Artistic Director

Julie Gayer Kris, B.A./Phi Beta Kappa, Rutgers College, has been the Artistic Director of Avodah Dance since 2004. She has been teaching and performing dance and movement for over 20 years.

 Julie has an eclectic background in dance and movement; she is a certified yoga instructor through the American Viniyoga Institute (since 1999), and she has studied modern dance, improvisation, and choreography with Helen Barrow (Merce Cunnigham), Karen Steele (Lar Lubovitch), KT Niehoff, Tere O’Connor, and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. While living in Hawaii, Julie danced with a Halau Hula, Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, dancing traditional and contemporary Hawaiian dances. She toured the Hawaiian Islands for “Dance Quake,” a Hawaii State Dance Festival, performing with Hawaii State award winning choreographer David Ward. Julie also studied yoga and classical South Indian dance, Bharata Natyam, while staying in Chennai, India. During her stay there, Julie was invited by T.K.V. Desikachar to perform in sacred ceremonies at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. With the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Anna Halprin, she learned about creating community-based dances. Julie is a certified Planetary Dance leader under Anna Halprin and began leading the 30 year-old community dance ritual in 2010.

Julie has been leading movement workshops, residencies, and retreats for all levels and ages since 1996. Julie leads Text Study through Movement (Dance Midrash), using movement to bring new meanings to traditional text study and ritual for students and congregants at schools, synagogues, churches, community centers, rabbinical and seminary schools and more. With Avodah, Julie leads dance residencies in women’s correctional facilities throughout the East Coast, facilitating participants to create their own movement phrases and participate in dance building and performance. As a teaching artist and artist fellow with LABA, a Jewish house of study for culture makers located at the 14th Street Y (2009-2013), Julie integrates text study to create several dance events and performance pieces, including an intergenerational performance involving professional dancers as well as those with no dance training. Julie has a unique ability to make movement and dance accessible to all, helping people to connect with their bodies and minds in a way that is engaging, playful and revealing.

Julie attended Jewish Day School until fourth grade, had a Bat Mitzvah and was confirmed. She enjoys exploring her Jewish heritage through the art of dance. Being a part of Avodah has truly deepened her understanding and connection to Jewish culture and spirituality.

Currently, Julie lives with her husband Stephen Kris, a goldsmith, and their son, Mars Dylan, a budding movement and visual artist, in Greenwich Village, New York City. 

Musical Director

Legendary drummer Newman Taylor Baker evokes a myriad of instruments to create a stunning tapestry, emotional in delivery and profound in its discoveries. A masterful musical storyteller, he uses blues, gospel, classical, jazz to tell a subtly breath-taking tale of the drum in U. S. African history.

Baker (b. 1943) grew up on the campus of the Virginia State University, where his mother taught English Literature and his father was Head of the Department of Chemistry. Baker began playing the drums as a small child, receiving his first drum at 2 yrs. old. Singin’ Drums, Baker’s solo drum set project, released its debut CD Drum-Suite-Life on Innova Recordings #238 September 2010 and received excellent reviews “Satisfying, joyfully swinging, bewitching, meditative, luxury,” Hank Shteamer, Time Out NY; “What Newman Taylor Baker IS is imaginative and creative… brilliant,” Gapplegate Music Review,; NTB and Company has Baker’s patented invention NTBzzz, a bass drum anchoring system on sale at

Baker may be best known for his long association with Billy Harper but he has also been a member of the groups of many other renowned performers, including Billy Bang, Henry Grimes, Henry Threadgill, Abdullah Ibrahim, Leroy Jenkins, Jeanne Lee, Sam Rivers, Charlie Rouse, Reggie Workman, Richmond Symphony (with guest composer Aaron Copland), Delaware Symphony, and has performed with many others, including Kenny Barron, Ahmad Jamal, James Moody, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner , Kevin Eubanks, John Blake, Albert Dailey, Lou Donaldson, Eddie Henderson,, and. Jymie Merritt. Baker’s 21 year associations with Mickey D. & Friends Dance Company as musical director, and Avodah Dance as composer-in-residence fostered his career as a teaching artist, over 45 years teaching for schools and arts organizations including Rutgers University Newark, NJ; Widener University Chester, PA; York Correctional Institute, public and private schools, and music conservatories in New York City; Nassau County, NY; Szczecin, Warsaw, Lodz, Goleniow, Poland; and, Osaka, Japan. His education includes a MM in Music Education from East Carolina University and a B.S. in Music Education from Virginia State University. At the young age of 67, Baker has found a new music and instrument by joining The Ebony Hillbillies — the only NYC-based black string band — and playing washboard, a magical experience. 

Director of Development, Outreach Coordinator, Movement Collaborator

Meredith-Lyn Avey holds a BFA in Dance Performance, SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Dance, and a Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management from The New School for Public Engagement. Since 2006, Meredith has been living and working in NYC, performing for independent choreographers at various venues while showing her own choreographic work in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In January 2009 Meredith joined Avodah Dance, where she began facilitating movement residencies with women’s prisons, public schools and community centers while also conducting workshops for the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute in NYC. Since 2011, Meredith has assisted Avodah’s executive/artistic director as Outreach and Development Assistant, where she aids in fundraising, coordinating residencies, visual and social media marketing, project proposals and communications. As Director of Development and Outreach Coordinator, Meredith now leads fundraising initiatives and program development for Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and York Correctional Institution for women.

Administrative Assistant & Movement Collaborator

Rachel Oliver
, holds a BS in Dance and Biochemistry from Beloit College, and recieved an MFA in Dance, as an Arts and Sciences Fellow at CU-Boulder.   Rachel has recently started working with Avodah Dance and is thrilled to be involved in an organization that uses dance for social change and activism.  Rachel has had the opportunity to perform for Double Vision, Carte Blanche Performance, Tough Cookie Dance, ecnDanceWorks (now The Moving Architects), and the West Virginia Dance Company, among others.  Rachel’s choreographic work has been presented in many settings, including being commissioned by Longmont Dance TheatreBare Bait Dance, and the West Virginia Dance Company, selected for performance at Performática in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, México, and presented at Between the Bones Studio Collective, the ATLAS Institute, the Philly Live Arts & Fringe, the Jack and Triskelion Arts.

Movement Collaborators

Sarah Zitnay holds a B.F.A. in Dance from SUNY, Purchase College. Sarah has been a member of Avodah Dance Ensemble since the fall of 2006. She has also danced for Kota Yamazaki, alex/xan: The Median Movement, York Dance Works, Meredith-Lyn Avey, Laura Peterson Choreography and Darcy Naganuma.  Her choreography has been seen at the 14th Street Y, Triskelion Arts, House of Yes, RoofTop Dance, BAX’s UPSTART Festival and the American Dance Guild Festival.  Sarah has also worked with Nora Petroliunas/The Pharmacy Project and White Road Dance Media.  Sarah also holds a 200-hour yoga teacher certification from Kula Yoga and lives in Brooklyn, NY.


Leah Ives received her BFA in Dance and minor in Movement Science from The University of Michigan. Leah has been dancing with Avodah since 2008. She loves Avodah’s mission of service, and truly believes that dance has the power to heal hearts, transform lives, and build community. Leah has also had the opportunity to dance for The A.O. Movement Collective/ Sarah A.O. Rosner, Elizabeth Dishman, Sarah Zitnay, Median Dance/ Alex Springer and Xan Burley, the Leopold Group, and the Peter Sparling Dance Company. Leah is currently dancing for the Trisha Brown Dance Company, a position she received this summer, is a Licensed Massage Therapist and occasionally makes her own dances.


Melissa Brading
is a New York based teacher, dancer and choreographer originally from Topeka, KS. She holds a BFA in dance education from the University of Central Oklahoma and spent 3 years dancing for Ad Deum Dance Company in Houston, TX before moving to New York in 2007. Melissa has danced for choreographers such as Hope Boykin, Nejla Yatkin, Amanda Selwyn, Chris Ferris, Sarah Council and joined Avodah Dance Ensemble in 2013. She has taught various styles of dance in Kansas, Texas, Michigan, New York and The Nederlands. She has also had the privilege to teach for The Limón Institute upon completing the Limón Teachers Workshop lead by Alan Danielson. Melissa works for The Joyce Theater Foundation and also makes dances of her own when the two magical forces of time and space come together.