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2017 Dancing Stars of Atlanta, GA


Meet Our Pro Dancers:

Rafael Avanzini

Rafael Avanzini

Rafael was born and raised in Caracas Venezuela, where he learned and experienced the real rhythm, and soul of the authentic Latin dancing. Rafael later moved to Miami where he became involved with Latin and ballroom dancing and for more than 25 years, he has been teaching dance to children, teenagers, and adults.

He has been the choreographer and principal dancer of several famous Latin TV programs such as Miss Venezuela International, and the special TV presentation featuring famous Latin singer Johnny Ventura and Sabado Gigante, among others. Currently based out of Altnata, Rafael is dedicated entirely to training his students in all styles of social and competitive dancing.

Rafael has been a top teacher award winner in many competitions including Pro-am American Rhythm, World Prom/Am Mambo Finalist and World Finalist Open Rhythm as a result of his dedication to constantly developing and raising the levels of his students. 

Leah Boresow


Lean Boresow has been following her passion for dance all of her life, starting early on at a young age in Atlanta, Georgia.

As a teenager, she trained at the Atlanta Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. As a member of the pre-professional division at the Atlanta Ballet, Boresow was immersed in professional company works, as well as opportunities for Leah to choreograph. Boresow choreographed her first major work in 2008 that was showcased at the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association for emerging choreographers, and has been choreographing ever since. 

She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Dance from Indiana University (IU) from 2008-2012 , where she also studied and choreographed contemporary and modern dance. In addition to dance, Boresow also received minors in Non-Profit Management and Hebrew, as well as a certificate in Arts Administration. It was during this time at IU that Boresow began training in ballroom dancing, and has continued in ballroom ever since. Boresow also spent a year living in Jerusalem, Israel from 2010-2011, studying dance at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, as part of the inaugural year of DanceJerusalem. Since that time, Boresow has lived in Tel Aviv, Israel as a freelance dancer and choreographer from 2013-2015. 

Boresow thrives as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She has worked with different companies, studios, and choreographers from all over, including Lauri Stallings and gloATL, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, Anat Grigorio, Dare to Dance Performance Group, Pasofino Salsa Team, Dance Canvas Atlanta,  Dance It Off Studios, and many more. She has presented works both nationally and internationally, and continues to do so for years and years to come. Currently, Boresow is a full-time ballroom dance instructor at Ballroom Dance Clubs of Atlanta, and teaches open adult classes for modern, contemporary, and ballet at DanceFX Atlanta as well as other various locations and workshops throughout Atlanta.

Jonathan Chen

Melissa Keller

Jonathan Chen began ballroom and Latin dancing while completing his degree in Political Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. He began his training in International style Latin and American Rhythm and never looked back, competing as an amateur and eventually turning professional upon graduating college in 2011. Jonathan is certified in all four styles through the Dance Vision International Dance Association and is a registered professional competitor and teacher with the National Dance Council of America.

Jonathan has achieved much success as both a teacher and as a professional competitor. His students have received high placements at many prestigious events around the United States in the bronze, silver, and open levels in all styles. In professional competition, Jonathan has risen to the top in the American Rhythm style.

Jonathan currently competes with fellow Dancing Stars of Atlanta professional Melissa Keller. Whether he is preparing a student for competition, training for a professional event, or helping a wedding couple get through their first steps, Jonathan believes that everybody has their own path and process to achieving success and strives to guide individuals to their own goals. 

Katya Cooper

Katya Cooper

 Katya Cooper was born in Russia, where she started her ballroom training at the very early age of four.  Her mom was her primary coach and, yet she has traveled the world to train with many other renowned coaches in International Standard and Latin. She has competed and won at Latin, Standard, and Ten Dance events.

Katya partnered with Anton Sidorov in the USA in January 2009. Since then they became Mid-Atlantic Latin champions, Mid-West Latin and Standard champions. They won Standard division at the United Dancesport Championship 2010 in Orlando, FL. They placed 4th in Smooth at USA National Championships 2013.

Katya started teaching dance at age of 16.  She teaches all ages and skill sets in ballroom dancing.

She found Atlanta Elite Ballroom Dance in 2010. Since then her students have been in the top 3 at Nationals Championship 2012-2015. One of the couples were honored to represent USA juvenile team at Blackpool dance competition in 2012.

In March 2016 Katya Cooper and Jeff Trent opened a new ballroom dance studio in Sandy Springs Ballroom Impact Atlanta.

Matthew Gann

Matthew Gann

Ballroom dancer and instructor, Matthew Gann, was trained at Arthur Murray Dance Schools where he spent several years polishing his skills to become one of the region's top teachers and performers. He is certified in Bronze and Silver in Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire Dance, and DVIDA Dance Syllabus and completed the NDCA and DVIDA Gold Professional Syllabus. With over 15 years of practical teaching and performance experience, Matthew’s has become one of Atlanta's leading independent dance entrepreneurs.

Following his training, several years of teaching, and competing as a professional, Matthew opened his own dance studio in Atlanta. Allure Dance Studio quickly became a dance hot spot, hosting monthly dance socials, salsa seminars, and popular group classes, and training a multitude of student clients. Matthew also created and hosted his own Pro/Am dance competition, The Georgia Star Ball, from 2008-2013. His competition enjoyed 4 consecutive years of 100% growth in entrants and dancers from all around the Southeast travel to compete.

In 2014, Matthew sold his studio and competition to open a dance travel agency and dance entertainment company, Premiere Dance Atlanta and Premiere Dance Vacations, where individuals can go on dance hosted vacations and cruises never having to worry about needing a dance partner!  He also disc jockeys for all types of private and corporate events including live shows, flash mobs, themed events, and more.

Matthew's mission is to help others have fun, grow and achieve their dreams through dance. He teaches couples and singles, wedding couples, and group classes with equal commitment and results. 

Morgan Hendrix

Morgan Hendrix

Born and raised in the countryside of Morgan County, Georgia, Morgan Hendrix began her dance training at the age of 5 years old at Charlotte’s School of Dance.  Receiving training from Joel Ruminer along with specializing in classical ballet, she trained for 13 years then took a small break from studying dance to attend Valdosta State University.  Unable to resist the urge of dancing, she moved to Atlanta after two years and changed the direction of her dance studies to focus on International Latin.  Morgan is currently in the height of her training, balancing with it a full time job along with instructing Ballroom on the side. 

David Spencer

Spencer David

Bio Coming Soon!

Rachael Spencer


Rachael was born in Atlanta, Ga. She grew up watching her mother and brother practice International Standard, as well as compete over the duration of her childhood. Her brother, Alex, placed 48th in Blackpool, was the North American Rising Star Champion for the USDC and currently teaches and competes in NYC.

Rachael became serious with ballroom in her teenage years, and finally started teaching American Smooth and Rhythm in 2013. Rachael’s passion is in International Standard and Latin, and strives to pursue her goal of competing with students with a strong drive for success. Rachael will carry the Spencer tradition of utilizing her talents to be the best rounded person and dancer she can be!

Jeff Trent

Jeff Trent

Jeff Trent has 28 years of professional ballroom dancing experience, performing at numerous events both in the U.S. and abroad. He received professional ballroom dance instruction at Fred Astaire dance studios, and he’s been coached by numerous world-renowned dance professionals, including Dancing With The Stars’ Louis Van Amstel and Tony Dovolani. He’s certified in Bronze, Silver, and Gold syllabus levels for ballroom dance instruction for American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, and International Latin. He’s also been featured as both an actor and a dancer in several movies and television shows.

Massey Turpin

Massey Turpin

Massey Turpin was born in Athens, Georgia and started dancing at the age of three, starting with ballet and later adding tap, jazz, and contemporary. Later in life, Massey was introduced to ballroom dancing by Eddie Ares and realized at that time that ballroom dancing would be her career. While training under him, Massey placed 2nd at the United States Dance Championships in Open to the World American Rhythm. Massey has had the honor of training with other World Champions such as Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine, Maxim Kozhevnikov, Liana Churilova, and Karina Smirnoff, just to name a few.  As an instructor and professional competitive dancer at Academy Ballroom, she has taken great pleasure in teaching people the art of ballroom dancing and helping them meet their goals. Now she looks forward to being a new pro for the amazing event, Dancing Stars of Atlanta.

Jay Varnedoe

Jay Varnedoe

Jay Varnedoe has been dancing since the age of seven. Starting with jazz and tap dancing, Varnedoe learned to love the state and soon took to singing and acting at the age of nine. Being a triple threat since a young age hasn't jaded him. From Athens, Georgia, He went to North Georgia College, and even did some post-graduate study in dance!

Jay Varnedoe owned his own studio in Dawsonville for three years where he taught students aged 2 to 88! After deciding to move to a bigger city, he joined Ballroom Dance Clubs of Atlanta as an instructor. Jay's favorite part of teaching ballroom dance is watching his students grow, especially those who have never danced before or who have a hard time coming out of their shells.

Ballroom's resident red-head loves performing! In fact, he once dreamt of being on Broadway! He spends his time volunteering with his church's youth group and retreat program and loves to give back to the community. Jay performs with many charities that are dear to his heart including "CHRIS Kids" which benefits at-risk youth.

When he's not dancing, Varnedoe loves spending time with his family and even enjoys cooking! Known as a Jack-of-all-Trades around the Ballroom Dance studios, Jay truly cares about his students and their development both on and off the dance floor.

Nicolay Violletta & Sorin Obreja

Sorin & Nicolay

Sorin and Nicolay have a lifetime of experience in dance. Both are members of the NDCA (National Dance Council of America), as nationally certified dance teachers and professional competitors.  

Born in Romania, Sorin studied Ballet, Folk and Ballroom Dance. He trained and danced in a performing arts ensemble for 10 years, achieving the title of Soloist Dancer and gracing the stages of theaters in Germany, France, Poland, Ukraine and Romania.  He moved to the United States in 2002 and began training in American Ballroom Style Dance for shows and competitive events.

Nicolay began Ballet training at age 3. She danced with the Atlanta School of Ballet and performed annually in The Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. In New York City, she trained with instructors from the School of American Ballet, Pilobolus, and Alvin Ailey and performed with a Dance Theater Company.  Her Musical credits include: The Wiz,  West Side Story,  Grease,  Carmina Burana,  Cabaret, and  Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. She has performed in national Coca-Cola commercials, choreographed musicals, original ballet, jazz and modern dance pieces, participated in the Governor’s Honors Dance Program  and danced as a soloist at both the State of Georgia’s Governor’s Inauguration and at the Presidential Palace in the Republic of Panama. She has trained, competed and performed in American Smooth, Rhythm and Theater Arts styles of Ballroom Dance.

Sorin and Nicolay are teachers,  performers, choreographers and coaches who truly enjoy working with their wonderful students. They are often featured dancers in showcases and competitions and they can be booked for  shows, parties and corporate events. They are currently teaching both private and group lessons in their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Meet Our Special Performers:

Jake Mazhar and Melissa Keller

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Meet Our Judges:

Brenda Wood

Brenda Wood is a veteran broadcast journalist whose career spans 37 years reporting and anchoring the news in the south.

As the current evening anchor of NBC affiliate WXIA 11Alive Brenda is one of Atlanta's most prominent and trusted local news broadcasters.
Born in Washington, D.C, Brenda is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Loma Linda University in Riverside, California. Upon receiving her Bachelor's degree in Speech Communication and Mass Media in 1977 Brenda began her journalism career only months later as a general assignment reporter at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.

A year later in 1978 Brenda accepted a reporting position at WSM-TV in Nashville, Tennessee, but just a few months later at the age of 23 she returned to WAAY in Huntsville to become the weeknight anchor for the 6pm and 10pm news. She also continued general assignment reporting and hosted a half hour weekly public affairs program. In 1980 Brenda's career took her to Memphis, Tennessee, where she spent eight years as the primetime anchor for the weekday evening newscasts at WMC-TV. She was Memphis' first black female news anchor.

In 1988, Brenda accepted the primetime anchor position at WAGATV in Atlanta, Georgia where she also reported and co-produced and hosted the Emmy Award-winning news magazine show Minute by Minute.
Brenda later joined WXIA-TV in Atlanta in 1997. She currently anchors for the 5pm. 6pm and 11pm weeknight newscasts. She also anchored The Daily 11 at 7 newscast that featured her award winning and nationally recognized Last Word commentary. Brenda has also co-produced and hosted several Emmy Award-winning prime time specials at WXIA including multiple editions of Journeys with Brenda Wood.
Throughout her career Brenda has received numerous honors and awards, including eighteen Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Southeast Region; four awards from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters; The Gannett Broadcast Writing Award for Short Form Commentary, four awards from the National Association of Black Journalists; and six awards from the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists.

In 2006 Brenda was inducted into the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2013 she was named Georgia Woman of the Year by the Governor's Office of the Georgia Women's Commission. In 2014 she was named an African American HistoryMaker and her career story is archived at the Library of Congress. Most recently, in November 2014 Brenda was inducted into the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame.

Over her 26 years in the Atlanta market Brenda has also received numerous awards and recognition for her community work with local schools and youth groups as well as with a wide range of civic and humanitarian organizations including The Atlanta Community Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, The American Cancer Society, Pink Ribbons fundraiser for Breast Cancer Awareness, CARE, Go Red for Women, The Georgia Mental Health Association, Project Interconnections for the homeless, The Task Force for the Homeless, Hosea Feed the Homeless, The Alzheimer's Association of Atlanta, and Kenny Leon's True Colors Theater Company, to name a few.

Brenda has been named Who's Who in Atlanta; awarded the NAACP Phoenix Award for "Best News Anchor," and named "Best Local News Anchor" by Atlanta Magazine.

Brenda is the mother of two adult daughters, Kristen Wood Burke and Kandis Wood Jackson.

Jack Sawyer

Jack Sawyer ATL judge

Jack is President of the Southeastern Region of Wilmington Trust's Wealth Advisory group.  In this role, he manages all portfolio management and business development activities within the region. In 1989 Jack was a founding principal of The Arden Group, which was Atlanta's first private fiduciary firm, and was acquired by Mellon in 2003. He has specialized in the administration of trusts, estates, and private foundations throughout his career.

Jack is a member of the Buckhead Coalition, and a member of the Board of Directors for the following nonprofits:  the Agape Community Center,  Friends of Georgia Music Foundation, High Museum of Art, the Nsoro Foundation and the Southeast Anti-Defamation League .  Jack is a past board member of the Atlanta Humane Society, the Advisory Circle for the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center,  the Atlanta Opera, the Advisory Board of the Alliance Theater , the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control Foundation,  the Estate Planning Advisory Board for the Atlanta Community Foundation,  Open Hand  and Zoo Atlanta. 

Jack was co-chair of the 2007 Timeless Affair benefiting Fernbank Science Center.  In 2009 Jack was Honorary Chair of the  Swan House Ball benefiting The Atlanta History Center, and he co-chaired the following galas:  Veneralia benefiting the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, Beastly Feast benefiting Zoo Atlanta, and the Driskell Prize dinner benefiting African American art at the High Museum of Art.  In 2010 Jack co-chaired the High Museum's Driskell Prize Dinner and the Atlanta Opera Ball.  In 2011 he co-chaired the Atlanta History Center's Swan House Ball, A Meal to Remember benefitting Senior Citizen Services, and the Nsoro Foundation's Starfish Ball.  He was honorary chair of the High Museum of Art's Driskell Prize Dinner and the honoree of the American Jewish Committee's National Human Relations Award .  In 2012 Jack co-chaired the 25th anniversary of A Meal to Remember benefiting Senior Citizen Services, and Collective Spirits benefitting the Bascom Fine Art Center in Highlands, NC.  In 2014 Jack Co-Chaired the High Museum’s Driskell Prize Dinner and the National Black Art Festival’s Fine Art plus Fashion fundraiser, and in 2015 he will be Honorary Chair of the National Black Art Festival’s Fine Art plus Fashion. Also in 2015, Jack co-chaired the Pass the Blessings Awards Ceremony benefitting the Andrew J. Young Foundation and was a guest judge for the Dancing Stars of Atlanta event for the Alzheimer’s Association. He will also be a Honorary Chair of the Mayor’s Masked Ball  which benefits the United Negro College Fund and will be Co-Chairing the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016.

Christjohn Batters

Christjohn is an alumni of The UGA ballroom performance group '96 to '98 seasons and the  '98 to 2000 Core Concert Dance Company. He is nationally accredited through the Fred Astaire franchise dance studios where he taught in Atlanta for eight years and the National Dance Council of America. Following that, he was  dance teacher, dance director and manager of one of Atlanta's foremost ballroom dance studios for five years.

In 2013, Christjohn became an independent instructor and formed CJBDANCE . In just three years it has become one of the lead and most highly decorated dance teams in Atlanta. Currently he and his students hold two world titles, two United States titles, and the honor of winning the 2016 Best of the Best title. Professionally he is a 4-time World, North American and United States Champion in American style Smooth, Rhythm, 9-Dance and Showdance.  In 2015 he was also awarded the Mark Wheeler Excellence in Dance Award for contributions to the UGA university performance group. He has also participated in every season of Dancing Stars of Atlanta and has had the honor of winning 3 mirror ball trophies over the past 8 years. 

 Christjohn would like to thank the Alzheimer's organization for their continued dedication to fighting this disease and providing so much care. Best of luck to all the fantastic dancers who have worked so hard!

Meet Our Hosts:

Nancy Senner

Nancy Senner, as a professional dance teacher, trains couples or individuals to achieve  the level of dancer they wish to become.Nancy offers a wide range of training from social dancing to wedding couples and all levels of competitive dancing from the beginner dancer through advanced. She has won several events with her students at dance competitions throughout the United States. Prior to establishing her coaching business Nancy won 16 United States Championships in American Rhythm, International Latin, American Smooth, and World 9-dance Championship. She has performed in numerous dance shows around the country and continues performing to this day.

Cory Thompson

Cory Thompson has more than 25 years of professional broadcast experience, covering major stories and anchoring newscasts for various stations around the country. Currently Thompson is the Public Relations and Information Director at DeKalbTechnical College. He is also the lead television instructor at the Atlanta campus of The Connecticut School of Broadcasting.

In recent years Thompson has been a freelance reporter for High Definition News with The Dish Network; the host and producer of ‘Talk Fulton’ for the Fulton County Government television station, FGTV. Prior to that Thompson was an anchor/reporter for WAGA-TV FOX5 in Atlanta. Before joining FOX 5 in 1998, he anchored the morning and noon news at WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ohio. While there, he earned an Emmy Award for “BestSpot News Anchor.” Cory Thompson held news anchor, reporter, producer, photographer and editor positions at WAPT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi; KTVE-TV in Monroe, Louisiana; KSBY-TV in San Luis Obispo, California; and KCCI-TV in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.

During his career, Thompson has been active in a variety of community programs, including the American Cancer Society and Neighboring Mental HealthServices. He has also been honored for his reporting and community involvement by varous professional and civic organizations. Thompson has been active in numerous professional organizations including the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS). Thompson is a graduate of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. Pior to his professional work with DeKalb Technical College, Thompson served on its Board of Directors. He currently serves on the Atlanta Board of the Alzheimer’s Association. He was the long-time emcee of the annual GOAL banquet for the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education; it was that experience that introduced him to technical education and eventually led to his seat on DeKalb Tech’s Board of Directors.

Thompson now resides in Atlanta and is the father of one daughter.