

Elise Conlay

“Her first experience with modern dance was in our level one Modern Technique class and the rest, as they say, is history. In four years with our program, she has developed into one of our most accomplished performers of modern dance and has decided to pursue it post-graduation as a dance major in a program that focuses on the Graham Technique.” — Marie Hoffman, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Madeline Freligh

“She always puts her full heart into everything she does. Whether it be a lyrical dance about something sentimental or a fun upbeat jazz, she stands out on the stage due to the energy and effort she puts into each and every movement. She is a risk taker in class, rehearsal, and on stage. She gives her all without fear and takes direction well.  Her technique  stands out especially leaps and she achieves the illusion of  “floating through the air” in each and every jump.” — Claire Zabaneh, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Taylor Harrison

“Taylor is an incredibly talented dancer and choreographer. The fluidity and effortless movements of her dancing makes you forget that you are watching a high school dancer and makes you feel like you are in the presence of a professional. She has trained in multiple styles of dance including ballet, modern, contemporary, hip hop, and jazz.” — Taylor Finnerty, Trabuco Hills High School

Anabel Irwin

“Annabel’s consistency as a performer in the studio and onstage, and her proficiency in modern and contemporary dance make her a standout among her peers. Annabel has a soft maturity to her performance quality which makes her very adept as a soloist or ensemble performer. … Another admirable quality that makes Annabel particularly special is her humble work ethic. She is a sponge to the teacher or choreographer’s instructions; this humility allows her to implement corrections quickly.” — Marie Hoffman, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Rachel Jaskowiak

“She is resilient in facing challenges that come with the art form which allows her to  grow as a dancer. She is a hard worker and dedicated to excel in many dance styles. She started with ballet and found her personal style to be broader through jazz and hip-hop. She is a natural leader and enjoys working to support her fellow dancers. I can count on her to choreograph pieces, help others with technique and create a culture of creativity for all to thrive.” — Claire Zabaneh, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

Aarilyn Lee

“Movement and creativity swirl around her. In class, she takes everything in. She is 150 percent focused. She applies notes immediately and uses her creativity to innovate and enhance her artistic voice. She is not only a choreographer and extremely technical dancer. She draws, she animates, and she makes her own music.” — Nicole Berger, Orange County School of the Arts

Coco Mangisi

“Coco Mangisi is not just a dancer, she is an artist that depicts dance as way life. Coco has been dancing since she was 3 years old. She loves to express emotion through her dance and loves seeing her hard work pay off through improvement. She also loves the fact that ballet is a beautiful art form as well as hard physical and mental exercise.” — Mauro Cardoza, Valencia High School

Hannah McCabe

“Hannah McCabe is an artist who can have a concept in her mind and then put it out to the world to see. She is a creative choreographer and wonderful artist. She is an excellent leader and can work with various groups of people. She can adapt her work to her dancers and make them look their best. She has great discipline and gets the work done.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

Daniella Morales

Daniella Morales of Downey, a junior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Sanchez)
Daniella Morales of Downey, a junior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Sanchez)

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“Daniella is one of those unassuming dancers when it comes to her talents. She is focused in her daily foundational skill building, but comes to life when it’s time to start expressing her unique style of movement. Her strengths shine in contemporary/modern dance, especially when she is investigating through improvisations.” — Steven B Hyde, Orange County School of the Arts

Alisa Nguyen

“Alisa is a diverse dancer, excelling in both ballet and modern, which inspires her peers to diversify. She possesses leadership qualities that encourages her peers to lead with confidence and authenticity. She feels strongly about bringing dance into the community, as a means of creating a sense of belonging for others. She aspires to create a safe space for people to build community and experience the inner peace dance provides through self-expression.” — Steven B. Hyde, Orange County School of the Arts

Stephanie Soo Yeon Suh

Stephanie Soo Yeon Suh of Irvine, a junior studying at Crean Lutheran High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Yoon Sik Kim)
Stephanie Soo Yeon Suh of Irvine, a junior studying at Crean Lutheran High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Yoon Sik Kim)

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“When Stephanie dances, she draws the audience in with her elegant and graceful movements and lights up the stage every time she performs. Stephanie is a versatile dancer and loves to share her passion for ballet as well as traditional Korean dance. … I love that she has the opportunity to share her culture with our school and that she can grow in her leadership and artistry.” — Megan Morphis, Crean Lutheran High School

Kelly Vargas

Kelly Vargas of Anaheim, a senior studying at Anaheim High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Vargas)
Kelly Vargas of Anaheim, a senior studying at Anaheim High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Vargas)

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“Kelly has grown an exponential amount the last few years. Her willingness to branch out of ballet has benefitted her greatly. She has become a fantastic storyteller and performer in all genres of dance. Kelly is the type of dancer every choreographer would love to have. She is a great versatile artist. Kelly dances, creates, and performs with the utmost passion and respect for dance.” — Oscar Gonzalez, Anaheim High School

Leah von Rotz

Leah von Rotz of Villa Park, a senior studying at Mater Dei High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kristyn Von Rotz)
Leah von Rotz of Villa Park, a senior studying at Mater Dei High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of concert dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kristyn Von Rotz)

“Leah is a classically trained dancer that has attained beautiful lines and technique to show for her years of focused ballet training. I have enjoyed watching Leah grow in the MD Dance Conservatory from a primary ballet focus into a versatile dancer also capable of poetic contemporary movement and entertaining jazz attack. …(She) is a talented dancer, a capable and confident leader, and a mature young adult that doesn’t take anything for granted.” — Rochelle Mapes, Mater Dei High School

Cassandra Walsten

“As an artist, she wants everyone to know that you can do it all and do it well. She is an outstanding performer, choreographer, and teacher. She is a natural leader, currently serving as one of our dance production presidents. She is continually being recognized for her high GPA and academic leadership. Dance has been her passion her whole life and she hopes to continue her dancing into her college years.” — Teri Ross, La Habra High School

Amanda White

“Amanda’s approach to dance, in all styles, is appreciation. She appreciates the technique, the challenging components, that most dancers shy away from, and she embraces them. Her work ethic and quality of work mirror that of a college dance major. She has a quality to her performance that is genuine and raw, and she takes you on an emotional journey.” — Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Alexia Zuniga

“Alexia is one of our best dance technicians, but that is just the base of her talent. Having been trained in classical ballet since she can walk, Alexia’s technique and lines are flawless. She has taken that talent and developed herself into a beautiful performer. She can make even the most difficult of moves look effortless. Alexia has expanded her skills in a variety of dance styles and has become an outstanding choreographer and teacher.” — Teri Ross, La Habra High School

HIP-HOP

Faith Aguilar

Faith Aguilar of Tustin, a senior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Ulrika Molin)
Faith Aguilar of Tustin, a senior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Ulrika Molin)

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“She is the real deal, a truly well-rounded dancer. Her insightful comments and ideas about what the future holds for her generation of dancers and thinkers is inspirational. Because of her impressive determination, effort, and intellectual curiosity, Faith has risen to the top of her class. Faith cares a great deal about other people and is a kind and compassionate person.” — Nicole Berger, Orange County School of the Arts

Edward Chen

“From day one on campus, Eddie wowed everyone with his Hip-Hop abilities. Just blew us all away. But it’s the whole package that makes Eddie stand out. His facial expressions and intense energy while performing. His brilliant and innovative choreography. His supportive and effective teaching techniques.  All of these things make Eddie more than just a dancer. He is a leader, a friend, a mentor to younger students, a philanthropist and one of the most respectful humans I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.” — Charna Lopez, Orange County School of the Arts

Kaysha Douglas

“Kaysha is a natural performer. Her energy is infectious, and her dance dynamics and expression engages each audience she performs for. Movement and choreography come naturally to her, but a challenge she has worked on this year is shaping her choreography and creating lengthier pieces than she has been used to in the past. Kaysha demonstrates a natural sense of leadership in our class, and students look up to her in terms of performance and energetic qualities during rehearsals.” — Maggie Ochoa, Katella High School

Jordan Fares

“Jojo (Jordan) has been an exceptional student since I have known her. Jojo has an incredible way of drawing you to watch her when she dances. It does not matter what style she is performing, she does this in each piece she is in because she’s 100% dialed in to her performance. As a hip-hop dancer, Jojo has an attack that is fierce and full of energy.” — Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Nicolas Garofalo

“Nicky is a fun, outgoing, and energetic student. He lights up any room he is in. Nicky is an incredible performer and truly shines on stage. I have the opportunity to teach him in advanced dance and on our song/dance team. He works very hard and has improved tremendously in the past year that I’ve known him. He brings a positive energy that changes the mood.” — Danielle Darwazeh, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

Joniecia Marie Holifield

“Joniecia is an energetic and dynamic dancer across any style she tries, but she truly shines in Hip-Hop.  She and a friend teamed up to create a ‘special act’ duet for our Fall Dance Festival, and it was easily one of the hits of our performance.  Joniecia has a power and sassy quality to her movement style that enraptures the audience, and her confidence shines through.” — Maggie Ochoa, Katella High School

Kimberly Lau

“She values all genres of dance and knows every genre can help her be her best possible self. As she explored the new genres, she began to find her voice. She has this unique ability to tell a deep story through hip-hop. Her uncanny ability to meld her sharp, aggressive movements with soft and fluid movement to create a story that the audience can connect with. She now connects to every genre thrown at her.” — Sheryl Sloate, Irvine High School

Natalie Monroy Chavez

“Natalie is a one of a kind student who has truly worked each semester to improve and grow. Although Natalie did not have much formal training, she has a natural ability to pick up choreography and a musical ear that allows her to be fully connected to a song. I am continuously impressed by her work ethic and her approach to learning dance.” — Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Hannah Mou

Hannah Mou of Irvine, a senior studying at Portola High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mou)
Hannah Mou of Irvine, a senior studying at Portola High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mou)

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“Hannah is a dynamic and energizing performer who commands the attention of the audience anytime she steps on a stage. Her distinct style and energy as a performer stands out among her peers, and she brings an ease and airy quality to her movement that is rare among hip-hop dancers. As a student and team member, she is equally willing to step up as a leader or contribute to the greater good through group collaboration, and her dedication to her art form remains the driving force for the exceptional work she puts in in the studio.” – Samantha Gardner, Portola High School

Kiona Kim Nguyen

Kiona Kim Nguyen of Westminster, a junior studying at Garden Grove High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kiona Kim Nguyen )
Kiona Kim Nguyen of Westminster, a junior studying at Garden Grove High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kiona Kim Nguyen )

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“Kiona Nguyen is a light in our dance program. Her biggest fault is that she wants to dance too much! Kiona’s charisma makes her a truly unique dancer. She makes the whole class laugh with her funny comments, she is everyone’s biggest cheerleader, and she makes the class feel like family.” — Chrissie Leong, Garden Grove High School

John Riss

“When the Mater Dei Hip-Hop Team performs, guaranteed the audience will notice John Riss, not only as the only male member of team, but because he is a passionate performer with a commanding presence. John was new to dance when he first joined the hip-hop team as a freshman, but quickly developed into a dancer with musicality, rhythm, and athleticism. He brings his all to every performance with an energy that is palpable to everyone around him.” — Rochelle Mapes, Mater Dei High School

Cole Thompson

Cole Thompson of Fullerton, a senior studying at Fullerton Union High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Cole Thompson)
Cole Thompson of Fullerton, a senior studying at Fullerton Union High School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of hip hop for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Cole Thompson)

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“Cole has always been a student who stands out in the crowd, not only because of their stature, but because of the confidence they exude when performing. Cole truly has a special ability to entertain the crowd, provide an energy that is contagious as well as make you want to get up dance with them. I have witnessed Cole really grow as an artist, and take their favorite styles of dance, and make it their own.” –— Andrea Oberlander, Fullerton Union High School

Kaya Tretter

“Kaya is an incredible hip-hop dancer. She is a mature mover and has a way of finding the smallest pockets in the music. She has layers to her movement interpretation. Either smooth or sharp, she can decipher how to capture the music.” — Kristine Calder, San Juan Hills High School

WORLD/CULTURAL DANCE

Saira Galilea Arias

“Saira began dancing as a young girl and immediately fell in love with it, twirling around in the beautiful costumes, and performing for the community. That initial love grew into a passion that has had Saira seriously training for over 10 years in folklorico dance. She now works with children sharing her talent encouraging them to follow their dreams.” — Marlene Peña-Marin, Orange County School of the Arts

Hannah Ayala

“Hannah is a natural leader, and she is currently the co-captain of our 2 most elite competition teams — our Latin and Smooth formation teams. Hannah is the kind of dancer who dances full-out for 2.5 hours everyday in class and then she also comes to every after-school rehearsal that is available that week. This includes many outreach team commitments which perform and teach for charitable organizations in the community. Hannah is very passionate to give back in this way, and she is always motivated to create, perform and compete whenever there is an opportunity.” — Robert Porch, Orange County School of the Arts

Clara Marie Bour

“She has proven to be an incredibly passionate and hard-working student, who is undoubtedly a positive role model for all students she works with.  As a dancer, Clara  has flawless dance technique that is graceful and stunning on stage.  She is a role model to other company members because of her hard working attitude, passionate dancing, and dedication to the team.” — Kelly Hesp, El Modena High School

Jude Caguioa Camaya

Jude Caguioa Camaya of Orange, a senior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Jada Arenas)
Jude Caguioa Camaya of Orange, a senior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Jada Arenas)

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“Jude is not only an incredible dancer, but he is also a creative, talented and motivated choreographer who has choreographed dance numbers for our showcase — which is usually only done by teachers. Jude is a natural leader, and he is currently the co-captain of our competitive Latin and Smooth teams. …His work ethic and enthusiasm for dance is infectious and when other students see these unique qualities in someone his age, it inspires them to take on these qualities of a much older and more mature practitioner of this art form as well.” — Robert Porch, Orange County School of the Arts

Constantin Chekardzhikov

“Constantin is someone who makes the job of his teachers so much easier and more meaningful, because he is excited to learn, create, and explore with them. Constantin is a kind and giving person to everyone he interacts with, and his classmates and partners trust and rely on him because of his consistently warm spirit. Along with his expertise in International Ballroom and Latin dance, Constantin also has excellent ability and training in the categories of American Smooth and American Rhythm. Having the heart, work ethic, and passion to train in so many different styles of dance is something that will set Constantin apart from many other dancers.” — Robert Porch, Orange County School of the Arts

Ella Jia

Ella Jia of Dana Point, a junior studying at St. Margaret's Episcopal School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Goldberg)
Ella Jia of Dana Point, a junior studying at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Goldberg)

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“Ella Jia is a beautifully poised young dancer, artist, and business woman. She is a versatile dancer, student, and overall human being. Ella has studied many dance forms including Chinese cultural dance, ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, and much more. She is focused and thoughtful in class, and in performance moves with absolute grace, fluidity, and confidence.” – Kirsten Harvey, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School

Chloe Layne

“Chloe is a true student of dance in the purest form. She can adapt her personal style as necessary to fit the tone of a piece with ease and elegance. She is an amazing dancer, student, and overall person. Chloe is an extremely focused dancer and it shows through her ability to multitask as a dancer/choreographer.” — Taylor Finnerty, Trabuco Hills High School

Mia Amaris Lopez

“Mia’s love and passion for her art form, her heritage, and her community radiates in her performances. She has spent most of her lifetime learning to understand the nuances and intricacies of Mexican folk dance while adding her classical ballet and modern training to create a fluid strong dancer. She is driven to bring her best forward, but what strikes me most with Mia is her desire to educate her community.” — Marlene Peña-Marin, Orange County School of the Arts

Raaga Mahesh

“I have seen Raaga develop from an excited kid to being a passionate, disciplined, focused dancer on her way to becoming a good artist. She has all the qualities of due diligence and pursuit. And an innate and inherent talent with a sense of rhythm. She is always excited about challenges and is willing to work hard for it. … Any which way that Raaga decides to pursue this art form, she is sure to excel. Given that she is also talented in Western vocal music and Indian classical vocal, all these art forms have helped her evolve into a unique person.” ¯ Viji Prakash, private instructor

Anika Nandakumar

“Anika’s talents are multi-faceted. Although she is the bass section leader in our top orchestra, she also plays tuba in the marching band, and is heavily involved in Indian Classical Dance away from Beckman High School. Her performances are simply stunningly beautiful — I was so impressed to find out about Anika’s interest and talent!” — Jim Kollias, Beckman High School

Aurelia Philmore

Aurelia Philmore of Irvine, a junior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Joe Nguyen)
Aurelia Philmore of Irvine, a junior studying at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a dance nominee in the specialty of world/cultural dance for Artist of the Year in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Joe Nguyen)

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“Aurelia is an exceptional technical dancer, and she works hard to continue learning and improving every day. She is very creative in the way that she approaches each class to explore ways to get the most from each teacher. Aurelia is someone who works well with everyone in the room, and her supportive nature has a positive and calming effect on everyone she dances with — especially her partners.” – Robert Porch, Orange County School of the Arts

Judith Rojas

“Her insight on analyzing and creating choreography is amazing. Judith has an inquisitive mind and always thinks outside of the box. She oversees all events organization. She is a committed dancer who has blossomed into a wonderful dancer and storyteller. Judith has been a great collaborator with her peers and has lead amazing collaborative choreography groups to tell their story/theme clearly.” — Oscar Gonzalez, Anaheim High School

 

https://www.ocregister.com/2023/03/19/artist-of-the-year-2023-dance-nominees/ Dance nominees – Orange County Register

Caroline Bleakley

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