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Young Ballerinas


Jennifer Chesnes

Jennifer Chesnes

Jennifer’s dance training started when she was 3 years old in all forms of dance until she graduated from high school.  Rita & Lisa Wilhelm were her teachers and mentors in the dance performance & business world.  Jennifer also danced with the Cleveland Ballet starting at age 13 through her teen years along with taking Modern dance classes at Case Western Reserve & Cleveland State as a High School student to earn the experience for college. She started teaching all types of dance forms after receiving her Bachelors of Science in Dance Performance from Kent State University and had the opportunity to perform with many local Modern Dance Companies.  Jennifer is a certified Cecchetti Ballet Instructor along with being a certified Pilates Instructor.  Jennifer continued the love for dance by taking it a step further and taking over Rita Wilhelm Academy of dance in 2001 and the year following opening her 2nd location in Shaker Heights.  She enjoys giving her students the gift of dance because it has brought so much joy in her life over the years. Jennifer lives in Shaker Heights with her two beautiful children Calli & Cameron. 

John Thompson Studio J

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 Instructor Studio J

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 Instructor Studio J

Marybeth Russo

Marybeth began her dance studies at the Rita Wilhelm Academy of Dance at age three.  She is known for being an extremely passionate , creative, and confident teacher. Marybeth is a certified Cecchetti instructor and brings Hip-Hop to the Academy. She also has continued 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 has her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction . She presently teaches kindergarten at Lander Elementary in the Mayfield City School District along with being a content developer for two digital education platforms based in California. Marybeth ends her days with her beautiful kids, Mossimo & Delphina and her amazing husband who is our MC for all our shows, Rocco! 

Hannah Hejduk Studio J Instructor, Dancer

Hannah Hejduk

Hannah began her dance training at the age of three at Maranatha School of Dance in Cape Coral, FL. She then trained under certified Cecchetti instructor Erin Rivera from the ages of twelve to eighteen. Upon graduating high school, Hannah was accepted into Light of the World Ballet’s trainee program in Syracuse, NY, where she trained for three years. While there, Hannah had the opportunity to choreograph for the professional company and tour the choreography in Israel. In 2017, Hannah moved to Ohio and assisted her colleagues in beginning a professional ballet company and studio in Chardon. She became the Artistic Director of Ballet Gloria, where she danced professionally in ballet and contemporary work, taught for the company and school, and was responsible for all choreography for the professional company. Hannah’s first full-length choreographic work premiered in 2019. Hannah is an ABT®️ Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT®️ Teacher Training Intensive in Pre-Primary through Level 3 of the ABT®️ National Training Curriculum.

mckenzie beaverson studio j instructor

McKenzie Beaverson

McKenzie is from Toledo, Ohio where she trained in ballet, contemporary, modern, and improvisation with the Toledo Ballet. There she had the opportunity to work with professionals including Soili Arvola, Tricia Albertson, Olga Pavlova, and Renato Penteado. McKenzie is also a graduate of Toledo School for the Arts with a Dance Major Certificate. She has performed in Bolero with Verb Ballets, and work by Kora Radella, founder of the Boomerang Dance Company. McKenzie danced with The Dancing Wheels Company in 2016-2017 which was her first exposure to physically integrated dance. She then worked with Full Radius Dance, founder of The Modern Atlanta Dance Festival. McKenzie has been an artist with Gotta Dance Contemporary, Dance Canvas, The Big Muddy Dance Company, and performed as a back up dancer for Maya Kodes at Georgia Institute of Technology. McKenzie has returned to The Dancing Wheels Company to continue her work in the physically integrated dance field.

Riley Murray

Riley Murrray

Riley Murray is our Office assistant and Competition Coordinator. She was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She began dancing at the age of 4 and trained at Studio J in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, and contemporary. In 2016 she graduated from the Honors Tutorial College at Ohio University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography. She is currently teaching toddlers and creative movement for ages 2-5 in Beachwood, Ohio, as well as performing in new works created by Ajayi Dance in Cleveland. We are excited to have another alumni join the Studio J Family.

Emma Zordan Studio J Instructor

Emma Zordan

Emma currently resides in New York City area but grew up in Cleveland Heights while dancing at Studio J. Her dance training began at age 4 at Studio J where she continued her studies until 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.


She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2020 where she had the opportunity to continue her dance training as the director of several teams and as a ballet assistant in the dance department. Now living NYC, Emma continues her dance training at Broadway Dance Center, Peridance Center, House of Movement and Brickhouse, with Bo Park, Gwen Potter, Kenichi Kasamatsu, and Erika Ratkovicz. She worked for American Ballet Theater in Marketing and continues her ballet training with the company. Emma has been a choreographer and teacher at Studio J for the past 7 years and is thrilled to continue her time at the studio.

Melissa Gruca Studio J Dancer, Instructor

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. 

Stephanie Studio J Instructor

Stephanie Bonham

Stephanie Ruth Roston is a Columbia, Missouri native who began dancing at the age of 13 through local youth musical theater. She later studied at the School of Missouri Contemporary Ballet under the direction of Karen Grundy and received her BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. Her recent notable works include her 2021 screendance today could be the day in collaboration with Inlet’s Summer Dance Intensive students and her documentary Halfway There: Stories of Life, Loss, and Love in West Jackson, produced in collaboration with the homeless population of West Jackson. She was also a collaborator for the 2021 documentary entitled Dear Heart of Glass Kids. Roston has taught and performed internationally in Japan, Exuma, Malaysia, and Vietnam, participating in an exchange with Tan Loc’s Arabesque Dance Company. While at Belhaven, she received the Bezalel award for outstanding artistic achievement in 2015 and 2018 for her work in performance and choreography, and she was honored to perform at the Kennedy Center for the 2018 American College Dance Association national convention. Roston has danced professionally with Inlet Dance Theatre in Cleveland, OH since 2018 and also serves as the company’s video production coordinator. In addition to performing throughout the greater Cleveland area, Roston has been an instructor with Studio J Academy of Dance since 2020.

MacKenzie Bennett Dancer, Instructor, Studio J.

MacKenzie Bennett

MacKenzie is a 21-year-old from Lordstown, Ohio and has been a part of the Studio J family since 2001.  Her dance training began at age 4 at Momentum Dance and she continued there until her graduation from high school.  MacKenzie trained under Lisa Mark learning technique and teaching methods. 

She began teaching all types of dance after graduation including (but not limited to) Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Contemporary, and Hip-Hop.  MacKenzie attended Kent State University in Ohio earning a degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology while dancing on the Kent State Dance team focused on Jazz, Hi-Hop, and POM.

Currently, she attends Akron University where she is pursuing a Masters Degree in Speech Pathology. 

MacKenzie has taught at several studios throughout northeast Ohio and thinks of dance as her 'happy place' and loves to share her love of the art. 

Lasana Murphy

Lasana Murphy

Lasana Murphy (Buford, Georgia) is a dancer, performer, teacher, choreographer, artist, and person. Lasana received a BFA in Dance and a Minor in Deaf Studies from Valdosta State University. Lasana has trained in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap, and aerial silks. Lasana is also fluent in American Sign Language, and is passionate about spreading knowledge of the deaf culture. Lasana has choreographed for local studios in Valdosta, GA, presented her work at the American College Dance Association Southeastern Conference and the National Screen dance Festival. Lasana earned her IMPROVment teaching certificate, which is a movement class created to help improve the quality of life for older adults and the cognitively impaired. Upon graduating Lasana had the opportunity to dance with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s Second Company, and is currently working with the Dancing Wheels Company as they enter their 43rd Season. 

Studio J Academy of Dance welcomes our talented 
"Outside Team Choreographers" 

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