MEET THE STAFF
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MEGHAN MCDERMOTT

Owner, Artistic Director, Instructor

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 and 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, which is now in its fifth year running. 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 through her performing, teaching, and choreography.

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JESSICA

BALLWEG

Assistant Artistic 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 Assistant Artistic Director, Resident Choreographer, and Instructor at MPA where she is in her 11th year of teaching.  She has had the privilege of working with the Sauk Prairie High School on their musicals for the past few 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). She also enjoys choreographing for various Show Choirs and Dance Studios throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Jessica is so proud of all the dancers at MPA 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.

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CRYSTAL SUTHERLAND

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!

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CELIA F.

BRAKER

Instructor

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 also 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.

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MEGHAN
HEBGEN

Instructor

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 Julliet, 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 has been teaching for 3 years and is so excited to be back at her home studio with the support of Meghan McDermott.

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LAUREN
THOMPSON

Instructor

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. 

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ABI

SHEPHERD

Instructor

Raised in Natick, Massachusetts, Abi Shepherd trained at the Walnut School of Ballet along with multiple competition teams. After moving to Fishers, Indiana to be closer to family, she trained with G.Scotten Talent Center’s competition team which led to her recent 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 as well as Inaside Chicago Dance and was an intern for ABT summer intensive. She has choreographed/performed pieces that were presented in Dance Alabama!, Dance Collection and Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre. She also received a “best performance” award for her dance film “accept it or not, it’s gonna happen” presented at Dance Alabama Film Festival. She now is working on projects performing and choreographing with Madison Contemporary Dance.

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ABIGAIL

GERDES

Summer Instructor

Abigail Gerdes is currently a sophomore at Indiana University and is studying Contemporary Dance and Recreational Therapy. 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. Recently, she has 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. Since being at IU, she has 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. This year, 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!

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DANA 

GRANTIN

Owner, Executive Director

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 looks forward to her retirement….someday!

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ROBERT

MCKEE

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. 

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HANNAH
EICHER

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

Hannah Eicherl began her dance training at a young age at the Algonquin Academy of Dance, located in Lake in the Hills, IL. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography with a minor in Business from Dean College, located in Franklin, MA in 2019. While attending Dean, Hannah trained extensively in ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, modern, hip hop and basic ballroom technique. She performed works choreographed by James Morrow, Levi Marsman, Todd Shanks, and William (Bill) Evans, and also performed in the 2017 NFL Kickoff Pregame Show at Gillette Stadium. Upon graduating, Hannah returned to the Chicagoland area and trained on scholarship at Joel Hall Dancers and Center where she trained with Joel Hall, William Gill, and Van Collins. In summer of 2020, she joined Inaside Chicago Dance and recently completed her second season with the company. Hannah has performed in many festivals around the Chicagoland area on behalf of Inaside and other independent projects. She can be found most evenings teaching at Algonquin Academy of Dance and travels nationally with Ellen Werksman of Dancewerks to teach on their regional tour. 

Regina Peluso

REGINA
PELUSO

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

Regina Peluso is the Founding Artistic Director of Collide Theatrical Dance Company. A graduate of The Boston Conservatory of Music with a BFA in Musical Theater, Regina spent over a decade working as a dancer and actress in New York and Los Angeles before relocating back to her hometown of Minneapolis. Performance highlights include Off-Broadway (original cast) of The Awesome 80's Prom and a series regular role on an Emmy Award winning children's television show.  Peluso has created over 18 original dance theater productions for Collide. Favorites include Romeo & Juliet (Cowles Center 2020), Dance 'Til You Drop (co-production with The History Theater), The Great Gatsby, Wonderland, Frankenstein, and Dracula. Regional theater credits include: The Guthrie Theater (A Christmas Carol -2018,2019, 2021, 2022), The History Theater, Stages Theater Co, among others. Industrial choreography include: The Mall of America, Holidazzle Village, Hosanna Church, Museum of Russian Art, and numerous galas, music videos and festivals. 

Peluso is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Union and recipient of Everwood Farmstead Artist Residency (2021) and Tofte Lake Artist Residency (2022). 

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KESHA
MILENKOVIC

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

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 Bachelor of Arts in Dance. After graduation, Kesha got a scholarship at Gus Giordano Dance school and was accepted into Gus Giordano second company. In 2010, Kesha was cast as a dancer and vocalist for the Broadway musical Chicago on the largest cruise ship in the world, Allure of The Seas. She is currently on faculty at North Shore School of Dance, the Artistic Director of North Shore Repertoire Dance Ensemble, and the Assistant Director of Inaside Chicago Dance. Kesha has always been passionate about performing and continues to expand her knowledge by teaching and choreographing. 

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RYAN

GALLOWAY

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

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 4th season as a main company member with Giordano Dance Chicago following two seasons as a Senior Performing Associate.

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JACOB
FRAZIER

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

Jacob Frazier started his dance training in Ballet, Modern, and Jazz in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Butler Tech School of the Arts in 2012 and attended Point Park University where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance with a concentration in Modern Dance. While attending Point Park, Jacob has had the privilege of training and performing a variety of works by José Limóne, Lar Lubovitch, Dwight Rhoden, Mark Morris, Brian Enos, Jessica Lange, Douglas Bentz, and served as dance/fight captain for Oklahoma! under the direction of Patrick Cassidy. In 2014 Jacob attended the Indigenous Dance Residency at the Banff Centre. After attending the residency Jacob returned to Banff as a company member with Red Sky in which he performed as a dancer and choreographer in multiple showcases in Banff and Vancouver Canada. Jacob most recently finished his fourth season dancing with Giordano Dance Chicago and his third season as a main company member. While being in the company Jacob had the opportunity to teach for Giordano Dance Chicago’s Jazz Dance Science and Health program. Educating Chicago youth and sharing the art form of dance. Jacob has also had the privilege of choreographing for Giordano on Giordano Jacob has taught all over the country including the Big Island, Hawaii. While in Hawaii Jacob was honored to teach for University of Hilo Hawaii as well as perform in multiple shows with Giordano Dance Chicago. Since moving to Chicago in 2016 Jacob has performed in Randy Duncan’s Dance For Life Finale/Opening number. Jacob has performed multiple times on the Pritzker Stage in Millennium Park including Randy Duncan’s choreography for the 10th annual Chicago Dance Festival and Summer Dance with Giordano Dance Chicago. In the summer of 2017 Jacob had the opportunity to be Assistant Producer of Unity in Dance at the Pride Arts Center in Uptown, Chicago. Jacob continues to lead his life with an open heart and open mind by sharing his passion of dance and art with the world. Currently, he is a fitness trainer at P.volve, while pursuing his Master of Social Work degree at Arizona State University. Love, light, and gratitude.

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MARTIN
ORTIZ

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

Named “The Swiss Army knife of Chicago Dance” by Dance Magazine, Martin 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 where for over 9 years as a company member Martin performed  and toured nationally. After concert dancing, another passion of Martin is musical theater. Martin recently appeared in Lyric’s Opera of Chicago West Side Story among other musical theater productions such as Saturday Night Fever, Newsies, Cabaret, and Mary Poppins. Martin is also keeping busy working in the fitness industry with a number of  certifications under his belt for major athletic clubs around the Chicago area. 

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JOSHUA BLAKE

CARTER

Guest Instructor/Choreographer

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Joshua Blake Carter joined Giordano Dance Chicago in 2009 as a member of Giordano II. He then danced for seven seasons with GDC’s main company where he had the opportunity to perform works by Frank Chaves, Peter Chu, Ron De Jesús, Autumn Eckman, Gus Giordano, Ray Leeper, Ray Mercer, Mia Michaels and more. Joshua is in his eighth season as Director of Giordano II and he also acts as Operations Manager for the organization.  As a choreographer, Joshua’s works have been celebrated nationwide. In 2009, he was selected as the winner of Wonderbound's (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado) national choreography competition, dancemakers2.0, and in the spring of 2013 he was one of six winners commissioned to create a new work for DanceWorks Chicago's DanceMoves choreography competition. Later in 2013, Joshua was awarded the Producers' Panel Prize by the Ruth Page Foundation for his work, Ripen. He’s created two original works for Giordano Dance Chicago and eight original works for Giordano II. Most recently, Joshua was nominated for a 2019 Regional Broadway World Award for Best Choreography for his work on Disney’s NEWSIES at the Paramount Theatre. 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. Additionally, Joshua created the finale for the 2016 event Sing! featuring Elton John. Joshua has been an Artist in Residence with Brenau University, Glendale Community College, and Illinois State University.

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ASHLEY

BURKLAND

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.