Our Staff

Founder and President, Maher Benham, creates and designs the curriculum and its content (ongoing classes, special events, and workshops), hires the faculty and staff, and represents The Hummingbirds Institute to the public.

All of the Institute’s principal staffers are highly-trained professionals at the top of their fields, including our two directors, the dance, yoga, music and creative writing faculty and department heads, special needs experts, aides, and mentors.

The Hummingbirds Institute personnel come from the arenas of the arts, special needs, and not-for-profits.  New York City has the highest concentration of world class dancers, dancers and dance teachers, yogis and yoga teachers, musicians, and music teachers in the world.  The quality of our faculty reflects this fortunate availability of top-level talent.  They have all been trained by the great masters in their respective disciplines, and have spent their entire professional lives perfecting their skills in practice and in teaching.

Founder and President

Maher Benham

Director of Operations

Michael McNabb

Communications Director

Russell Suggs

Special Needs Director

Frederick Tuccinardi

Special Needs Consultants

Fred J. Brandt, Ph.D.

Janice Smestad

Dance Director / Performance Production Director


Yoga Director

Gayatri Matangi Bhagavan Dasi

Music Director

Daniel Bernard Roumain

Creative Writing / Speaking / Signing Director

Madeleine Beckman

Mentor Program Director / Art Institutions Liaison

Tadej Brdnik

Director of Health & Wellness

Victoria De Paul

Class Aides Director

Maria Vasquez

Videographer, Photographer and Documentary Filmmaker

Mark Brady

Special Needs Faculty

The Hummingbirds Institute has three special needs experts available to counsel the parents and families of its clients, who meet privately with them and who facilitate its regularly scheduled support groups.  Dr. Fred Brandt and Janice Smestad are highly qualified and trusted professionals with many years of experience.

Special Needs Director

Frederick Tuccinardi heads our department and is resident representative and spokesperson for the special needs population.   Mr. Tuccinardi has lived his entire life with cerebral palsy.  His first hand experience with the challenges of special needs and his intimate awareness of this condition give him a unique perspective from which he offers invaluable advice to The Institute’s directors, its faculty, its students, and their families.  He is also a member of the Hummingbirds Board of Directors.

Special Needs Consultants

Fred J. Brandt, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Special Education Department and Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College, Adjunct Professor at Fordham University and St. Thomas Aquinas College.  He served as the Director of Special Education Programs at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

Janice Smestad is the Founder of Empathy Associates and a noted expert on living with special needs.  She and Empathy Associates give parents hands-on tools and techniques that help them with real issues they encounter everyday.

Dance Director

Saba is the Director of the Dance Program.  He is an internationally renowned dancer, teacher, and choreographer with years of experience teaching people with a wide range of capabilities.  At the age of 14, Saba was confined to a wheelchair after an accident, and the doctor advised dance classes for his rehabilitation.  This experience has given him a deep understanding of the needs of Hummingbirds students.  He produces and directs The Institute’s annual performances.  He is a recipient of the coveted Bessie award for his choreography.

Dance Faculty

Rachael Kosch, member of the Faculty of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and Ballet New York, and Director of Children’s Theater at Metropolitan Playhouse

Michael Kerr, MA, and New York State Certified K-12 Dance Teacher and licensed New York City Public School Dance Teacher, and member of Coyote Dancers

Jessica Jennings, Certified Gyrokinesis Teacher, Member of Coyote Dancers and Artistic Director of Elojes Dance Theater

Mana Hashimoto, Co-Founder of Treaders in the Snow.  She has lost her sight and she teaches dance for both the visually impaired and the sighted.

Alice Jane Klugherz teaches dance to people of all ages and abilities, performs her own work, and studies dance education and dance therapy at Empire State College.

Yoga Director

Gayatri Matangi Bhagavan Dasi, born in the heart of Europe as Lucia      Polakovičová, has been studying various forms of yoga since 1995. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History/Fine Arts from Temple University/Tyler School of Art, studying in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Rome, Italy.  In 1999, while enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, she had the great fortune to study dance and yoga under the direction of Maher Benham, Advanced Certified Jivamukti yoga teacher and one of only a handful of personally authorized Martha Graham teachers.  Maher’s teaching led her to Jivamukti Yoga.  Gayatri studied Jivamukti, Ashtanga and Dharma Mittra Yoga, as well as nada yoga, chanting, mantra japa, tantra mysticism, and puja worship under the tutelage of Bhagavan Das with whom she toured across the United States and Canada assisting with workshops and kirtan, devotional call and response chanting, in yoga centers, retreats, and ashrams.  Her work is influenced by the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya, “the grandfather of modern yoga,” Bhagavan Das who initiated her into the mystical currents of tantric transmogrification, and Maher Benham, who launched her into a spiritual spiral of inner transformation.  Gayatri received her yoga teacher certification in New York City from Yoga Sutra and completed her certification for Prenatal Yoga from Ma Yoga at Lila, Dharma, and Wellness under the direction of Mia Borgatta and Eden Fromberg, D.O.  With Maher’s encouragement and support she’s in the process of being certified through Shakti Raja Yoga under the formal apprenticeship with Maher Benham.

Yoga Faculty

Sheila Steinberg, living with MS, is a certified Sivananda Yoga Teacher.  She was a dance therapist at Bellevue Hospital until she was diagnosed with MS in 1991.

Oliver Tobin is a graduate of the studio program at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.  He received his teacher training in yoga from the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Reith, Tyrol, Austria in 2001 and has taught at the Sivananda Yoga Center in New York City.

Music Director

Daniel Bernard Roumain is Musical Director of The Hummingbirds School as well as of Coyote Dancers and the Bill T. Jones Dance Company.  He and his musical group, The Mission, are known worldwide, and his community of highly trained musicians make up the Institute’s Musical Faculty.  In consultation with Ms. Benham, he has developed a unique music curriculum designed especially for the special needs population.

Music Faculty

Don Conreaux, renowned gongmaster, creator of “gong bath therapy” for children with special needs. He is in demand worldwide for his workshops, and he travels the globe offering The Way of the Gong.

Wynne Bennett, member of The Mission

John Warren, percussionist

Board of Directors

Maher Benham, Founder and President

Frederick Tuccinardi, living with cerebral palsy since birth

Patricia Vardin, Ph.D., Professor of Early Childhood Education and Child

Development, Manhattanville College

Honorary Board of Directors

Stuart Hodes, former member of The Martha Graham Dance Company and partner to Miss Graham for 14 years, former Director of The Martha         Graham School of Contemporary Dance

Terese Capucilli, Former Dancer and Artistic Director, The Martha Graham Dance Company

Chris Landriau, Music Director, Trevor Day School

Nadine Hack, President of Because Global Consulting, former New York City Commissioner to the United Nations, member of the faculty, New York University

Dudley Williams, Principal Dancer with both The Martha Graham and Ailey Dance Companies, and member of the faculties of The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and the Ailey School

Sharon Gannon, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Jivamukti Yoga Center

David Life, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Jivamukti Yoga Center

Advisory Team

The Institute’s accountant is Robert Taylor of Taylor and Lord, New York City.

The Insurance Company is the Philadelphia Insurance Company,

Philadelphia, PA.

Diane Dragone, Artistic Director/Choreographer, The Kennedy Dancers, and expert in teaching dance in special education, is consultant to the School.

Peter Barton, company d.

2008 © The Hummingbirds Institute, Inc.

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