Sophie Needelman- Founder and Director

 Sophie Needelman is a dancer, choreographer, and performance artist who has been active in the San Diego and Bay Area dance communities since a young age. Sophie pursued a formal dance and performance education at University of California at Berkeley in the Departments of Rhetoric and Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. During her time in Berkeley, Sophie served as a Dance Liaison, performed in Berkeley Dance Project for four consecutive years, and published her honors thesis on the intersection of Jewish and homosexual identity in Israeli Drag performance. She has also premiered original works through her company The Defiance Project at prestigious performance venues throughout the Bay Area. Sophie’s post-graduation adventures have taken her to the East Coast where she is currently establishing her company as bi-coastal in gorgeous Philadelphia.

The Defiance Project defies

societal norms that don’t allow for creative expression

positions of privilege that don’t allow for full human connection

norms that suppress people

expectations based on labels we are forced to assume by society

the assumption of societal labels

pressures to act a certain way because of assumptions

I personally defy 

The idea that a woman can’t run her own company

The idea that dance can only be used for entertainment and virtuosity

That a college student or young person can’t start a business

The idea that pursuing a career in the arts can’t be professionally rewarding

As a queer person, I defy standards of heteronormativity by outwardly identifying as gay so that every little girl out there knows that liking boys isn’t their only option. The content of the work I create explores and expresses various types of relationships and sexual orientations. My work also directly addresses confines of heteronormativity by challenging expectations of sexual orientation and gender dynamics through the portrayal of relationships between various human forms.

As a cis female-bodied woman, I defy the gender binary by acknowledging the privilege of my gender identity and its situation within a socially constructed notion of gender. The expression of gender and sexuality in my work challenges gender expectations as well as the idea that gender is something universal, inherent, and unable to be escaped. I also strive to challenge the ways in which the expressed form of gender impacts to the way we relate to one another.

As a young adult, I defy the idea that young people can’t start a business by developing not only the creative elements of my own artistic identity but also the business and financial development of the company in which I channel my work. The Defiance Project is not just a creative project but also a business venture with financial infrastructure and support.

As an artist, I defy the idea that dance can only be used for entertainment and virtuosity, and that pursuing a career in the arts is unrealistic and professionally unrewarding by starting my own dance company that uses defiance through dance to promote presence, connection, and change. My company’s mission statement states: “The Defiance Project is a dance company that uses processes of defiance to engage a community of collaborators through personal and collective experiences of presence, connection, and change.

Jonathan Gera- Visual Artist

Tracy McDowell

Tracy dancer to her own drum. She is a determined and very invested in the arts. Her goals is to one day create a “Storytelling” major that focus on different mediums for communication like: dance, movement, theatre, visual arts, poetry, journalism, creative writing, new languages, education etc. Currently, she has taken time off from college to gain experience in the real world. This past fall semester she went to New York and was certified as a Jounreydance teacher. Journydance is a fun, funky way to open up your body and spirt through supported movement. It is also what brought her to the Defiance project.

Tracy’s goals are very much in line with the Defiance Project. She has always resisted the cookie cutter mold that surrounds her well- off background. Through her conversations with others she is constantly urging people to find the courage to defy social norms and step back and examine their respective place in society and what preconceived notions come from that said place. From this place of personal perceptive she encourages people to break the mold and forage their own personalized path.

As previously stated Tracy has taken her own advance and jumped off the traditionally path. For example, she attended Smith College, an all girls school in Massachusetts for a semester before returning home to reevaluate the steps it would take to reach her goals. Her goal to create a storytelling major stems from her previous volunteer, nannying, and tutoring work. She delights in seeing the glows on others faces when a light build clicks and they discover something new within themselves. The aim of the storytelling major is to have a foundation to connect with anyone and break the bounds of the expected to aid them in telling their personal story.

Never having taken a dance class, Tracy, in general looks life a goof when she is teaching. But, she believes that anyone can and should dance to show off their inner creativity and beauty. Through her teachings has seen the befit of having a safe space to move with out judgment or expectations and hopes that the defiance project will encourage more people to leap into art and dance knowing they can defy labels, assumptions and expectations. Tracy is INCREDIBLY excited to work with the Defiance Project. She is invested in giving artists a safe, supported space where they can explore any medium of expression while rooting them selves, in what she believes to be the most important psychological art form, movement.

Tracy is also the founder of a theater company in San Diego called the Max Fischer Player’s who aim to defy the current museum like theater that is prevalent in San Diego. To see an example of the companies out of the box work check out UBU at

Jason SegalFilmmaker

Jordan HalseyGraphic Designer, Web Designer

Multi-disciplined designer with an extensive history of bringing ideas to fruition, either through real world construction with an advanced knowledge of cinematic, theatrical and architectural construction techniques,or through digital content creation with over ten years of computer driven design and animation experience using state of the art software with an emphasis on the modeling, lighting, texturing and rendering of hard surface geometry

Dana Needelman- Writer, creative consultant

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Dana Needelman was born and raised in Solana Beach, California. Dana found her passion for music when she was just 3 years old, when she climbed up on the piano bench and started to explore. Ever since, Dana has had an interest in exploring all different genres of music, with favorite bands including Sigur Ros, Tame Impala, Alt-J, and Radical Face. As well as having an interest in music, Dana enjoys exploring art in many realms, but mostly focused on painting. Dana has art featured at Canyon Crest Academy, Life Technologies, and other areas. Dana decided to move to Seattle, Washington for her undergraduate experience at the University of Washington. There, Dana hopes to explore the music and art scene that defines Seattle.

Natalie MarshCommunity Outreach Director, Dancer

Natalie Marsh, a double-major in Dance & Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies, comes to the department from San Anselmo, CA. She has some scholarship and financial aid assisting her studies, but mainly funds her education through loans. She’s been excited by a number of classes through the department: “Amara Tabor-Smith and Lisa Wymore’s technique classes have really helped me become a much more diverse, adaptable and technically sound dancer, and Peggy Hackney’s Sources of Movement course has helped me find inspiration in movement – her teaching of Laban/ Bartenieff fundamentals has benefited all of my technique.” Marsh explains. “But my Performance Studies class with Catherine Cole made me really passionate about the potential of the new and growing field of study. I was interested in Professor Cole’s research on the Truth Commissions in South Africa at the end of apartheid and in the ethnographic model that we studied and used to build a piece at the end of the semester.”
Natalie has been involved in a number of practice experiences that have moved her: “This semester I worked with a grad student choreographer in Irvine using telepresence technology, and performed a new piece in both Berkeley and at UC Irvine simultaneously for the Virtual Venues symposium,” she explains. “And after a workshop with Anna Halprin in Bancroft Studio in the Spring, Anna invited us to watch her rehearsals at the Berkeley Art Museum, and even asked me to be in one of the scores! I had learned a lot about her in my Performance History class with Jenefer Johnson so I was inspired to be learning her creative methods and working with such a dance legend.”
Natalie has also been a consistent presence in our dance performances, dancing in our Choreography Showcase, as well as Berkeley Dance Project in 2011 and 2012. She also participated in From the Field to the Table this Fall. “Learning the Urban Bush Women model for community engagement and art making was very inspiring!” Natalie says with a big smile. “The workshop created such a strong community. I feel privileged to have been a part of that process and to work with Paloma McGregor of Urban Bush Women.”
Natalie plans to combine her love of dance and writing after graduation. “I will be working for Dance Anywhere, writing about the world-wide day of dance for their blog.” She says. “I am also interested in community engagement through dance and in non-profit arts administration after interning for Dancers’ Group in summer 2011. I find it very inspiring to see how movement can bring people together and bridge difference. Whatever career path I pursue, I plan to incorporate dance or movement in some form. I want dance to always be a part of my life.”

Rio Vander Stahl- Musician, Producer

Monica Multer- Photographer, Writer

My name is Monica Multer, I am currently a freshman at UC Berkeley who just has a lot on her mind.  I enjoy literature of every kind, going running, hanging out in Santa Cruz and Berkeley or with my friends, traveling anywhere, playing with my dog, and of course writing. I also volunteer at the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter because I love animals so much. Helping out these animals is one of my favorite things to do besides write and be strange.  I am just an overall eccentric person always striving for something more in life.

I want to become an author some day, I do work ranging from poetry, short stories, books, or just plain randomness that pops into my brain. The stuff I write can be funny, dark, abstract, all depending on my mood.

I fancy myself a people person, but not in the aspect that most people think. I enjoy people some days and the other days I come close to loathing them. In the end I am simply fascinated by the way people act and why they do the things they do. My blog is a way for me to explore my thoughts about the people I know, the people I love, the people I hate, all the people I see, and finally all the people I know nothing about. When I see people I see potential. Not just their ability to grow or succeed but the potential of their very being. What they really are or could become if they put their minds to it. Everyone has the possibility to succeed but only the ones who reach out and grasp that potential can move forward. I try to show people this. I show that there is darkness and light in every heart and mind you pass by. Strangers, children, parents, relatives, everyone has a story. I think it is my job to tell their stories.

Through photos, stories, and poems I am writing out the stories of the people around you. The people you walk by everyday and don’t stop to talk with, the people you worked with for years but never asked about their lives. The people who are alone, drowning in a secret, or a story about how they came to be. I am their storyteller. Sharing their lives, the good and bad, of how humanity has risen and fallen into what it is today.

Ellen Maynard- Dancer, Sound Designer, Filmmaker


Ellen lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is receiving her BFA in dance with a focus on dance and technology at The Ohio State University. Here she has been inspired by professionals such as Bebe Miller, Susan Hadley, Vera Blaine, Ming-Lung Yang, Abigail Yager, Lily Skove, Esther Baker-Tarpaga, Mitchell Rose, and Ohad Fishof and Noa Zuk. She is currently working on a dance-film project with an online sister outlet…

…which you can explore at

See even more of what Ellen is up to

Hannah Westbrook- Dancer


Hannah Westbrook is a Southern California native, having lived in the Inland Empire for most of her life. Dance has been a part of her life since a young age, but it took until her introduction to modern dance in 2008 before it became a significant focus in her life. Since that spark, inspired by her instructors Julie Freeman, Sue Roginski, and later Tennille Lambert, Hannah has earned an Associate’s Degree in Dance from Mt. San Jacinto College, and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she is now pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Dance and Performance Studies.

Hannah is honored and excited to be involved with The Defiance Project, to participate, learn, and grow in the community of artists that the company brings together. The ideas behind the company – defying norms and establishing community – have long been close to her heart; Hannah was homeschooled and largely self-directed in her learning for the first 15 years of her life. This non-“traditional” path has inspired a life that does not conform to the “standard” version of an upper-middle-class Caucasian female living in Southern California. The freedom to direct her own learning has lead Hannah to develop interests in many arenas, including feminism, travel, making her own earrings and other jewelry, classical piano, hiking, cooking (especially for a gluten and milk free diet), and much more.

Although her relationship to the art of dance is constantly evolving, Hannah’s current interests and questions lie in the body’s deep wisdom, and ability to communicate truths about a person that may, or may not be verbally accessible, and what it means to be a dancer in today’s society.

Lauren Hamilton- Dancer

Lauren Hamilton is a dance artist and teacher, living in Oakland. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley in July, 2013. Lauren has been fortunate to dance as a student in Sacramento, Long Beach, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, Oakland, and Berkeley. In 2012, she was gifted with the chance to create original contemporary choreography with fellow students under the guidance of Joe Goode. Education and social justice are important to Lauren as an artist and person. She enjoys opportunities for collaboration and experimentation in dance and theatre. Contact Lauren at-

Rosa NavarreteDancer, Writer, Filmmaker

Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete Moreno is a recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley with an English degree. Before her time at Cal she worked and interned for television and film companies, such as: ColorForce, Inc. in association with DreamWorks Studios, Disney, Univision Network, and Mun2 with ImaginaUs Productions. Her specialties are in film/television production, film editing, script coverage, and administrative work for productions and non-profit organizations. She is also a graduate of Inner-City Filmmakers, a non-profit film school based in Los Angeles; the program’s goal is to diversify the film and television industry. This film school nurtured Rosa’s artistic and administrative qualities.

She is currently a Research/Personal Assistant for Lisa Wymore, Dance Director of the Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. Through the TDPS department, she was able to work as Projection Designer and Director of Photography for the performance From the Field to the Table shown at Zellerbach Playhouse. FFTT was a collaborative work between Urban Bush Women Leadership Institute and the TDPS department at Cal. Rosa recorded and edited interviews with people who value community and fight to break down racism. This project was essential for informing audience members on food justice and its relationship with racism and oppression. The performance work and research reflected a different perspective in hopes to create a healthier and unified future for all. Interviews ranged from the founder of Farms to Grow, Inc. to representatives from The People’s Institute for For Survival and BeyondNow, Rosa is excited to collaborate with Peter Tamaribuchi as Co-Producer in his project, Undiscovered Country. This feature script is a great blend of social justice and art.

Robyn Taylor- Dancer


UC student–American Studies department, Dance and Performance Studies,
TDPS Liaison, member of an organization called N.A.S.W. (National Alliance
of Super Women)
SURF fellow, currently writing a proposal for a post-baccalareate
fellowship, teaching a Decal class that focuses on the intersection
between language and movement
Professional–Massage therapist and Esthetician
Connections with San Francisco and Oakland artists and dancers
Poet, surfer, runner, backpacker

Amy Krause- Producer, Creative Consultant

Lori Krause- Photographer

Amanda Turull- Dancer

Maggie Kuznia- Dancer

Lily Haine- Dancer