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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 thirteenth year with LFDA and she is honored to be named 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.  He currently resides in Chicago and is a freelance dancer and choreographer.  Richard will be teaching at LFDA for his seventh year and will be directing Hip Hop Evolution for the 2015-2016 season.


MILANA ASTORINO graduated from National Louis University with a BA in Sports Management/Exercise Science. She received her exercise group instruction and personal training certification from American Council on Exercise. She is a certified Zumba instructor and engages herself in dance/fitness workshops to keep up with the latest changes and innovations. She currently teaches fitness dance classes for all ages; and is a training coach for individuals including dancers and athletes.


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 welcome her to 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 eleventh year with LFDA and will be LFDA’s Ballet Coordinator for the third year!


AMANDA FERNANDEZ danced at Lake Forest Dance Academy for eight years and danced on LFDA's Prelude Dance Theatre for three of those years.  She studied dance at College of Lake County for two years and is currently pursuing a degree in Public Relations & Advertising at DePaul University where she has danced with the DePaul University Dance Team. Amanda returned to Lake Forest Dance Academy to teach and has enjoyed everything about it. She is excited to have the opportunity to teach and share her love for dance. This will be Amanda’s second year teaching at LFDA.


KIMBERLY FLETCHER-STIBAL has been dancing professionally for the past 20 years. She has toured nationally and internationally with several dance companies including Black Box Theatre, Dance Chicago Touring Company (“The Stars of Dance Chicago”), LehrerDance, Koresh Dance Company, Philadanco, and Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. At Giordano, Kim served as an Assistant Associate Director and principal dancer for 12 years. Kim also danced for 6 years in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular as a Radio City Rockette. Kim had the opportunity to work with many renowned choreographers including Randy Duncan, Roni Koresh, Mia Michaels, Milton Myers, Davis Robertson, and the father of American jazz dance Gus Giordano.  Kim received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. Kim earned her degree in dance education to combine her passion for dance with her love for teaching. Kim’s teaching has taken her all over the world as she has taught in several Universities and Festivals in North America, Asia, South America and Europe. Kim is now the Artistic Director of Forum Dance Theatre.  She is inspired and energized by the development of young dancers and as a teacher, she is committed to help each of her students reach their individual potential as a dancer.  Kim is happy to be a Director of Prelude Dance Theatre and has been with LFDA for seven years.


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 third year with LFDA.


BRENDA GOOD HELLWIG received a B.A. Degree Cum Laude from Bowdoin College.  She pursued graduate dance courses from Columbia University and Northwestern University.  Brenda directed her own troupe, the Good Company Dancers and has choreographed and performed in such venues as the Auditorium Theater, Symphony Center, the Harold Washington Library, Navy Pier, and the Park West in Chicago and in several other parts of the United States; her choreography and dancing has appeared on various television stations and in independent films and she has won grants from the State of Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Music and Dance Alliance.  Brenda was the past Director of Dance for the Village of Libertyville and has been a guest teacher at Adlai Stevenson High School and Lake Forest High School.  Brenda holds her Level V Professional Cecchetti Teachers Certificate; and is currently studying the VI Level. She has been a member of the Midwest Committee of the Cecchetti Council of America since 1997 and has served as publicity chairman of this group.  She has twice earned a scholarship to the International Cecchetti Ballet Teacher’s camp at Hope College.  Brenda also teaches and performs Raks Sharki (Middle Eastern Dance).  This will be Brenda’s eleventh 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 and Dancing with Class under May I Have This Dance. Denita is currently dancing with Noumenon Dance Experience, a jazz dance company. She also dances alongside various dance partners. She is also an independent freelance dancer and was a dancer for Chicago Dance Crash.  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 fourth year at LFDA and third year as director of HHE juniors. 


LINDSAY HOUGH, from 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 eighth 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 III Teacher’s Certificate. Professionally, she has performed with Joel Hall Dancers II, RASA Dance Chicago and Chicago Dance Crash. 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. In addition to dance, Jenna also enjoys practicing and teaching yoga. 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 has completed several yoga teacher trainings through White Lotus Foundation and CorePower Yoga, where she teaches yoga and also coaches BootCamp programs. She looks forward to her seventh year as Director for Euphony Tap Ensemble, and her ninth year of teaching at Lake Forest Dance Academy.


Veronica Lilja - Veronica 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 by adding a third location in Gurnee, IL. This will be her third 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 second 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 fourth year at LFDA.


AMY SPECTOR graduated from The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, where she received her B.A. in dance. While at Columbia she had the privilege of studying under renowned dance educators and choreographers such as Carrie Hanson, Darrell Jones, Jan Erkert, Krenly Guzman, Paige Cunningham, Jeff Hancock, Lisa Gonzales, and Liz Burrit as well as master classes with various national and international choreographers and dance companies. Amy has studied Gaga technique with the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. Amy has performed with the Leopold Group, Thread Meddle Outfit, Johnathan Meyer/Khecari Dance Theater and at Around the Coyote and Rebound Dance Festivals.  Amy is happy to be teaching at LFDA for her third year.


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 fourth year!  


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 eighteenth 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 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  There she received her B.A in dance and was selected to perform at the Kennedy Center.  Upon graduating Hilliary joined Thodos Dance Chicago for 6 years which allowed her to perform throughout the United States and work with renowned choreographers.  She made her film debut as a dancer in the movie "Public Enemies," starring Johnny Depp in 2009.  Her choreography has been set on numerous high school dance programs, universities, advertising agencies, and other productions.  Hilliary is honored to be on faculty at Lake Forest Dance Academy for nine 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 for her fourth year as Pom Force Dance Team Coach and Prelude Dance Theatre Trainee Director.


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