Founding Director & Core Faculty, Artistic Director of Zeitgeist Dance Theater

'Francisco from day one has always expected the very best of me and nothing less. His classes push me beyond my limits and allow me to make new boundaries for myself every single time. I’m so grateful!’

Xavier Logan, PDI Class of 2019

Francisco Gella’s distinguished 25 year career as a compelling dancer, award-winning choreographer, and widely-recognized dance educator, began when he took his first formal dance class at the University of Washington at the age of nineteen. His innovative choreography and highly effective teaching methods are sought after by professional companies, universities, arts high schools, conservatories, and studios across North America and around the globe.

Francisco’s choreographic commissions include Repertory Dance Theatre, Ballet Pacifica, California Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Shut-Up and Dance Production, PHILADANCO’s Danco on Danco program, Laguna Dance Festival, Tucson Regional Ballet, University of Utah Ballet Ensemble, University of Washington Faculty Concert, Irvine Valley College, Ballet East, DANCO/II, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts, Orange County School for the Arts and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. His commission ‘Between the Lines’, set on PHILADANCO (The Philadelphia Dance Company), premiered at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in April, at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, and was selected by PHILADANCO’S Artistic Director Joan Myers Brown as the company’s sole performance at the opening to the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

Among the recognition he has received includes numerous choreography awards at the Youth America Grand Prix International Ballet Competition including Outstanding Choreographer, and the Outstanding Choreography Award at the National Regional Dance America Conference in 2007. In 2013, Francisco premiered Concentric Harmonies at Celebrate Dance in Los Angeles, a work that went on to receive the Grand Prize at the McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival in 2014. In 2014 and 2015, his work Solstice, performed by the Phoenix Ballet had its world premier at the 60th Anniversary Gala of the Beijing Dance Academy and its European premiere at Poland’s prestigious Lodz International Ballet Festival. In May 2016, his work Souvenirs de Mouvement was selected as a featured performance at the nationally recognized Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing & Visual Arts’ annual Flying Horse Gala. In 2018, Francisco’s work Timelapse, performed by the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, was selected for the gala performance at the National High School Dance Festival. Most recently, Francisco was invited to be the resident artist at the Palm Springs Dance Festival where he will be premiering a new work.

Francisco is the founding artistic director of NUEVO School of Contemporary Dance and COLABO Youth Dance Collective (2008-2015). As founder of Francisco Gella Dance Works, he has created numerous educational programs; Ballet+ (beyond technique) workshops, the Preprofessional Dancer Institute, New Year’s Training Camp, Seattle Dance Advance, the New Century Dance Project (a youth dance festival), the College Prep program, and Dance 360 – an online educational community that provides ongoing knowledge and support for students, parents, and teachers. Additionally, Francisco is the ballet and modern faculty member for the 24 Seven Dance Convention and founding director of ARIA Ballet Intensive produced by Break The Floor. Born in Bacolod City, Philippines, Francisco now resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Founding Associate Director & Core Faculty

‘Julie is masterful at helping young dancers navigate the professional and collegiate dance world. She inspires and guides students to fully realize their dreams.’

Connor Freeman, PDI Class of 2018

Julie Friedrich’s distinguished career as a professional dancer, mentor, and dance educator in the areas of ballet and contemporary dance spans more than 18 years. She joined her first professional company at the age of 17, and received her primary dance education from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and Meredith Baylis of the Joffrey Ballet School. Upon graduation from high school, Julie joined the American Repertory Ballet under the direction of Septime Webre, and then went on to join Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal under the direction of Lawrence Rhodes. Discovering her passion for contemporary dance during her time with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, she then made the move to Europe where she danced professionally for the following five years. She has danced works by George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor, Ohad Naharin, Septime Webre, Nacho Duato, Guy Weizman, Alex Ketley, and various other European choreographers. Upon returning to the United States Julie joined the acclaimed contemporary dance company BodyTraffic as one of its founding members.

Julie taught for over a decade at both the Orange County High School for the Arts and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. During her time at both schools, along with teaching ballet and contemporary, she was the lead senior seminar advisor to all of the graduating dance students going onto the professional and collegiate world of dance. Through her guidance, Julie has taught numerous Young Arts Foundation winners, and her students have gone on to study at the Juilliard School, USC/Kaufman, SUNY Purchase, Tisch at NYU, and the Boston Conservatory, just to name a few. Professionally, she has former students working in such companies as ATE9, Kyle Abraham, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Cirque Du Soleil, and on Broadway.

In 2012 Julie was featured in the documentary film “ Fame High” for her mentorship of Grace Song, the first Korean American female to be admitted in dance to the Juilliard School. In 2013, President Obama and the White House named Julie, one of the most influential art teachers in the country for her mentorship of young dancers.

Currently, Julie teaches, choreographs, and mentors students across the country. She teaches full time at the Windward School in Culver City under the direction of Alesia Young, and tours the country with Francisco Gella as one of his principal faculty mentors. In 2017, Julie became the Associate Director of College and Career Programs, and the Associate Artistic Director of the Preprofessional Dance Institute (PDI) in Santa Fe, New Mexico under the direction of Francisco Gella. Julie has also been on the faculty at the ARIA intensive as part of Dancerpalooza for the last three years. Most recently, Julie has signed on to become one of the main contributors to Dance 360 under the umbrella of Francisco Gella Dance Works.


Core Faculty

‘Wilson is one of the most attentive and approachable teachers I’ve had the pleasure of learning from. I am so appreciative of his willingness to share his vast experience!’

Tatum Marshall, PDI Class of 2019

Wilson Mendieta is an Assistant Professor in Dance at Chapman University, where he has choreographed for Chapman Celebrates and the Dance Faculty concert. Prior to his arrival to Southern California, Wilson served as the Director of the Musical Theater Program at the University of Washington in Seattle (2013 – 2017), where he also earned an M.F.A. degree in Dance and a Nonprofit Management Certificate from the Evans School of Public Affairs. His creative credits at the University of Washington includes directing a production of Pippin and Sweet Charity for the Musical Theater Program. He also earned a B.F.A. degree in Acting with a minor in Dance from Montclair State University.

After his undergraduate training, Wilson lived in the New York City area, where he worked as a performer for television, radio spots, commercials, concert dance companies, and Off-Broadway and Broadway musicals. He has had the opportunity to share stages and deepen his artistic voice alongside dignitaries of the performing arts, such as Chita Rivera, Tony Stevens, Patty LaBelle, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mark Dendy, and Kevin Wynn, but to name a few. Wilson’s choreography has been seen throughout the United States, including The Kennedy Center in D.C., and has been invited to festivals in Venezuela and Australia.

Wilson has years of teaching experience, and more recently he’s taught at the University of Minnesota, Purchase, Montclair State, Tisch School of the Arts, CAP 21, Steps on Broadway, and Dance New Amsterdam. His research on how to better equip performing arts students to have sustained careers in their fields led to an invitation to present at the International Conference on Visual and Performing Arts in Athens, Greece, and the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Oahu, HI. He also has served as a panelist for several arts funding organizations, including The National Endowment for the Arts.


Core Faculty

Steven’s class takes you back to the roots of jazz dancing by engaging your soul! There is no judgement in any of his classes, and you feel really safe and open to learn.’

Kaylie Wood, PDI Class of 2019

Steven Sofia is presently teaching dance and Pilates at Chapman University. Prior to joining the faculty at Chapman, he spent three years as an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Washington for the Musical Theater Program. Steven is a Broadway performer, dance captain, choreographer, and a university instructor. His Broadway and national tour credits include; Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Chicago, Kiss Me Kate, Beauty and The Beast, Guys and Dolls (‘92 revival), and Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story. Some other credits include: A Chorus Line at Olney Theatre (Helen Hayes Award winner for the Best Musical in 2013), An Evening with Betty Buckley at Carnegie Hall, Applause at City Center’s Encores, Susan Stroman’s Contact with Sarasota Ballet at Asolo Repertory Theatre, and several Tony Awards and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade presentations. He also danced with The American Dance Machine, where he worked with such choreographers as Ron Field, Agnes DeMille, Buzz Miller, and Gwen Verdon, to name a few. He has been an assistant to Broadway choreographers Tony Stevens and Chris Chadman. Steven restaged the national tour of Chicago for Troika, a number for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with Andy Williams, productions of Pippin, Anything Goes and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the University of Washington, a production for the Wings Theater, and directed and choreographed Pippin for NYU’s Cap21. He has been on the dance faculty at NYU, Cap21, SUNY Purchase, Marymount College, Broadway Dance Center, and Steps on Broadway. Steven is also a certified classical Pilates instructor.

Adjunct Faculty and Presenters

Zeitgeist Dance Theatre Company Members:

Gisela Genschow, Director, The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Allegra Lillard, Dance Educator

Elise Gent, West African and Haitian Dance Instructor