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LFDA - Staff Biographies

Meet Our Professional Staff
VALERIE GONZALEZ (Director) received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Dance Performance and Choreography from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She was a guest teaching artist in the dance program of Western Michigan University and has served on the faculty of several diverse New York, Chicago and Wisconsin studios. She is one of the original master teachers of Dance Exchange, a collaborative workshop with schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota.   Valerie has trained and performed with notable companies such as Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago II, River North Chicago Dance Company, Chicago Arts Project, Joel Hall Dancers and TJ & Co. Dance Theatre. Valerie’s experiences have allowed her to perform across the country and internationally. She has choreographed for the Second Avenue Dance Company, TJ & Co. Dance Theatre, Terpsichore Dance Company, Lake Forest Dance Academy’s Prelude Dance Theatre, numerous competitive entries, high school musicals and orchesis groups. Valerie is an Adjunct Instructor of Dance at Carthage College and is thrilled to continue to mentor students through the art of dance.  She feels blessed to be a part of the growth of so many wonderful dancers.  For the past seven years, Valerie has been a Director and choreographer for LFDA's Prelude Dance Theatre. She has served as Manager of the Performance Companies, helping to expand its role in the Lake Forest community and beyond.  This is her fourteenth year with LFDA and she is honored to be Director of Lake Forest Dance Academy.
RICHARD “Fusion” ASHWORTH began dancing at the age of two, receiving most of his training at the Legein Dance Academy of Performing Arts and conventions around the New England Area.  Richard attended the University of New York in Buffalo receiving a BFA in Dance in June 2007.  During his time at UB, Richard performed and choreographed for the university’s Zodiaque Dance Company (Director Tom Ralabate) as well as the Zodiaque Studio Ensemble and Young Choreographers Showcases.  Richard has apprenticed for the Lehrerdance Company (Director Jon Lehrer); is a guest principle of the Configurations Dance Theatre (Director Joseph Cipolla) and performs with the Pick of the Crop Dance Company (Director Elaine Gardner).  He has also established himself as a teacher, joining the faculty of several dance education organizations including Dance Masters of America and the Interdanza Organization of Mexico.  Richard also participates in international hip hop battles and has professionally busked (street performed) on street corners around the world.  He is an eight time winner of Buffalo’s, NY’s Battle at Buffalo and has received acclaim in Western New York as a Hip Hop and Funk Styles dancer, teacher and historian.  Rich is the former Rehearsal Director of Chicago Tap Theatre and has choreographed/ performed with such notable organizations such as Chicago Dance Crash and Audible Odyssey.  He currently resides in Chicago and is a freelance dancer and choreographer.  Richard will be teaching at LFDA for his 8th year and will be directing Hip Hop Evolution for the 2016-2017 season.
Kaitlyn Anson danced with Lake Forest Dance Academy for seven years - including five as a member of Euphony Tap Ensemble and four as a member of Prelude Dance Theatre – and she couldn’t be more excited to be back! While at LFDA, Kaitlyn had the opportunity to train, perform and compete in the styles of jazz, tap, lyrical, modern and ballet. She was also able to act as a teaching assistant, and was the 2011 Raising the Barre award recipient. After graduating in 2012, she headed to Spokane, Washington to pursue a degree in English writing and a minor in journalism at Gonzaga University. There, she sought out every dance avenue possible, becoming an avid participant in the academic dance program, a selected dancer for the university’s 2014 American Collegiate Dance Festival faculty-choreographed piece, as well as a teacher and executive board member for the university’s student-run dance club, Boundless. She was also able to seriously pursue choreography, setting pieces for two university dance concerts as well as a contemporary piece for the 2016 American Collegiate Dance Association festival at the University of Wyoming. Kaitlyn recently wrapped up a summer internship in artistic administration with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and cannot wait to keep the dance coming with LFDA for the 2016-2017 season!
SARAH BAKER, originally from Southern Michigan, began her dance training at a young age in ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, and tap. She traveled around the U.S. during high school as an assistant for Tremaine Dance Conventions and choreographed high school musicals and competition routines. While pursuing her B.F.A in Dance Performance and B.S. in Business Administration at Chapman, Sarah assisted at Joffrey Ballet’s Jazz & Contemporary Summer Intensive, interned with Thodos Dance Chicago, trained at American Dance Festival, appeared in Dodge College of Film and Media Arts films, and performed in numerous Chapman University dance concerts. Her choreographic work, Directions of Expectations, received the Outstanding Choreography Award and performed in the MixMatch Dance Festival, Las Vegas, and San Diego. After graduation Sarah will join Inaside Chicago Dance as a Performing Apprentice. We welcome her to LFDA!
ASHLEY MAY COUSSENS has been performing professionally in dance and musical theatre over the past 10 years. Most recently she has performed with Chicago Human Rhythm Project, as well as with the modern dance group Rephrase Dance Collective. Having worked with several winners of the Joseph Jefferson ("Jeff") Award and Ruth Page Award, Ashley got her start as a performer and Dance Captain at Chicago's former American Girl Place Theater. She has performed in the televised McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Chicago Lights Festival Parade. A former performer and choreographer for TONIK Tap dance ensemble, Ashley has also had her original choreography featured in the Dance Chicago festival. In Ballet Légere's production of The Nutcracker, she portrayed many roles over several years, as well. Ashley is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied dance and theatre. Ashley has had extensive training in many styles of dance, including ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, modern, lyrical, contemporary, and aerial arts. She has a strong passion for empowering people of all ages and backgrounds to find artistic expression through the performing arts, and we are thrilled to have her on faculty at LFDA!
LIZZIE DAVIS is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dance in London and holds a Master of Arts Degree in Ballet Studies from Surrey University U.K.  For eight years she performed as principal and soloist with the Chelsea Ballet London where her roles included the title role in Act II Pas de Deux from Giselle, Dawn in Coppelia and the Pas de Trois from Swan Lake, as well as many roles in the Nutcracker.  She also had the role of Marie Taglioni recreated on her by the director and former soloist of Rambert Ballet when the Chelsea Ballet restaged the romantic ballet, Pas de Quatre.  Lizzie has danced with groups in Europe and Africa; and has taught in Africa, the U.S. and Europe, the Education Department of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Barat Conservatory of Dance and College of Lake County amongst other North Shore schools.  Lizzie lectures on ballet/dance history as well as worship dance.  Lizzie holds her Level VI Licientiate Professional Cecchetti Teacher’s Certificate from the Cecchetti Council of America.  She is excited about starting her twelfth year with LFDA and will be LFDA’s Ballet Coordinator for the fourth year!
ASHLEY DERAN is a teaching artist, choreographer, and photographer from Chicago, IL.  She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance from Western Michigan University where she graduated with honors as the Presidential Scholar. During her time there she had the pleasure of working with many world-renowned guest artists such as Autumn Eckman, Jason McDole, Amanda McKerrow, and Willy Shives. Returning to Chicago after graduation, Ashley had the opportunity to perform for Paige Cunningham Caldarella and Esoteric Dance Project.  In 2013 she co-founded Project Bound Dance, a tri-focal collaboration that is artistically enriching the Chicago community through youth outreach, the One Hour Project-a dance for camera experiment, and new movement exploration.  Ashley is currently working with the Chicago Dance History Project, a co-producer of SummerSpace, and a judge for Applause Talent Dance Competition.  She is excited to join the faculty at LFDA! 
Brittany Goodrich received her B.A. in Communications and English from Lake Forest College where she instituted the Lake Forest College Pom Squad in 2006.  She has been part of the Dance Magic Competition team where she ranked nationally, earned top awards at NDA and was chosen to perform at the 2005 Orange Bowl National Championship.  Brittany is currently the Dance Director at Lake Bluff School of Dance.  Brittany believes every child has a gift of music and dance within them and it is her gift to bring that out and help her students shine!  This is her fourth year with LFDA.
BRENDA GOOD HELLWIG received a B.A. Degree Cum Laude from Bowdoin College.  She then pursued graduate dance courses from Columbia University and Northwestern University. She also trained at Lou Conte, Gus Giordano, Joffrey Ballet School and Alvin Ailey Dance Studios. Career highlights include choreographing shows at the Auditorium Theater, Symphony Center, Navy Pier Ballroom main stage, the Park West and also touring dance shows and shows seen on television networks.  Brenda's mature life journey into Oriental Dance, commonly known as Bellydance, was made into a 2016 NFL playoffs and SuperBowl 50 pregame commercial and was seen around the world.  Brenda also holds her Level 5 Professional Cecchetti Ballet Teachers Certificate and was Director of the Libertyville Parks and Recreation Dance Program for seven years.  This will be Brenda's 14th year with LFDA.
DENITA INEZ is a dancer, choreographer, and instructor. Denita Inez is known for her energetic style and dynamic musicality.  She is currently on staff at Lake Forest dance Academy, Dancing with Class and May I Have This Dance. Denita is the Artistic Director of Desueño, a Latin Jazz dance company. She is also an independent freelance dancer and has danced for Chicago Dance Crash, Noumenon Dance Experience, Modern Clave, and Civic Dance Ensemble.  Denita is known as one of the top dancers in Chicago for Latin dancing.  Denita Inez received her Bachelors of Science in Dance at Wayne State University. She has also trained with Deeply Rooted and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   She danced in works by Alia Simon, April Tornby, Rosa Mercedes, Samantha Shelton, Christopher Huggins, Kevin Jeff Iega, Richard Amaro, Lisa McCall and Raymond Robinson. As a performer, Denita Inez is revered for her musicality and unique movement style.  This will be Denita’s fifth year at LFDA and fourth year as director of HHE Junior. 
LINDSAY HOUGHfrom Vienna, Virginia, started dancing at the age of 4 at a local YMCA and was inspired to dance by Miss Pat. During her early years, Lindsay danced competitively with the Gainesville Dance Center (formerly known as The Dansations) under the direction of Patricia Bray.  Lindsay graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance Performance with a jazz concentration.  While training at East Carolina University, Lindsay performed works choreographed by Tommi Galaska and Teal Darkenwald.  Lindsay has also participated in various summer dance intensive programs and studied dance at the Gus Giordano Dance Center on scholarship.  Lindsay has had the privilege to work with choreographers, Ray Leeper, Marinda Davis and Amber DeGaray. Lindsay performed with Inaside Chicago Dance during the 2012-2014 seasons as a performing apprentice. While at Inaside, she worked with choreographers Richard Smith, Sarah Ford, Preston Miller and Kirsten Harvey. Currently, Lindsay is performing with West End Dance Company and teaches and choreographs all over the Chicago land area.  Lindsay is excited to start her fourth year at LFDA!
Lisa JACOBS danced at Barat College as an undergraduate. She has apprenticed for the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Company and Deeply Rooted Dance Productions.  She is a founding member of the Zephyr Dance Ensemble.  She has taught and choreographed tap, ballet, jazz and modern to students of all ages including Lake County College’s Fear No Art Festival.  She was the dance director at the Jack Benny Center for Performing Arts in Waukegan, has been a dance counselor at the Northbrook YMCA and currently teaches at Libertyville Park District.  She also teaches private piano lessons.  Since becoming accredited in 2003, Lisa has been teaching T’ai Chi Chih, a moving meditation, for the Waukegan Park District, Libertyville Park District, at the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook and Grayslake, and has given lecture demonstrations around Chicagoland.  Lisa holds a Cecchetti Council of America Grade I Teacher’s Certificate and is excited to return to Lake Forest Dance Academy for her ninth year.
JENNA JOZEFOWSKI graduated from The University of Akron with a BA in Dance and a minor in Business Administration. During college, she performed with The University of Akron Dance Company and also choreographed several tap pieces for student performances. She is a member of the Midwest Committee of the Cecchetti Council of America and currently holds a Grade IV Teacher’s Certificate. Professionally, she has performed with Joel Hall Dancers II, RASA Dance Chicago, Chicago Dance Crash, and Chicago Tap Theatre. She is currently working as an independent performance artist and choreographer; performing and presenting her work in Rebound Dance Festival, Dance Chicago, and Chicago Freelance Dance, to name a few. This year, she is working to complete the Tap Teacher Training Certificate Program with American Tap Dance Foundation in NYC. In addition to dance, Jenna is also an RYT-200 yoga instructor and a NASM certified personal trainer. Jenna has recently started teaching yoga for dancers on a more regular basis and loves using her knowledge of anatomy to help her students improve their dancing.  She looks forward to her eighth year as Director for Euphony Tap Ensemble, and her tenth year of teaching at Lake Forest Dance Academy.
Veronica Lilja - began Irish dancing at the age of three and had tremendous competitive success at a young age. Under the instruction of Tim O'Hare, she competed at her first Regional championship as a solo dancer at age 8, her first National Championship at age 9, and first World Championship at age 11. Veronica became a two-time Regional champion and a two-time World medalist. At the age of 14, while continuing her competitive career, she started teaching classes in Lake Bluff under the direction of Tim O'Hare. Lake Bluff's program quickly grew with success and popularity. In 2011 and 2012, she was fortunate enough to perform with the Baltimore, Fort Worth, Knoxville, and Ottowa Symphonies in the show "Celtic Celebration". In 2013, Veronica was awarded the esteemed TCRG certification in Limerick, Ireland and brought the O'Hare School of Irish Dance to Lake Forest Dance Academy. She is excited to continue expanding the school this fall.  This will be her fourth year with LFDA. 
SANDY GOETZ RAGSDALE began her early dance training with Anida Sedala, former Lake Forest Dance Academy Director, and with Gus Giordano. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College and her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Michigan.  She was on the faculty of the University of Michigan’s Dance Department for two years. She has performed, taught and choreographed in Paris, France, Geneva, Switzerland and New York City as well as in the Chicago area.  Sandy choreographs for CenterStage in Lake Forest and Lake Forest High School.  She is past President of the Lake Shore Chapter of the Sacred Dance Guild of America. Sandy holds her Associate IV Teaching certificate from the Cecchetti Council of America and is a member of the National Dance Education Organization and National Dance Honor’s Society. She is an Adjunct Professor of Dance in the Theater Department of Lake Forest College.  This will be Sandy’s thirty third year teaching for Lake Forest Dance Academy.  Sandy was the Director of LFDA for 18 years and has been sharing her passion for dance for over 50 years in our community!
AMY ROSE trained on scholarship at American Ballet Theatre School, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance. She performed with Chicago Ballet in “The Nutcracker” and “Alice in Wonderland” before joining American Ballet Theatre at the age of sixteen. Amy danced as a soloist with ABT in principal, soloist and character roles from 1979-1992, including her role opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov. She has guested with the Universal Ballet in Korea, Japan and China, and performed at Jacob’s Pillow. In 1992 she joined Pacific Northwest Ballet where she was a featured dancer on the company’s tour to Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Rose has been on the faculty for the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensives for the last thirteen years and has been teaching in the Chicago area for twelve years. She is currently a faculty member at area schools and is also the ballet mistress for Ballet Theater of Illinois.  She has coached students for various competitions.  Amy Rose is an ABT Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT Teacher Training Intensive in Primary through Level 7 of the ABT National Training Curriculum.  This will be Amy’s fifth year at LFDA.
MARY TARPLEY began dancing under the tutelage of Frances Taylor of Ballet Durango.  She continued her training at Interlochen Arts Academy as a dance major and graduated from The Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London, UK.  Mary went on to tour in Paris, London and throughout Italy before returning to the States, where she danced for State Street Ballet Santa Barbara, was a Soloist for Santa Barbara Ballet, and joined the City Ballet of Los Angeles as a Principal dancer and choreographer.  Mary also danced extensively for Invertigo Dance Theatre under the direction of Laura Karlin.  Now in Chicago, Mary is a First Company member of Chicago Dance Crash and her recent choreography has been featured in Dance Chicago, Dancers Against Cancer, Tarpley Dance Ensemble, and  She currently teaches at numerous studios around Chicago and is a program director for Dance at The Den Theatre.  Mary is excited to be on the staff at Lake Forest Dance Academy for her fifth year, and first as co-director of Prelude Dance Theatre.  
LESLIE TREECE holds her B.A. in Dance with a minor in psychology from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.  After performing throughout Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, Leslie moved to Chicago and continued to perform at such venues as Athenaeum Theatre, Northwestern University and Columbia College. Leslie holds the Cecchetti Council of America Level V Teacher’s Certificate.  She has been teaching on the North Shore for over twenty years and is excited to be back at LFDA for her nineteenth year of teaching.  Leslie is LFDA’s Preschool Coordinator.
HILLIARY VACCARELLO started dancing at the age of three in Madison, Wisconsin and continued her training with the Milwaukee Ballet and the Kirov Academy of Ballet. She furthered her education in dance by receiving a B. A at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Hilliary then joined Thodos Dance Chicago for 6 years which allowed her to perform throughout the United States and work with renowned choreographers. Her choreography has been set on numerous high school dance programs, universities, advertising agencies, and other productions. She is now a mother of two boys who love to dance around the house with her. Hilliary is honored to be on faculty at Lake Forest Dance Academy for ten years and continues to serve as the Company Technique Mistress.
KRISTY WHITE has been dancing and performing in Chicago since the age of six.  She received her training from such notable teachers as Laura Wade, Jeff Hancock, Eduardo Villaro and Wilfredo Rivero as well as Chicago National Association of Dance Masters and Dupree Jazz Forum.  Kristy has performed in Dance Explosion with TJ & Company and as a member of Luna Negra Dance Ensemble of Chicago.  She has participated in the “Who’s That Girl” Benefit for AIDS and “Dance for Dreams.”  Kristy’s choreographic credits include “A Chance to Dance” (TJ & Company,) Lake Forest High School musical, competitive pom pom squads and dance ensembles.  Kristy began teaching for LFDA in 1998 and continued with us for five wonderful years, she took a brief hiatus to extended her dance career and become a certified massage therapist.  Kristy is thrilled to be returning to the LFDA faculty and happy to continue as Prelude Dance Theatre Trainee Director.


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