top of page

Meet The Team


Karah Abiog (Filipino/Afro-Caribbean)
Karah served as an artistic advisor for ZiRu Dance since 2013 and is now the company's Associate Artistic Director, helping to slowly shape the company, repertory and programming.

This is Karah’s 12th year as the LINES Ballet | Training Program Director and is now also the Summer Program Director. She takes pride in creating an environment of discovery, creativity, and transformation for students, educators and guest artists from around the globe. A priority is placed on diversity, versatility, and individuality as both genuine dance artists and human beings.

Karah is originally from Saratoga, California and received her Bachelors Degree in Dance from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. For over twenty years, she enjoyed dancing and touring with various companies including Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and worked with many choreographers ranging from modern pioneer Katherine Dunham to today’s Camille A. Brown. Karah has also taught extensively over the years - youth to professionals. She has been abroad in Canada, China, Spain and mostly in Brazil as a guest teacher, performer and adjudicator at the International Seminar of Brasilia for 15 years and is still bringing Brazilians back to the US to train. She was a full-time visiting professor for the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. For many years, Karah also taught throughout the LINES Ballet Education Programs.

Gretchen Ackerman

Gretchen received her formal training from the Grand Rapids Ballet School and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet training program; she had the opportunity to work with Alonzo King, Patricia Barker, Maurya Kerr, Arturo Fernandez, Shannon Gillen, Giaconda Barbuto, and Gregory Dawson. Upon graduation, she joined Dark Circles under the direction of Joshua Peugh. There, original works were set on her by Peugh, Sidra Bell, Eoghan Dillon, and Mark Caserta. Once in Los Angeles, Gretchen began creating and performing her own works, as well as performing for Rosanna Gamson, Mike Tyus, Alejandro Perez, and Laurie Sefton. She values the disciplining of the self through understanding the body, the mind, and how to use those to communicate ideas piercingly and honestly.

Christian Burns (Born in Denmark)

Christian Burns has been choreographing, teaching and performing in the Bay Area for 21 years. His pursuit for finding meaning and purpose through dance has yielded a dynamic range of interdisciplinary dance works for stage, video and visual art.

In the San Francisco Bay Area his work has been presented by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC Theater, Counter Pulse, The Garage, Headlands Center for the Arts, Z Space Theater, Dancers Group Studio Theater, Shotwell Studio Theater, Howard Street Studio Theater. Beyond, his work has also been presented at The Walker Art Center, Canal Danse in Paris, Taipei Artist Village in Taiwan, Nightingale Theater in Brighton UK, WINLAB Independent Festival in London, Escapade Festival at MovingArtsBase in London, The Dada House in Zurich Switzerland, OT301 in Amsterdam NL, The Southern Theater in MN, as well as performances in numerous independent studio locations in Brussels, Oslo, Copenhagen, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Southern France, New York and Western Massachusetts. His dance-video work has been shown at Pacific Film Archive Berkeley Art Museum, Impakt Festival (NL), Dutch National Television (NL), Moving Pictures Festival for Dance on Film and Video in Canada, Roberta Beck Cinema (NY), Santa Fe Art Institute and Stuttgart FilmWinter Festival in Germany.

His commissions include Hope Mohr Dance, The Cambrians, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, Stanford University, USF, Mt. Holyoke College, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, The Laban Center London, Interlochen Center for the Arts, LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University and LINES Ballet Training Program. He created over 70 dance pieces for the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance during its fourteen year history between 2004-2018.

Philip Garcia  (Filipino American)

Philip is a longtime collaborator with ZiRu Dance. He has produced all of the music and video content for ZiRu Dance since 2007. Philip is a music producer, blogger and media coach who was born in Los Angeles. Philip’s music has been featured on numerous spots for TV, Film, artists, and brands. His credits include NBC, Warner Bros, MTV, Fox, Miramax, and countless Grammy nominees. He founded VisionQuest Sound in 2010 and has been instrumental in helping artists and brands to share their art and stories to the world. 

Winifred Harris 

Winifred R. Harris is a multi-faceted artist, teacher, and community activist. As a choreographer, she consciously balances the inherently beautiful escapism of dance and the social realities that form today’s aesthetic and cultural values. She enjoys working with fantasies and dreams, as well understanding and taking responsibility for issues grounded in reality. In short, Ms. Harris is a visionary who creates art as conversation, a connective tissue to the world, and a means to see beyond what we think of as "limits." Her work is a strong balance of technical prowess and expression through gesture. Ms. Harris began her training under the guidance of Denver’s critically acclaimed Cleo Parker Robinson. She then went on to dance professionally for Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble for 10 years, Dallas Black Dance Theater immediately following, and also enjoyed a solo stint in New York and abroad during that time. In October 1991, Ms. Harris relocated and made her home in Los Angeles, founding the critically lauded and award nominated Winifred R. Harris’ Between Lines - a contemporary modern dance company. During the past fifteen years of Ms. Harris’ work as a choreographer, she has garnered special notice from both the Los Angeles Times and the California Arts Council for LA Cultural Affairs. In recognition of her work, she has been nominated for the Lester Horton Choreography Award as well as the Alpert Award. In recognition of her dedication and commitment in bringing dance to underprivileged youth through her teaching efforts within the Los Angeles community, Ms. Harris has received several awards from the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles.

Babatunji Johnson (African American)

Babatunji Johnson was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii. Though never formally trained as a child, Babatunji was always moving his body to the beat. At the age of 15, he discovered the art of hip hop.


Following over a decade of self-taught street performance, he has developed a unique approach to various styles of hip hop such as breakdance, popping, and krump.


While cultivating his own movement language, Babatunji began training in ballet, modern, and contemporary dance, going on to work and perform around the world with Alonzo King LINES Ballet for six years, among other inspiring companies.


Babatunji has been with ZiRu dance since 2011. In 2015, he was awarded a Princess Grace Award, as well as a Chris Hellman Award for his outstanding achievements and promise in the world of dance. Babatunji teaches the Break Dancing Basics and Breakdancing Skill Building classes for ZiRu Dance's new initiative Project Dance O.F.F.

"As a teacher my goal is to do for my students what my favorite teachers have done for me: provide a safe place to learn how to enjoy the beautiful struggles that one must go through to accomplish something that you never thought you would be able to."

Shaylen Keller (Filipino/Caucasian),

Shaylen was raised in Orange County, California,  has danced her whole  life and has trained in multiple genres from contemporary ballet to hip-hop. Upon completing her B.A. from Chapman University, she continued to dance professionally, dancing commercially in Los Angeles in addition to dancing for both modern and hip-hop companies. Shaylen has performed, choreographed and taught in:  the U.S., China, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico and has also been featured in news publications in Beijing, Daqing and South Korea with ZiRu Dance and Aerial Experience. 


In 2014, after completing ministry work with human trafficking victims, she felt called to further serve socially disadvantaged children and thus, transitioned to a career in education by joining Teach for America, Los Angeles. Simultaneously, Shaylen earned her Masters in Urban Education with a focus on Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. For the past 7 years, Shaylen has been teaching lower elementary and special education. She has taught in Atlanta, GA and in the heart of Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and South LA at two title-1 schools and was a founding teacher for Gabriella Charter School : a dance charter school. 


Shaylen’s journey with ZiRu dance began in 2010 as a founding dance member for the 2010 Beijing, China tour. Shaylen continued her work with Philein and ZiRu Dance as a guest choreographer and served as the company Rehearsal Director for its 5-city tour through China for the 2013/14 season; which included teaching at universities in Beijing and Daqing.  After 7 years, Shaylen is excited to step into her new role as Administrative/Development Coordinator with ZiRu. As Administrative/Development Coordinator, she will be able to utilize her passion for blending dance arts with education by creating and developing educational outreach programs and partnerships between ZiRu dance and community partners in the Peninsula/Silicon Valley.

Sarah Mann  (Lebanese/French Canadian)

Sarah has been dancing since the age of 10, in a multitude of styles ranging from musical theater to ballet to modern. However, her main focus and passion have always been for hip hop dance. Sarah studied at Chapman University in Orange, CA, from which she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance. After college, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to pursue a commercial dance career.


Since moving to L.A., Sarah's primary focus has shifted towards the fusion of aerial arts with dance, first with her company Jagged West, and now as a solo artist. Sarah has been featured on America's Best Dance Crew (with Jag6ed Crew), FOX's TV Show Mobbed (with both Jagged West and Mischief Makers), and in the documentary Off The Floor, which followed Jagged Contemporary Pole Dance Company. 

Sarah has her own production company, THE MADMANN, which specializes in nightlife shows and events. She is currently opening a new Circus Dinner Theatre “Madmann’s Playground,” set to debut its first production in February 2023. She simultaneously works as Production Manager for The Toledo Show in Los Angeles, CA.


Sarah began her journey with ZiRu Dance in 2013 when she joined the company as a dancer and Rehearsal Director for ZiRu's 2014 China tour. Sarah produced the 2017 and 2018 Silicon Valley Dance Festivals, and acted as Company Manager throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons. She is always thrilled to work with Philein and the cast of talented dancers that ZiRu Dance draws

Alejandro Perez 

Aleks is a first generation Mexican American from Los Angeles California. His introduction to dance came at the age of 14 when he joined a street dance crew where they choreographed works to compete in the U.S. as well as other countries. His passion for dance only grew when he enrolled in a dance arts high school and began training in classical techniques. Before graduating from high school, he received a summer scholarship for the UCLA dance and theater intensive where he met and started dancing with Versastyle Dance Company. His hunger to expand in versatility grew during college. He attended the Alonzo King Lines Training program where he received a full scholarship to attend in 2016. He was then recognized as a full scholarship recipient of the Jacob's Pillow Summer program. Since then, he has been expanding his opportunities to perform and choreograph. He has been presenting work all over Los Angeles for the past two years.


Nate Pyzik

Nathaniel is an Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a specialization in dance/movement therapy. He uses dance and movement to explore thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Dance/movement therapy relies on the premise that the mind and body are interconnected and that all movement is meaningful. Through the process of therapy, clients can learn to express themselves authentically, improve self-awareness, and create meaningful relationships with themselves and others. Nathaniel also uses a person-centered approach and draws from a variety of techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness, positive psychology/strengths-based, and existential therapy.

Nathaniel received his MA in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling from Drexel University. He has experience working with clients who experience anxiety, depression, substance use, severe mental illness, brain injury, and developmental challenges. He also enjoys counseling clients who are dealing with career-related issues, work-life balance, relational conflicts, and other life challenges.

Areta Wang (Chinese/Taiwanese American)

Areta Wang (Chinese American) is a Visual Artist who has worked as a Key Creative Collaborator with Philein since 2007.  Her visual works are often used as a backdrop for Ziru Dance's set design and color schematics. Further, she reviews drafts of Philein’s choreography and provides insight and constructive guidance as each piece of work takes shape.


As a Female Minority Artist with Disability and Illness since 2008, she has overcome many challenging obstacles to remain present and dedicated when focusing her limited energy on creating new work. Her art is the culmination of a life full of and informed by her in-depth study of human movement and the aesthetics and mechanics of action and expression.


As a youth, she pursued art out of pure enjoyment, a constant and continued center, her focus based on the human form. Her interests in martial arts and her training as an actor naturally combined in a pursuit of stage combat and fight choreography- the craft of expressing story and nuance of human experience through action.


Over the years, her consistent interest led her to study physical therapeutic art; thereby deepening her understanding of the body and its function. Over the past decade, even as injury and illness turned her sights to exploring the body and life anew, she continued expressing her internal drive and passion for movement onto canvas with paint and brush and digital art.


Areta holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University and has held solo exhibitions in prestigious galleries and Performing Arts Centers in the U.S. and China.

Philein Wang (Chinese/Taiwanese American)

An award-winning Chinese-American poet/choreographer and distinguished Artistic Director, Philein Wang leads ZiRu Dance. Over the last half century, Philein herself has firsthand lived through racism as a native of Oakland, California. As a result, she has developed deep ties to African-American, Latino-American, and other Asian-American communities over several decades.


Philein’s exploration of her own Chinese-American heritage led her to create a new dance form for the Chinese body and identity. Her goal is to build cross-cultural bridges, uniting generations of immigrants through a unique blend of dance elements from Asia, Europe, Africa, and America, in tandem with original music. Using a distinct combination of influences – modern dance, ballet, martial arts, and hip hop – she hopes to create something unique to offer Asian Americans, so they have a way to feel at home in their bodies and minds. Philein leads ZiRu Dance with an intrinsic understanding of how one experiences racism in this country. ZiRu is a company committed to continually bringing to light how we can grow and evolve in positive ways. This process of growth and healing from difficult, shocking, and divisive events and environments in the U.S. and worldwide is at the core of ZiRu Dance’s mission and work.

    “When a young Chinese person is feeling confused as I was, and looking for answers to the question, ‘Who am I?’ maybe this dance can help them find their identity, their culture, and their strength. Help them know where they belong.” – Philein Wang. 


She was a soloist with several companies, including Janice Garrett and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. She also received choreography mentorships from the late Bella Lewitzky and Lin Hwai-Min, Artistic Director of Taiwan’s world-renowned Cloud Gate Dance and Margaret Jenkins. In 2016, she was recognized as an honoree at the first-ever Asian and Pacific Islander Heroes of San Mateo County reception. She has received awards from many foundations and institutions including the Community Foundation of San Carlos, twice awarded grants from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Apple, Microsoft, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and San Mateo County Strong. Nancy Pellegrini of Time Out Beijing said, “Wang herself is a force of nature, raising money, creating projects, and sharing the stage with artists of every stripe. And that alone is well worth a look.” Pellegrini added that the multidisciplinary artist has a “…staggering level of broad-based talent… whatever you do, don’t miss her show.” When she’s not directing, choreographing, or raising her young family, Philein is dedicated to building new investment and community bridges to support the company. Philein is also a partner at SV2 (Silicon Valley Social Venture Philanthropy).

Isabella Soo-Hoo - 2023-2024 Mentorship Participant

Bella was born in Oakland, California and grew up training at the San Francisco Ballet School, performing in Helgi Tómmason’s The Nutcracker and George Balanchine’s Coppelia. From 2013-2020 she attended Oakland School for the Arts under the direction of Reginald Ray-Savage and Alison Hurley, and in 2017 she joined Savage Jazz Dance Company, a repertoire dance company, where she performed in multiple shows and dance festivals across the Bay Area. In 2020 she was chosen as a Contemporary Dance BFA candidate at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, with a minor in Global Studies, and was awarded a merit scholarship. During her studies, Isabella has worked with and performed works by artists such as Aszure Barton, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, José Limón, Heather Stewart, Jawole Willa Jo Zolar, Danny Pelzig, and Robin Aren. Isabella has furthered her training and artistic growth at programs including b12, Carmel Dance Festival Fellowship Program, Arts Umbrella, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, NorthWest Dance Project, and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. 

Gabriella Wei- 2023-2024 Mentorship Participant

Gabby is a freelance dance artist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She finds great joy through the process of researching her own body, mind and spirit, and is continually inspired by the magical reality of what it means to exist with the ability to create and experience art. She grew up training in various forms of dance including traditional Chinese dance from a young age. After spending a year at UC Santa Barbara, she returned to the bay to attend the Alonzo King LINES Training Program in 2022. Through LINES she has been able to perform new works by Kayla Farrish, Chafin Seymour, Chuck Wilt, Alex Ketley, Natasha Adorlee and David Harvey. Outside of LINES Gabby has spent summers studying at B12, Dancefarm Oregon and Vim Vigor. She has also worked with Selah Dance, Tara Pilbrow Dance and Ziru Dance. Gabby is delighted to be joining UNA Productions and dNaga Dance in 2024 for their upcoming seasons.

bottom of page