Our Teachers

DanceGardenLA is home to some of the top instructors in Middle Eastern and music.  As well as top instructors in Brazillian Samba, Bollywood and more... 



Elegance, grace and beautifully executed Middle Eastern Dance with an old Hollywood flair are the benchmarks of this Los Angeles based dancer. DeVilla’s performances are dynamic, mixing contemporary Raqs Sharqi innovation with classical inspiration.

Devilla is an accomplished dancer in classical Egyptian and folkloric styles of Middle Eastern dance, having studied extensively with world-renowned teachers in the U.S. and Egypt, and performs and teaches in LA and nationally as a soloist and with Sekhmet Dance Company, for whom she functions as Artistic Director. 

An award-winning Dance Artist and Emmy nominated professional Make-Up Artist, DeVilla is equally at home on stage and behind the scenes, as she seamlessly integrates her two full-time careers. She has produced and co-produced many shows in Los Angeles and has most recently performed in the gala shows of AEOMED, Jillina’s BDExperience “The Wizard of Oz”, Fahtiem’s Oasis Dance Magic and Cairo Shimmy Quake--Los Angeles’s biggest Middle Eastern dance event.

For more info go to: www.DeVillaRaks.com



Fahtiem is a multi-award winning choreographer, master instructor and international superstar performer, highly renowned in the world of Middle Eastern Dance for her magical style and elegance. Fahtiem has many publications, TV and video credits. She is the director and choreographer of the award-winning Sultan’s Delites.


She produces and is the director of an annual convention and highly acclaimed stage production, “Oasis Dance Magic.” Fahtiem has produced 5 CDs in which she does the vocals. Fahtiem’s DVD series, “Belly Dance Bootcamp with Fahtiem,” is shaping up the dance world! Listed in International Who’s Who of Professional & Business Women, she is highly recognized in her field. Some of her awards include International Cultural Diploma of Honor; Woman of the Year; The International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance Awards (Dancer of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, nominated Choreographer of the Year, Teacher of the year). Dance Magazine Awards (Teacher of the Year, Dancer of the Year.) American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (New York) award: Hall of Fame - Lifetime Achievement, MECDA Hall of Fame, just to name a few.


Fahtiem is in great demand, traveling extensively worldwide, sharing her vast knowledge and passion for this beautiful art form while maintaining a full teaching schedule in Los Angeles, California, including college-level dance courses. She has been honored to teach and perform globally throughout her career, including Egypt at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival for five years. Fahtiem had the honor of being the choreographer and dancer for a piece at Carnegie Hall in January 2011. Fahtiem, an L.A. legend, most recently has been honored to be part of two documentaries, The Fez Documentary and American Belly Dance Icons, premiering this year 2020.  

For more info go to: www.fahtiem.com 

Heather Aued - DGLA Co-Owner


Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, Heather began dancing and acting at the age of five, studying modern jazz & ballroom, ballet, hip-hop & contemporary.  Heather grew up in the theatre and on sets, due to her mother being an actress and director. This early exposure to the arts helped give her a hands-on education and a keen eye for all aspects of production.


By the age of 13, Heather was already an Award-Winning choreographer & a lead dancer in 3 different dance companies. That same year she performed at the Rose Bowl along with Cirque Du Soleil & Smokey Robinson for over 40,000 people.


Heather graduated from High School at 16 to pursue her career full time. Also, a professional singer, Heather has recorded with Grammy and Oscar-winning songwriters.  At 18 Heather was cast by Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing Choreographer and Michael Jackson’s final tour Director) to dance on the Fox TV show "Grounded for Life" which earned an Emmy nomination for Best Choreography. That same month she was invited to join the International Dance Company, Jillina's Sahlala Dancers.  Having fallen in love with Middle Eastern dance, she put all her focus on learning the art form and quickly became a lead soloist for the Award-Winning Dance Company.


Heather is a founding member of Bellydance Evolution where she was not only a lead dancers, but Associate Artistic Director and contributing choreographer for BDE’s first four productions (Immortal Desires, Dark Side of the Crown, Alice in Wonderland and Fanstam - 1001 Nights).  She has performed with the company throughout the USA, Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.


Now a proud mother of three, Heather is focusing her efforts behind-the-scenes. In addition to owning and directing DanceGardenLA, Heather is Managing Director for Evolution Studios, LA’s premier dance rehearsal and production rental facility located in North Hollywood. 

Heather Shoopman


Heather Shoopman is a dancer with a background in theatre and the healing arts. She began creating choreographies at a very young age. She has studied various dance styles and has been belly dancing since 2000. Shoop’s presence has been strong in the tribal fusion community, gracing spaces all over the world. Her unique background reflects in her strong, zany style both in the classroom and onstage. 


Shoop fell in love with the process and experience of group improvisation in tribal belly dance. She has studied various formats and strives to continue developing a unique fresh language that reflects the background of each dancer present. 


Shoop’s work as a self care specialist and yoga teacher is evident in her classes. In addition to the technical and historical info, you may also learn about muscle groups, chakra, moon or planetary correspondences. Her classes are known to be fun, welcoming and a wildcard musically.

Helena Vlahos


Helena Vlahos is a precise, energetic performer & instructor with a wealth of knowledge to share! She is a legendary belly dancers who is well known for her “Nine Quarter and Dollar Bill Act” of which she is in the Guinness Book of World Records for Unique Abdominal Dexterity. Helena teaches improvisation and choreography, zills, veil, cane, arms, hip articulations, upper body, belly work (with quarter & dollars), and rhythms with zills.


Helena started her dance career in Los Angeles, California in the mid 1960’s. She moved to Texas in 1971, where she performed at various Greek nightclubs. While there, she ran and operated two belly dance schools.

Helena moved back to Los Angeles in 1978 and was invited to perform her unique act on television shows such as “AM Los Angeles”, “That’s Incredible”, “Spectacular World of Guinness Records” and many more.


In 1990 Helena moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she taught classes at numerous colleges, dance studios and resorts. She also found time to perform at the Bacchanal Greek Restaurant.


Currently, she is on the Executive Panel of Judges for Tonya and Atlantis’ Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition every February in Anaheim, California. Helena has mentored dancers who have gone to win titles in competitions including BDUC.


Helena’s finger cymbals can be heard on Damon the Gypsy’s original (1969) and re-mastered (2009) album “Song of a Gypsy” and his new re-mixed album “Gypsy Eyes”. Damon has a new DVD “Dance Little Gypsy” where Helena has a featured part.

Helena moved back to Los Angeles in the fall of 2011, where she teaches and performs when not traveling for master workshops.

Irani DaSilva


Irani DaSilva, a Brazilian native, is a choreographer/performer/instructor.   She is the Director/ Choreographer for the Sambarinas Dance Co. based in LA. She has been featured in various music videos including Shakira's "Waka Waka", Nelly's "Flap Your Wings"; Super Bowl commercial with Terry Crews, T- Mobile with Shakira, Choreographed and danced for Janelle Monae, to name a few.  

 In her classes, Irani teaches technique, musicality, freestyle, and choreography using rhythms from pop samba to the roots of samba de roda.  #sambawithIrani

Kamala Almanzar


Kamala has been called “living legend”, “icon”, & “an inspiration” in the Middle Eastern dance community. Throughout her 40 year career, Kamala has kept up to date with the latest dance trends, while keeping a solid foundation in the classic styles. Kamala is known for her unique choreographies, for coaching competition champions & for her patience, generosity & expertise as a dance educator. She continues her own education by visiting Egypt, & attending & sponsoring workshops with masters from around the world.

In 1977, Kamala left a ballet company to pursue her passion for Middle Eastern dance. She performed in the mega Arabic nightclubs in Hollywood, Mexico, London & places in between. Kamala was John Belezikjian’s featured dancer for many years. Kamala’s 1970s and ‘80s TV & movie film clips have garnered millions of fans over the decades.

Kamala has worked with the tops in the field, including “Arabesque Dance Company”, directed by “Reda Troupe” principal dancer Farida Fahmy, alongside Sahra Saeeda. She was Assistant Artistic Director of “The Flowers of the Desert”, innovators of experimental styles, with a prestigious dance roster. She has performed for dignitaries and celebrities, including the Saudi royal family, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor & Mikhail Baryshnikov.

With a 25-year teaching career, many professional dancers in LA & beyond consider Kamala their “Dance Mama”. Kamala has trained and coached many dancers who have won titles in Belly Dance competitions around the world.

Currently, Kamala’s focus is teaching, choreography for professional dance companies, & producing theater. Kamala’s productions of “Choreographers’ Collective”, “Choreographers’ Eclectic”, “Shaabi Chic” & “Raks Rhapsody”, featured Middle Eastern & Fusion luminaries presenting original group choreographies. Kamala produces, & choreographs for the evening galas at LA’s largest festival - “Cairo ShimmyQuake”, featuring world-class performers.

Kamala is on staff at Dance GardenLA, California’s most prestigious studio, and travels as a workshop teacher. She was the first teacher to be named “Teacher of the Year” in 2017 by BDUC (Bellydancer of the Universe”), and is a master instructor at “Legends of LA Bellydance”.

Laura Leyl


Laura Leyl is an award-winning professional bellydancer based in Los Angeles. She currently holds the title of Ms. Belly Dancer USA 2019.  Laura is a protégé of the legendary American Cabaret belly dancer, Alexandra King. She has continued her studies with Egyptian-style belly dance master instructor, Zahra Zuhair.  Laura recently starred as Glinda in the Los Angeles debut of Jillina's BDEx: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. See Laura perform Saturday nights at Babouch Restaurant in San Pedro. Laura loves to share the joy of belly dance with her students and audience. 


To learn more, visit lauraleylbellydance.com or search for Laura Leyl Bellydance online and on social media.

Lauren Boldt - DGLA Co-Owner


With a lifetime of love and learning in music and dance, Lauren began her bellydance journey in 2001 in her hometown of Dallas, Texas. She studied percussion at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA where she also continued her dance studies with Amar Gamal and Kaeshi Chai of Bellyqueen & The Bellydance Superstars. In Boston, Lauren performed with Karim Nagi’s Turbo Tabla & Bellydance Overdrive. 

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2006, Lauren has immersed herself in the local and international bellydance community. From 2008-2012 she toured with the Bellydance Superstars and has appeared in many of their videos including: “Babelesque: BDSS Live in Tokyo” and “Bombay Bellywood: BDSS live from Los Angeles”. 

In 2012, Lauren Joined the cast of Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution and performed the title role in BDE’s Alice in Wonderland in Los Angeles at the Ford Theatres and on tour across the globe including managing and starring on a 10 week tour of China in 2016. At home in LA, Lauren continued to perform as a soloist and with Jillina’s Sahlala Dancers.

In addition to owning and directing DanceGardenLA, Lauren is the Managing Director for Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Music  from Berklee College of Music and a Masters of Arts in Arts Administration from the University of Kentucky.



Nasila began dancing at the age of five, and honed her stage skills during several years of performance show choir.  She was introduced to Middle Eastern dance in 2002 by Zahra Zuhair, and was instantly smitten. She co-founded the LARaqs website as a resource for Southern California dancers, and has enjoyed countless hours in classes, rehearsals, and performances. Nasila’s choreographies have appeared in local productions, and she's appeared as a soloist before local dignitaries and international dance stars. Nasila has traveled to Egypt and the Near East to gain insights into the culture, and continues to research and expand her experiences in Middle Eastern dance.  

Sabah Saeed

Sabah has decades of experience in classical, modern, and folk styles of dance.  In her teenage and young adult years, Sabah focused on ballet. She has worked with, Chicago’s Festival Ballet, Ballet Chicago, and the Alabama Ballet.  All while she is also doing summer intensives with Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and Pacific Northwest where she received a full scholarship.  She also has explored modern dance with Momenta Dance Company, folk dances of the Middle East with troupe Aman Aman, and solo dancing focusing on Raqs Sharqi.  

She received her degree from Columbia College Chicago majoring in Cultural Studies and minoring in dance with a year abroad at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.  There she joined the Egyptian Folkloric Company and received a contract to dance on the Nile Pharaoh cruise ship allowing her to hand-select the band and troupe of dancers.  

In 2006, she joined the international dance company Bellydance Superstars Directed by Jillina Carlano and began touring the world performing and teaching workshops highlighting her specialty of combining ballet with belly dance while wearing toe shoes.  She moved up in the company from core dancer to principal dancer and became the Artistic Director and chief choreographer in 2010. She is seen on many of the company’s DVDs including her instructional video Advance your Dance with Sabah.  


In 2019, Sabah relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles to become the Artistic Programs Manager for Bellydance Evolution.  She has been a contributing choreographer for Bellydance Evolution since 2012. When BDE was commissioned to produce “Le Voyage de Scheherazade” a multinational, multidisciplinary collaboration between Moroccan, European and American Oriental and ballet dancers with the Orchestra Philharmonique de Maroc, Sabah was the choreographer for all of the ballet routines. 


Sabah has been teaching both local and international dance and fitness classes since 2000, using her world travels and continuous curiosity in all things dance has led her to instruct and produce shows for all levels, ages, and abilities.

Sherri Wheatley


Enamored by the art form ever since she can remember, Sherri has been a student of dance and movement since the age of five with diverse experience ranging from ballet to gymnastics, jazz to modern.  Her passion for Middle Eastern-inspired dance began in 1999 when she began studying with the internationally celebrated Heather Stants, then director of Urban Tribal Dance Company.  Sherri soon became a full member performing with the company regularly at private events and bellydance festivals across the US.

Sherri is distinguishable in her urban-influenced serpentine stylization, an interpretation that stylistically embodies something approaching bellydance contortionism in its muscle control.  She is also an extremely physical dancer and can morph from one extreme physical state to the next in an instant.  One moment, she will be incense smoke, floating effortlessly suspended in the air and then seamlessly transitioning to the floor in an abrupt Turkish drop following a never-ending flurry of spot turns in the next.

In addition to performing as a soloist, Sherri finds creative inspiration in collaboration with other performers and dance companies.  Her dedication, professionalism, and superb artistry has earned her a principal role with previously Los Angeles based Desert Sin, a critically revered experimental bellydance theatre company with a cult following.   She has also had the privilege of performing with other artistically acclaimed internationally performing groups such as Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque, Zen Arts, and The Living Garden as “Slither.”

Having relocated from San Diego to LA in 2005, Sherri continues to study dance in various incarnations and also teaches both local and international classes and workshops.  As an instructor, she is extremely thorough, enthusiastic, and encouraging prioritizing a strong emphasis on conditioning and strength/flexibility training.  Sherri prides herself on creating the kind of dance education experience where students both thoroughly enjoy themselves and learn something substantial.

When not performing or instructing, Sherri can be found escaping to nature, working with TNR-focused kitty rescues, and hanging out with her three fur children Maki, Rio & Chimene (cats consistently teach movement as most cat owners already know). 



Smita has been sharing the art of Bollywood in Los Angeles and abroad for over 10 years, working closely with Yogen Bhagat of Bollywood Step Dance, Hollywoods favorite Bollywood choreographer. Her experience spans across tv/film, commercial and stage. Some of her credits include the Hollywood Bowl, Disney, Dreamworks, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Debbie Allen's the Hot Chocolate nutcracker, and many more. 


Smita has been with the teaching staff of Dance Garden LA for 8 years. She has been enthusiastically teaching various students ranging from youngsters in their 80s to hip shaking 3 year olds, and has a track record for producing competition winning students.


Bring your smiles (and your bindis) and get ready to get your Bollywood hips bumping!



Raised in Kentucky and Southern California, Donavon Lerman was not born into the culture of Arabic percussion, but he has made it his avocation, approaching Arabic percussion with dedication, passion and a mission to spread its power to American audiences. Donavon was introduced to the dumbek by his first teacher, Rico Orel. Donavon continued his studies with Lebanese percussionist Souhail Kaspar and Syrian master, Faisal Zedan. Donavon later formed the ensemble, Youm it Talaata - Arabic for “Tuesday” that regularly performs at parties and festivals.  

In addition to sharing his love of the drum with audiences, Donavon has developed an interest in ethnomusicology, amassing an online archive devoted to contemporary dobbat iqaa - officers of rhythm, the Arabic term for percussionists complete with information, videos and interviews with prominent players in the genre. This burgeoning library can be found at www.iqaat.com

Donavon and Faisal have traveled to Turkey together to research, interview and record drummers. He has also spent time in Egypt and Morocco and hopes to travel throughout the Arab world. Donavon is one of very few Americans in Southern California working in the Arabic style.