Jennifer Chesnes

Jennifer’s dance training started at age 3 years old and continued with the same studio until she graduated from high school.  Rita  & Lisa Wilhelm were her teachers and mentors in the dance business world.  She started teaching  all types of dance forms after receiving her Bachelors of Science in Dance Performance from Kent State University.  Jennifer was a member of many Modern Dance Companies along with being accepted in to the Cleveland Ballet when she was still a student in High School. Jennifer is a certified Cecchetti Ballet Instructor along with being a certified Pilates Instructor.  She enjoys giving her students the gift of dance because it has brought so much joy in her life over the years. 

Heather Knighten

Heather has been dancing for the past 25 years. She began her dance training at Abby Dance Center, where she competed for 8 years in countless Regional Competitions, 7 National Competitions and 1 International competition in Lake Tahoe Nevada, where she placed 3rd Overall for her Solo. She has taken home many Platinum, First Place and Overall Highest Scoring trophies and awards, as well as Scholarships to numerous Dance Conventions and was invited to dance at the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii in 1997.  She won the right to represent Columbus, Ohio as a member of the “I love Dance Junior Sweetheart Touring Ensemble.” She received Scholarships to attend The Kirov School of Ballet and The Joffrey School Of Ballet for their Summer Intensives when she was 15.


Heather is a Graduate of The Dance Institute at The University Of Akron, where she was placed in the Advanced Level at the age of 12. She has studied under many Artistic Directors, Professional Dancers and Choreographers, from the Pennsylvania Ballet Company, Cleveland San Jose Ballet Company, Jennifer Muller The Works Dance Company, Kirov Ballet Company, Groundworks Dance Company, The Ohio Ballet and Dancing Wheels Company. She performed with The University Of Akron Dance Company (UADC) from age 12-21. With the Company, she performed leading and soloist roles choreographed by the Faculty as well as Guest Choreographers. She has performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Moscow Ballet of Russia in their productions of “The Nutcracker.” Miss Doolittle danced over the summer, from 1999-2005, in New York City at Steps On Broadway, as well as 2 summers with Jennifer Muller The Works Dance Company.

John Thompson

John is originally from the Cleveland area. He began his dance training from the famous Dee Hillier. He has been working in the entertainment world for 20 years working as a professional dancer, actor, choreographer and director.

John has worked with several Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Winners such as Tommy Tune, Tabitha & Napoleon, Patti Columbo and Barry Manilow.

He has traveled the world teaching Master classes in Jazz, Lyrical, Contemporary and audition classes. For the past 15 years John has worked for Stiletto Entertainment based out of Los Angeles in the Cruise Ship division as well as with many artists that Stiletto managed, working on stage shows as well as PBS Specials. John also choreographs for RWS & Associates out of New York.

He has been a part of the Winter Guard and Drum Corp scene working with several different high schools and independent groups as a movement instructor and designer.

Torrance Nowden

Torrance has been a member of Studio J since 2011. He brings a new excitement to the classroom with his energy and unique choreography. He teaches all levels of Jazz, Jazz Funk and Contemporary for Studio J along with many other North East Ohio Communities.

Marybeth Russo

Marybeth began her dance studies at the Rita Wilhelm Academy of Dance at age three.  She has become an extremely confident teacher and continues to  study the  Cecchetti  method of Ballet.  She is a certified Cecchetti  instructor and brings Hip-Hop to the Academy. She also continues her  dance studies at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City.   Marybeth is a graduate from Ursuline College holding a B.A. in education and presently teaches kindergarten at Lander Elementary in the Mayfield City School District. 

Melissa Gruca

Melissa began studying dance at Linda Lee Dance Studio when she was four years old.  There she became proficient in the Cecchetti Ballet method along with different tap and jazz styles.  While studying with Linda Lee Abbott Melissa passed levels I – IV of the Cecchetti Ballet exams.  Melissa graduated from Alma College with a B.A. degree in Dance.  There she danced with the Alma College Dance Company and taught college level dance classes.  While in college Melissa taught dance privately for DuHadway Dance Dimension (formerly Linda Lee Dance Studio).  She taught ballet, pointe, tap and jazz to a variety of ages and levels.   She also choreographed for the DDD competition team.  While working with DDD Melissa passed her Level I Cecchetti Teachers exam.  Melissa moved to Cleveland in 2001 and began dancing and performing with different professional dance companies including Antaeus Dance, Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre and Inlet Dance Theatre.  While in Cleveland Melissa Co-Founded the Fairmount Dance Theatre.  FDT is a youth based Dance Company that strives to bring the beauty of dance to young professionals.  Melissa left FDT in the fall of 2007 and is now very excited to be a part of Studio J.  She strives to be a positive influence on her student’s lives and to share with them the joy that dance has brought to her life. 

Alice K. Duey, Guest Choreographer

Alice grew up dancing and singing in Akron, Ohio. After graduating with honors and a focus in performing arts from Firestone High School, she set sail around the world on Holland America Cruise Ships as Second Lead Singer. Through this rewarding opportunity, Alice was fortunate enough to visit all seven continents and four oceans, saturating herself in nature, culture, and history. Her next direction in the entertainment industry steered her south to Orlando where she performed at Walt Disney World for five years. She held the prestige role of Dance Captain/Lead/Swing in the Castle’s Christmas Show, “Celebrate the Season”. During her time with Disney, she danced and sang back-up for several celebrities, including Celine Dion and Miley Cyrus. You may also have seen her as the leading lady of “Disney Jr. Live on Stage” and “Storytime with Belle”, as well as Dancer/Lead/Swing of “Dream Along With Mickey” and “Cinderellabration”. She played all roles at Capone’s Dinner Theatre, and performed in numerous productions for Universal Orlando.

Emma Zordan, Guest Choreographer

Emma is currently a junior at the University of Michigan focusing her studies in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience as well as music performance. While she is not full time faculty at the studio, she returns multiple times a year as a guest choreographer to set pieces for the competition season. Emma’s dance training began at age 4 at Studio J where she continued her studies all the way through to graduation. At Studio J she trained under the direction of Jennifer Chesnes and a wide variety of staff members in a plethora of dance styles including ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, and hiphop. Emma has completed two summer intensives with Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, focusing her technique in ballet and modern with members of the Grand Rapid’s Ballet Company. Additionally, Emma had the opportunity to train at Broadway Dance Center in New York City throughout most of high school. 

Since going to college, Emma joined Dance 2XS Michigan, an international urban dance team with branches all over the world including Mexico and Australia. She has performed at venues all over the midwest, training with some of Chicago and Los Angeles’s best dancers and choreographers. During her sophomore year, she completed two semesters as the artistic director of 2XS, taking lead for all creative aspects and projects associated with the company. Most recently, Emma has been selected to join a professional dance team located in Detroit, Michigan called UnderGods, which she has been dancing with for the past several months. She also continues her collegiate dance experience on a dance team called The Project, a hand selected group of dancers brought together to create and perform. Emma continues to make trips to New York City to pursue training at Broadway Dance Center, STEPS on Broadway, Peridance, and House of Movement.

Katarina Akers

Katarina Akers was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana where she grew up studying at Crawfordsville Academy of Dance. She was trained in Cecchetti and learned the classical techniques of Graham, Limon, and Cunningham. Katarina spent two summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts furthering her technical foundation. She continued her training at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan where she received at BA in dance. While there, Katarina had the opportunity to work with many renowned choreographers and dancers; Amy O'Neal, Take Ueyama, Lauren Edson, and Jesse Zaritt to name a few. Along with expanding her technique, Katarina was able to study other aspects of dance including; choreography, costuming, and pedagogy. After graduation, Katarina spent a year in Houston, Texas dancing with Ad Deum Dance Company.


Currently, Katarina is dancing with Inlet Dance Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Darcie Lemons, Guest Choreographer

Image and Bio coming soon.

Melissa Lucus 

Image and Bio coming soon.   

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Studio J Academy of Dance

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