MEET THE STAFF
Meghan began her dance training in Madison, WI, where she was a part of the Wisconsin Dance
Ensemble and other performing groups in the area. Meghan decided to further her dance education
by attending Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2001, she graduated Magna Cum Laude and
most outstanding student in the Department of Fine Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in
Dance. Following college, Meghan was awarded a scholarship to study at the Giordano Dance
Center, from there she became an apprentice with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and then a
professional company member. With Giordano Meghan traveled the world dancing and had the
opportunity to perform works by Randy Duncan, Gus Giordano, Nan Giordano, Christopher Huggins,
Ron de Jesus, Jon Lehrer, Mia Michaels, Tony Powel, Davis Robertson, and many more. She also
had the honor of representing Giordano on the cover of the August 2007 issue of Dance Magazine.
Meghan completed her fifth and final season with Giordano in 2009. After her departure from
Giordano, Meghan served one year as the Rehearsal Director and as a dancer for Piel Morena
Contemporary Dance. Collaborating with this company Meghan became Co-Director of and helped
to create a very successful summer intensive dance program, International Contemporary Dance
Intensive. Meghan’s teaching career took flight at North Shore School of Dance in Highland Park, IL,
where she became the head of the Jazz Department and Director of the North Shore Repertory
Dance Ensemble. She has also been a Master Teacher and Guest Choreographer in the Chicago
area and across the United States. Meghan feels very fortunate to be able to share dance with
others as the Founder and Owner of Midwest Performing Arts.
School Director, Resident Choreographer, Instructor
Jessica found her passion for dance at the age of four in her hometown of Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin. Her love for choreography and teaching started at a young age when she was asked to choreograph for Sauk Prairie’s Executive Session Show Choir’s European Tour upon graduating high school. Jessica continued her education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dance. There she had the privilege to perform works by professional companies as well as showcase her choreography in both the university’s dance and musical theater productions. Jessica was dance captain and performed in professional dinner theater productions throughout her college education. After college, Jessica began her teaching experience at Midwest Performing Arts (MPA) in Waunakee, WI. Jessica is now the School Director, Resident Choreographer, and Instructor at MPA where she is in her 12th year of teaching. She has had the privilege of working with the Sauk Prairie High School on their musicals for the past four years. She has also worked with their Executive Session Show Choir where she has been recognized for Outstanding Choreography. Jessica was awarded Outstanding Choreography in the Wisconsin Jerry Awards for her choreography in Mamma Mia (2021) and The Little Mermaid (2019). Jessica is so proud of all the dancers and performers she has worked with for their hard work, dedication, and love for dance! It has been an absolute privilege for her to watch them grow into amazing dancers and people.
Media & Marketing Coordinator, Assistant Office Manager, Resident Choreographer, Instructor
Crystal Sutherland began dancing at age six, where she grew up Mercer, WI, a small town in Northern Wisconsin, near the U.P. of Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from Columbia College Chicago in 2016, focusing her degree on pedagogy. Crystal has performed in choreography during her time at Columbia under the direction of Taisha Paggett, Alicia Wilson, Rebecca Huang, Pamela McNeil, Dr. Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris, and Jessica Miller Tomlinson. Upon graduation, Crystal moved back to her home state of Wisconsin to Madison. Here, she has had the pleasure of being a choreographer, performer, teacher, and director with Madison Contemporary Dance for three years. Within MCD, she performed in pieces under the direction of Corinne Jones, Michael Knight, Natalie Nemeckay, Tyler Nemmers, Beth Piccolo, Kimberly Smith, and herself. Crystal is an award-winning choreographer and her piece, “Remember My Name,” was selected for the final gala at Cathedral Dance Festival in 2019. Crystal began teaching at Midwest Performing Arts in 2016. She is now the Media & Marketing Coordinator, Assistant Office Manager, Resident Choreographer, and Instructor at MPA. Crystal loves sharing her passion for dance and choreography with her students and is incredibly proud of all of them!
Meghan’s love for dancing began at the age of six in her hometown of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Meghan joined Midwest Performing Arts when they first opened their doors. She was a part of the Youth Performance Groups and yearly Nutcracker performances where she performed many roles including Clara, Harlequin Doll and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Meghan decided to further her training by attending summer intensives with Ballet Arizona, Joffrey Ballet School, and Bolshoi Academy. During her time at the Joffrey Summer Intensive, she received an offer and scholarship from the Artistic Director, Era Jouravlev, to attend the year-round Trainee program (founded by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino); thus, beginning her professional career. In 2018, Meghan moved out to New York City during her senior year of high school to finish her schooling. With her time at the Joffrey Ballet, she performed soloist and lead roles such as the Lead Pas De Deux Flower, Lead Spanish, and Snowflake in the Nutcracker, as well as Soloist roles in Romeo and Juliet, Naina’s Magical Garden, and Gamzahtti’s Variation from La Bayadere. Working and learning aside many established teachers, Meghan was given the opportunity to work with world renowned ballet instructors such as Era Jouravlev from Perm State Ballet, Marina Bogdanova from the Mariinsky Ballet, Gaiane Akopian from Vaganova Academy, Stacy Caddell from the New York City Ballet and the Balanchine Trust. After three years with the school, Meghan began finding her love for teaching and sharing her passion with others in the Madison area. She is heading into her fourth year of teaching, and can not wait to dance with you in the studio!
Celia grew up in Monona, WI and started dancing at the age of three at Monona Academy of Dance. She studied summers on scholarship at Milwaukee Ballet, Joffrey Midwest, Orlando Ballet, and Ballet Hispanico. She danced professionally with the Milwaukee Ballet performing in several of Michael Pink's works including Dracula, Swan Lake, Scheherazade, and Nutcracker and with The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC). She has been teaching for over 14 years and has taught at Monona Academy of Dance, the Milwaukee Ballet School, in the Milwaukee Area Public Schools, in a demo-video in the Milwaukee Children's Museum, MSCR Programs, at DCDC Dance School, in the Dayton Public Schools, and Dance Academy LTD in Elm Grove, WI. She has also hosted a Summer Dance Camp at Cambridge High School choreographing for their dance team; as well as choreographed for the non-profit Dance Wisconsin. She graduated from Edgewood College with a B.S. in Business in 2010 and with an MBA in 2013. Currently, Celia is working for the University of Wisconsin Systems Administration (UWSA). Celia is very excited to be part of the MPA Dance family and be able to share her love of dance and teaching.
Raised in Natick, Massachusetts, Abi Shepherd trained at the Walnut School of Ballet along with multiple competition teams. After moving to Indiana, she trained with G. Scotten Talent Center’s competition troupe which led to her graduation from the University of Alabama with a BA in Dance and an additional BS in Marketing. While in college, she was a scholarship recipient for Gus Giordano and Inaside Chicago Dance and interned for American Ballet Theater (ABT) summer intensive. She has choreographed and performed pieces that were presented in Dance Alabama, Dance Collection, and Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre. She also received the “Best Performance” award for her dance film “accept it or not, it’s gonna happen” at Dance Alabama Film Festival in which she directed and performed. She performed and choreographed for Madison Contemporary Dance for 2 seasons and judged regional and national competitions for Fly Dance Competition for 3 years. Abi now choreographs and teaches all styles for all ages at pre-professional and competitive studios in the Madison area and is a traveling guest artist throughout the Midwest.
Ben Shepard is new to the Madison area dance community, and he’s excited to teach at MPA. Ben is a new company dancer with Madison Ballet. He moved from Cleveland, OH where he danced with Ohio Contemporary Ballet (Formerly Verb Ballets) for 5 seasons. While there, he performed roles such as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet in Havana, Cuba; a principal in Celebration by Gerald Arpino, and as the lead in a number of Heinz Poll ballets. On the contemporary side he enjoyed performing in world premieres set by Tommie-Waheed Evans, Joshua Peugh, and Stephanie Martinez. Ben has a Bachelor’s degree in Dance and Arts Administration from Butler University, where he studied the Vagonova method, the French school, the Balanchine style, Graham, and Cunningham technique. He is looking forward to sharing all that he’s learned through his education and professional experiences with the students at MPA.
Office Staff, Front of House Manager
Erin grew up in Waunakee, WI and started dancing at Kehl School of Dance at age 5. She then starting dancing with MPA as soon as they opened in 2012. In her time at MPA, she was in the Nutcracker performances and the Youth Performance Groups. After that Erin stuck around and helped backstage at Spring Concerts and every Nutcracker. Her training with MPA later set her up for success at UW-Madison. She is now in her 3rd year with the Wisconsin Singers as a singer/dancer and 2nd year as the Production Manager. Erin could not be more excited to work with her MPA family!
Dana has enjoyed being part of MPA since its beginning in 2012. She brings to MPA her organizational skills, her eye for color and costuming, and friendly disposition. You will often find Dana back in the costume room, her favorite of the new addition. “I love watching the students grow into young adulthood, and although are happy for them, am also sad to see them graduate.” Dana’s greatest joy has always been watching her two daughters grow through their love or dance and the experiences they are able to share with their students. Family has always been important and Dana relishes her role of “Nana” to her 6 grandchildren. Dana retired from her Executive Director role in 2023, however, you may see her here and there at the front desk and she will continue to help with our beautiful costumes for Nutcracker.
Abigail Gerdes graduated from Indiana University for Contemporary Dance and Recreational Therapy in 2023. She was born and raised in Lake Mills, Wisconsin where she began her love and passion for dance at the young age of three. She has been trained in a variety of styles, including tap, jazz, ballet/pointe, modern, and hip hop through her home studio, Midwest Performing Arts, in Waunakee, Wisconsin. While at MPA, Gerdes performed with their Youth Performance Group as well as their seasonal Nutcracker performance under the direction of Meghan McDermott. She made an appearance in Bodies in Bold, Sounding Bodies, SLIP Showcase, and New Moves, where she performed in multiple choreographic works under a variety of artists. At IU, she worked alongside a number of choreographers such as Elizabeth Shea, Erik Abbott-Main, Stafford C. Berry, Beatrice Capote, Selene Carter, Juel D. Lane, Eisenhower Dance, Stefanie Nelson, Robert Burden, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, and Dr. Prathiba Natesan Batley. She co-choreographed a piece, “Unbind”, in the SLIP Showcase. Gerdes enjoys choreographing and teaching in her freetime and always looks forward to working with students. She hopes to dance with a repertoire company post graduation and also hopes to work as a Recreational Therapist who focuses on dance as a therapeutic practice. She is absolutely thrilled to be teaching at MPA and is excited to share her passion for dance with others!
Lauren Thompson grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and received her early training at Ballet Hawaii and Honolulu Classical Ballet. She has always loved teaching, assisting teachers at both Ballet Hawaii and Honolulu Classical Ballet. She continued her studies at Ballet West Academy and Nashville Ballet II. In 2018, Lauren moved to Oconomowoc to become a founding member of The BrayBallet under artistic director Eddy Bray. Upon moving to Wisconsin, she rediscovered her love of teaching and has been teaching as much as she can. While dancing at BrayBallet, she performed principal roles in Bray’s Dracula, Nutcracker, and Sinatra Suite, as well as a variety of pas de deux from the classical repertoire. Lauren is currently dancing at Madison Ballet.
Named “The Swiss Army Knife of Chicago Dance” by Dance Magazine, Martin Ortiz graduated from University of Wisconsin Stevens Point earning his BFA with additional summer training dance programs from Luna Negra Dance Theater, Thodos Dance Chicago, and Giordano Dance Chicago. He performed and toured nationally as a company member for Giordano Dance Chicago for over nine years. After concert dancing, another passion of Martin’s is musical Theater. Martin recently appeared in Lyric’s Opera of Chicago West Side Story among other musical theater productions such as A Chorus Line, Saturday Night Fever, Newsies, Cabaret, and Mary Poppins. During the fall, Martin will debut in his first Opera Production as a featured dancer on Lyric’s Opera of Chicago Jenůfa. Martin is also making his debut as a choreographer and actor on the big screen. He has choreographed the movie musical Good Enough and recently Movin In, which will be released in 2024. Martin also keeps busy working in the fitness industry with several certifications under his belt for major athletic clubs around the Chicago area.
Ryan Galloway spent his early years studying tap, jazz, and hip-hop. He performed with the professional troupe Fever Inferno Hip-Hop Squad and also earned many titles at national dance competitions. He was introduced to contemporary dance in college at Indiana University and was quickly cast in many guest works including Paul Taylor's Esplanade, David Parsons' Nascimento Novo, Larry Keigwin's Runway, and Ishan Rustem's Long Story Short. He also performed at the National College Dance Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was awarded the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity in the category of Performing and Creative Arts. Ryan has performed with Elizabeth Shea Dance at the Boston Contemporary Dance Festival, the American Dance Guild's Festival 2014 at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre, the Midwest Dance Festival, and as a guest with the Indianapolis-based, Dance Kaleidoscope, directed by former Graham dancer David Hochoy. Ryan is currently in his 9th season as a member with Giordano Dance Chicago where he has performed around the world spreading the Giordano Legacy. He is also the Owner and Artistic Director with his wife, Kim, at Principle Dance in Forest Park, IL.
Kesha Milenkovic is originally from Gaithersburg Maryland. She started dancing at the age of nine at Motion Mania Dance Center. For many summers she attended Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive, Bates Dance Festival and many more. She performed at the Kennedy Center under the direction of Debbie Allen in two productions called “Dreams & Pearl”. Kesha graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance. After graduation, Kesha got a scholarship at Gus Giordano Dance School and later was accepted into Gus Giordano second company. In 2010, Kesha was casted as a dancer/vocalist for the Broadway musical Chicago on the Allure of The Seas and danced/aerial work in numerous production shows for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for 6 years. She is currently on faculty at North Shore School of Dance in Highland Park, IL and the Artistic Associate for Inaside Chicago Dance. Also, the current rehearsal director and choreographer for C5 (create with no limits) under the direction of Jeremy Plummer. Kesha has always been passionate about performing, but now has the opportunity to expand her knowledge by teaching/choreographing.
Guest Instructor/Choreographer, Director of Inaside Chicago Dance Company
Robert McKee is the Artistic Director of Inaside Chicago Dance. He is a former dancer in Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and was a guest performer for several dance companies in the Chicago area. Robert began an interest in Choreography at a very young age. He often uses everyday experiences and emotions to inspire his unique blend of jazz and contemporary movements in his dances. Through his passion of movement exploration and a love for teaching, he has choreographed for his own company, studios, and Universities in the US and Europe. Driven to connect with dancers of all ages, Robert instills the foundation of technique and quality in any group he is working with.
Richard Smith is the proud new owner and executive director of 360° Dance Festival. He attended East Carolina University in North Carolina, where he earned a BFA in Dance Performance, with a concentration in Jazz Dance and Dance Education in 2000. After college, he moved to Chicago to train with Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Richard was fortunate to have the opportunity to work and travel with the late Gus Giordano and he now teaches the Giordano Technique in Chicago, IL. The Gus Giordano Dance School named Richard a master jazz dance teacher and he is currently a summer faculty member at the Gus Giordano Dance School. From 2009 until 2017, Richard was the artistic director of Inaside Chicago Dance. In addition, between 2008 to 2012, Richard had the opportunity to be an artist-in-residence at his alma mater, East Carolina University, as well as at Western Michigan University, Elon University and Duke University. In 2012, Richard was a judge for Miss America of North Carolina. He is also a regional and national adjudicator and teacher for Applause Talent Presentations, Kids Artistic Revue, Dance Masters of Michigan, Dance Masters of Wisconsin, Bravo Dance Competition, and Rainbow Connection, in addition to teaching and choreographing for workshops, studios and companies throughout the US. Richard was a visiting professor at his Alma Mater East Carolina University for the 2022-2023 school year. Currently, he is the technique expert for More Than Just Great Dancing Affiliate Studios and serves on the advisory board for Youth Advocates Protection in Dance (YPAD). Richard is excited to be a leader in movement to promote the health and wellness of the whole dancer at the 360° Dance Festival.
Choreographer Joshua Blake Carter has created works for dance companies, theater companies and events across the nation. Originally from Atlanta, GA, he was selected as the 2009 winner of Wonderbound’s (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado) national choreography competition, dancemakers2.0. In 2013, he was one of six winners commissioned to create a new work for DanceWorks Chicago’s DanceMoves choreography competition and was awarded the Producers’ Panel Prize by the Ruth Page Foundation for his work, “Ripen.” Joshua has created two original works for Giordano Dance Chicago, where he danced for seven seasons and currently serves as Operations Manager, and eight original works for Giordano II, where he currently serves as Director. Joshua’s choreography for Disney’s NEWSIES at the Paramount Theatre was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award and Regional Broadway World Award. Other commissions include Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Nomi Dance Company, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Artifact Dance Project as well as an original work for Embarq with Joffrey Ballet. In 2016, he created the finale for the event Sing! featuring Elton John. Joshua has been an Artist in Residence with Brenau University, Glendale Community College, Illinois State University, Salve Regina University and Southeast Missouri State University.
Guest Instructor/Choreographer, Nutcracker Choreographer
Ashley Burkland received her early training with the Kehl School of Dance, under Susan Marsden, Shannon Gallagher, and Jo Ann Janus. She was a member of the youth ballet company Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, under the direction of Jo Jean Retrum. With this company, Ashley danced roles in The Nutcracker, Coppélia, La Fille Mal Gardée, and Peter Rabbit Ballet. She also worked with choreographers Frank Chavez, Julie Janus, Tyler Walters, and Greg Begley. Ashley received a scholarship to study dance at the University of Arizona, training with Susan Quinn, Michael Williams, Sam Watson, Jory Hancock, Melissa Lowe, and James Clouser. While there, she performed in numerous Dance Department Showcases and ballets including Paquita, Gershwin Medley, and Carmina Burana. She also danced with the U of A Pomline. Ashley completed her degree at the University of Minnesota, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Dance in 2004. Ashley has danced professionally with Kanopy Dance Company, Jazzworks Dance Company, Madison Contemporary Vision Dance Company, Continental Ballet Company, and Cities Classical Dance Ensemble. In her professional career she has had the honor of working with choreographers such as Randy Duncan, Sherry Zunker, Ron Tice, Lisa Thurell, and Robert Cleary. While Ashley loves to perform, her true passion for dance is teaching. She has over 20 years of teaching experience at various studios in Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities area. It is a dream come true for her to own a dance studio and she feels blessed for the success of Ashley Ballet Arts Academy. In ABAA’s eleven years of business, Ashley has enjoyed watching the studio grow and the students thrive, and inspiring a love for the ART and JOY of dance in the Twin Cities community. Ashley now lives in the Mankato area, with her husband Carl and their three children, Charlie, Oliver, and Eden.