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The Starella Sisters Interview with Sanjna Varela

The Starella Sisters from Portland, Oregon, is a vintage dance troupe that specializes in dance styles harking back to the Golden Era of Hollywood and beyond. We interviewed Sanjna Varela, one of the founding members of the group, for this article. If there’s anything Sanjna misses, it is the glitz and glamour of those “good old days.” Imagine going back in time and seeing a full production with a big band, singers, and last, but not least, dancers! The Starella Sisters are here to bring you a glimmer of that glorious past.

 The Starella Sisters are actually not sisters, although they may as well be. They sure know how to laugh, cry, love, and have the occasional disagreement, just like sisters. The name Starella is a combination of Pearl’s and Sanjna last names, Stokes and Varela

This is a fairly new group that originally had only two dancers, Pearl and Sanjna . They first performed with the Jenny Finn Orchestra at the Secret Society Ballroom.  Pearl and Sanjna had just created their own duet after having previously been involved with other vintage dance troupes. They were excited to collaborate and express their own shared ideas and vision.

Sanjna Varela believes that their dance group is different from other dance troupes because the “sisters” all share a love of vintage music and dance. They try to create an overall ambiance of the era/theme that they are trying to evoke. The group aims to transport their audience to a place of fantasy, glitz, and glamour not often seen these days. They have a diverse skill set within the group that all contributes to making The Starella Sisters what they are today. Their talents include, but are not limited to costume design, vintage hair styling, theatre and original choreography. Within their group, the “sisters” their collective dance background consists of ballet, jazz, tap, swing, ballroom and Irish step dancing.

Shortly after their debut at the Secret Society Ballro0m, they were asked to choreograph and perform a funny pre-flight skit/dance. The theme was vintage airline travel. Pearl and Sanjna decided to be “Pan Am girls” and dance to Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly with Me following a brief pre-flight skit. Their retro stewardess costumes were quite a hit with the attendees and gave Pearl and Sanjna the confidence that they were on to something. They have since honed their choreography and dance skills.

Since that debut, they have increased in number. They first added Kristen Behlings to the group creating a trio and officially performed as the Starella Sisters. Allison Kramer soon joined the group and Julie Boucher became their most recent member. Among the group the five dancers, they have varied backgrounds of ballet, tap, jazz, swing, Irish dance, ballroom, theater, costuming, and vintage hairstyling, all of which makes their group the Starella Sisters. The “sisters” aim to transport you to a place of fantasy, glitz, and glamour that is not often seen these days.

Since their inception, they have had wonderful opportunities to perform at quite a few memorable events over the past few years. The coolest? Well, Sanjna cites dancing before a packed house at Revolution Hall with a full-sized big band to celebrate what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday as definitely up there as possibly the coolest! They also have fond memories of their first Tiki Kon performance on an outdoor stage by the Columbia River at sunset, which was pretty amazing.

The biggest mistake that Sanjna sees dancers make, specifically while performing, is forgetting to include the audience in their performance – include them with facial expression, especially with the eyes. Fail to truly look, see and take in the world through their eyes as they dance. This holds true for the audience as well as the other dancers around them.

The Starella Sisters’ goals for this upcoming year are to continue to create exciting new dance numbers and to have the opportunity to perform and delight a diverse group of audiences.

The Starella Sisters perform in a number of different settings for vaudeville shows, gala events, and dinner theatre often with live bands. They usually choreograph dance numbers at the request of their client to suit the theme of the event. The Starella Sisters are very grateful that they have been able to create this special group of ladies. Sharing their ideas, bringing them to fruition, and experiencing this creative outlet together brings the “sisters” so much pleasure. They hope to be able to share their joy and their particular brand of retro glamour and dance with their audiences for many years to come.

Sanjna relates that they always have at least one crazy/funny story from all of their gigs! One that comes to her mind is the time that she had a major wardrobe malfunction as they were finishing up a number at one of Tony Starlight’s Copacabana tributes. The guests were seated at dinner tables and for this particular number, the “sisters” were dancing their way around the floor among the audience rather than on stage. Sanjna became aware in the middle of the number that the zipper on the back of her strapless sequined gown was gradually pulling itself apart. Instead of freaking out, she was trying to play it cool and gracefully make her way to the dressing room before inadvertently turning the dance into a burlesque number. Kristen had noticed what was happening and was frantically trying her best to get behind Sanjna in order to minimize the number of audience members noticing. Kristen was so worried about Sanjna that she had not realized the zipper on her own gown had given up the ghost early in the number. They believe it is a miracle her dress stayed on despite the zipper gaping open all the way down her back. Pearl says she has never had to conceal laughter so determinedly in her life. Sanjna believes that they must have looked like a comedy skit!

What does the future hold for the Starella Sisters? Sanjna feels like they are just getting started! They are about to start working on a piece for the Oregon Historical Society’s History Makers Dinner in October. They also plan on performing at Miz Kitty’s Parlour this upcoming season and were recently asked to perform at Tiki Oasis down in San Diego in 2018.

They invite you to “Like” them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. They can also be found on YouTube.

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