MEET OUR INSTRUCTORS

TALENTED PROFESSIONALS : MULTIPLE DISCIPLINES

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. 

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.  Torrance was born and raised in the greater Cleveland area. He began dancing at the early age of 6 years old where he discovered his total happy place. Torrance attended Bowling Green State University in which he discovered competition dance in a major way. While taking dance courses, his professor asked him to work with her and he’s been choreographing for competitions every since. Torrance has done work for several studios throughout Ohio, Indiana and Chicago. When asked why he dances, Torrance says “dance makes me feel alive, dance is probably why I’m alive today”. Torrance is gearing up for another fun season at Studio J!

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. 

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. 

Cody Krause

Cody Krause is a graduate of The Ohio State University, receiving a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance in 2019, where he focused his degree on Composition, Choreography, & Performance. Before OSU, Cody started dancing in the Philadelphia area, attending Miss Cindy’s School of Dance since the age of 3. He also attended the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for Arts, where he graduated from in 2015 as a dance major.

During his time as a performer, he’s been a part of many works, processes, and concerts including pieces by Doug Varone, Donald McKayle, Merce Cunningham, and Ohad Naharin, where he was the featured soloist in BalletMet and OSU’s Collaboration of “Minus 16.” Cody is currently in his second season of performing with Dancing Wheels in Cleveland, OH, where he is a company member, teaching artist, and outreach teacher. He has had the chance to perform all around the Cleveland Area, as well as places like Chicago and Beijing, China throughout his first year with the company. 

Cody has also been working on presenting his own choreography throughout 2015-2020, showcasing works in Columbus, Cleveland, and the Lehigh Valley. He has created and performed solo works such as “Desolate” and “Character Zero”, as well as choreographed group works “You Are Welcome to Join” and “The Haze of Connection”, his first integrated dance piece. He is also a Certified Level 1 Teacher in the Dancing Wheels Methodology. 

 

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.

Melissa Lucas

Melissa is a born and raised Clevelander and began her dance training at age 3 at Lauray's Studio of Dance in Bedford, Ohio.    She studied tap, ballet, and jazz and was a member of their competitive dance team.   At 16, she began teaching at Lauray's and immediately fell in love with teaching preschool classes.    This led her to studying Early Childhood Education and Child Psychology at Baldwin Wallace College.   While at BWC, Melissa participated in their Dance Concert for two years.   

 

She continued teaching dance at Lauray's until the spring of 2010, when her owner and mentor sadly passed away.  In the hopes to continue Laura's traditions and teachings, Melissa owned and operated Mariposa Center for Dance (Oakwood Village) from 2010-2017.  Mariposa remained a small, community based studio with a small group competition team until 2017.  During the summer of 2010, she travelled to New York City, to attend the Dance Teacher Conference where she had the honor of taking classes from industry legends: Mandy Moore, Frank Hatchett, and more.   

 

After taking a year hiatus, she realized just how much she missed introducing children to the wonderful world of dance.   Melissa joined the Studio J staff in 2019, teaching Preschool Dance.   Melissa lives in Maple Hts, with her fiance, Rob, and cat Verona.    

Jordan Thomas

Jordan Thomas is 22 years old and from Mentor, Ohio. She is a professional dancer with Royal Caribbean Entertainment. She was recently cast on their brand-new ship Spectrum of the Seas. She graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Studies in 2019. Jordan has studied at the Joffrey Ballet School Jazz and Contemporary Summer Intensive in New York City while receiving a scholarship. She has also studied with the Radio City Rockettes at the Rockette Summer Intensive in NYC. She teaches various styles which include hip hop, ballet, jazz, jazz funk, tap, contemporary, and lyrical.

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Studio J Academy of Dance

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