2024 Dance Teacher Award Honorees Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad Create a Dance Family
July 2, 2024

On Friday nights in Burbank, California, street dancers of all ages and abilities pack into Mihran K. Studios to join in a cherished tradition. At the center of the class is Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez and Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad, the co-founders of Versa-Style Street Dance Company and legends of the Los Angeles dance community.

The pair met in 2004 while Lopez was choreographing her senior dance project at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Lopez had heard of Foaad through the local street-dance community, and though he was not studying at UCLA, she recruited him to her project. They bonded by teaching each other styles close to their hearts: Lopez teaching Foaad house dance and Foaad teaching her popping in exchange. After Lopez graduated, they joined forces as choreographers and, in May 2005, made their debut as Versa-Style Street Dance Company at Carnival Choreographer’s Ball, the longest-running dance showcase in Southern California.

Foaad and Lopez. Photo by George Simian, courtesy Lopez and Foaad.

In 2006, the pair started teaching a house-dance class on Friday nights. “Friday class,” as it has become known, is now the longest-running house class in Los Angeles. Over the 20 years that Lopez and Foaad have taught and performed together, their commitment to honoring the rich history and techniques of street dance, while at the same time building a dance family, has remained constant. For some dancers, stepping into Lopez and Foaad’s class as young students changed the course of their lives.

Ernesto “Precise” Galarza, a Versa-Style company member, met Lopez and Foaad at an after-school dance program when he was 11 years old.

“They opened my eyes and my mind to what I could do with this art form, and they made me feel like I can speak as loud as I can with my movement,” says Galarza, who credits Lopez and Foaad with helping him break out of his shell as a shy young dancer.

In 2011, Lopez returned to UCLA as a lecturer, the first woman of color to teach street dance at the university. Foaad joined her on faculty in 2015. Inside the studio and classroom, the pair’s curriculum aims to honor the cultures and histories of each street-dance style individually: locking, house, breaking, popping, and more.

 “I think people always put hip hop in a big umbrella, and I’m like ‘No! Slow down. Versa-Style has something to teach you,’ ” says Lopez.

They emphasize how teaching street dance and hip hop in colleges tends to break down Eurocentric beliefs that ballet and Western dance are the root of all technique. “That foundation—technique—is very key. Not technique in the Eurocentric form, but technique in general, foundation. And hip hop, street dance, all these styles, they have technique, they have vocabulary,” explains Foaad.

Lopez. Photo by George Simian, courtesy Lopez and Foaad.

In addition to their vision of street-dance education, it’s the familial bonds that Lopez and Foaad have created in their community that sets them apart.

The pair have thoughtfully crafted sustainable careers for their company members, providing dancers with administrative work to supplement their dance careers. “Their priority has really been to help us or guide us into becoming the best versions of ourselves, as human beings first, and then obviously that would connect with our artistry,” says Cynthia “Divina” Hernandez, a member of Versa-Style who also first took Lopez and Foaad’s class as a young dancer.

Although their students often stay close to home (the newest dancer joined the company a decade ago), it’s Lopez and Foaad’s goal that their curriculum prepare dancers for the broader dance industry. “It’s been a pipeline that worked, but not just a pipeline to get into Versa-Style Street Dance Company,” says Lopez. “It’s a pipeline in creating a strong force of artists to get out in the field and give back. My mission is that there are real, authentic street-dance practitioners teaching street dance.”

Along the way, Lopez and Foaad have formed their own family with each other. The couple married in April 2017, their own relationship having developed simultaneously with their performance and teaching careers.

Today, the Versa-Style family is nearly 60 dancers strong, and growing: 10 professional company dancers, 10 junior company members (Versa-Style Legacy), and 40 students in Versa-Style Next Generation, the company’s pre-professional training group (not to mention the countless faces in the Friday class each week). Reflecting on the strength of their community, Lopez says, “It takes a village. It started with Leigh and I, and we were very blessed, but, God, we are surrounded by an incredible group.”

Get your tickets now for the 2024 Dance Teacher Live Workshops & Awards, taking place on Thursday, August 1, 2024 from 9 am–3 pm at The Ailey Studios located in New York City. We can’t wait to see you there!

To read about other 2024 DT awardees, click here.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Sign up for any or all of these newsletters

You have Successfully Subscribed!