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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 sixteenth 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 at 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.  Rich is the former Rehearsal Director of Chicago Tap Theatre and has choreographed for and performed with such notable organizations as Chicago Dance Crash and Be The Grooves "Collective Beat". He currently resides in Chicago and is a freelance dancer and choreographer.  In 2017 Rich premiered his latest venture "Blue Collar Music Box", an evening length concert combining the ideals and stories in bluegrass music with the rhythms of American tap dance.  Richard will be teaching at LFDA for his 10th year.

LAURA BIERNACKI from Vernon Hills, Illinois, began dancing at the age of five. She started her training at Dance Academy of Libertyville in Libertyville, IL, and then at Adali E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL. She graduated Cum Laude from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and a Sociology minor in 2017. Laura is also a certified teacher in Progressing Ballet Technique founded by Marie Walton-Mahon. She has had the pleasure to choreograph dances for Adali E. Stevenson High School’s Melangé and Concert Dance Companies while being a member of each of those ensembles. While performing with those companies, Laura had the privilege to have worked with Liz Lerman and her Critical Response Process to enhance her dance, “It’s Not Goodbye, I’ll See You Later.” She was then awarded Outstanding Senior in Dance and the Prominent Patriot Award for her efforts during that process. While at WMU, she has had the honor of performing works by Marlo Martin, Lindsay Thomas and Lew Christensen. Other performance credits include works by Randy Duncan, Autumn Eckman, Isabele Elefson, and Paula David. Laura has taken an interest in dance administrative work as the dance office assistant. This will be her second year at LFDA.


JOHN CARTWRIGHT has been a member of Thodos Dance Chicago for the past seven seasons, and was an apprentice with the Louisville ballet for 2 seasons before coming to Chicago. He attended Butler University in Indianapolis, IN and graduated in 2008 with a degree in Dance - Arts Administration. With Thodos, he taught numerous master classes in ballet, modern, contemporary, repertory, improv/composition, and health/wellness. John has also been the co-artistic director of the Thodos Dance Chicago Youth Ensemble for four years. In his work with the TDC Youth Ensemble, he has taught ballet and pointe classes, as well as choreographing ballet, modern, and jazz pieces for their performances. John currently teaches ballet, pointe, contemporary, and jazz at the North Suburban School of Dance in Northbrook, IL and choreograph for their youth company, Inspired Dance Company. In the summer of 2017, John started teaching at the Kentucky Governor’s School for Arts, where he graduated from, teaching ballet, pointe, men’s class, variations, composition, and choreographing for their final day showcase. This is John’s second year at LFDA.

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.  Ashley’s performance credits include works by Paige Cunningham Caldarella, Autumn Eckman, Antony Tudor, Gerald Arpino, and Esoteric Dance Project.  After returning to Chicago in 2013, Ashley co-founded Project Bound Dance, a modern dance company that is artistically enriching the Chicago community through youth outreach, the One Hour Project-a dance for camera experiment, and new movement exploration.  Ashley regularly travels across the nation to teach master classes and to create new choreographic works for students and professionals alike.  Her choreography has been presented by numerous companies and festivals including Simantikos Dance Company, Glass City Films, Produce, RAD Festival, Fontana Chamber Arts, Inaside Chicago Dance, and Western Dance Project. She was also a recipient of the DCASE Individual Artist Award and Western Michigan's Legacy grant for collaborative art.  Ashley is currently on staff at Chicago Dance History Project and Audience Architects and is excited for another great year at 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 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 16th year with LFDA.
LIZZIE HOPE 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. She was a principal in Chelsea Ballet London where her roles included the Act II Pas de Deux from Giselle, Dawn in Coppelia, the Pas de Trois from Swan Lake and varied roles in the Nutcracker. The role of Marie Taglioni was recreated on her by a former soloist of Rambert Ballet when the Chelsea Ballet restaged Pas de Quatre. Lizzie has danced and taught in Europe and Africa, the Education Department of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Barat Conservatory of Dance and College of Lake County amongst others. She lectures on ballet/dance history & 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 14th year with LFDA. She is also a licensed massage therapist working with dancers and athletes.
DENITA INEZ is a dancer, choreographer, and instructor. Denita Inez is known for her energetic style and dynamic musicality.  Denita is the Artistic Director of Desueño, a Latin Jazz dance company. She is currently on staff at Lake Forest dance Academy, May I Have This Dance and Director of Outreach at Dancing with Class. She is also an independent freelance dancer and has danced for Chicago Dance Crash, Noumenon Dance Ensemble, Modern Clave, and Civic Dance Ensemble. 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 seventh year at LFDA and sixth year as director of HHE Junior.
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 tenth year.
JENNA JOZEFOWSKI graduated from The University of Akron with a BA in Dance and a minor in Business Administration. 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. She recently completed the Tap Teacher Training Program with American Tap Dance Foundation in NYC. Jenna is also an ERYT-200 yoga instructor and a NASM certified personal trainer and loves using her knowledge of anatomy to help her students improve their dancing.  She looks forward to her 10th year as Director for Euphony Tap Ensemble, and her 12th 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. In 2017, Veronica was asked back to perform a leading role in "Celtic Celebration" with the Baltimore Symphony. She is excited to continue expanding the school this fall.  This will be her 6th 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, as well as Assistant Director and Choreographer for LFC’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This will be Sandy’s 34th year teaching for Lake Forest Dance Academy.  Sandy was the Director of LFDA for 19 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 7th year at LFDA.
ALLY SANOV graduated summa cum laude from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance. During her time at Texas Tech, Ally was a member of the University Dance Company. While with the company, she toured in Trinidad and Tobago and performed at the COCO Dance Festival where she learned from several guests artists, including Battery Dance Company. During her Senior year, Ally’s choreography was selected to represent Texas Tech at American College Dance Association. She has had the pleasure of working with notable artists including Sarah Gamblin, Trent Williams, Jr., and Sarah Magoon and has served as an apprentice with Flatlands Dance Theatre. Since relocating to Chicago, Ally has had the opportunity to tour and teach at various studios around the Midwest with Dancewerks, LLC under the direction of Ellen Werksman and is the Assistant Director of KinRha Dance Company under the direction of Tiffany Krause. Additionally, Ally is in her first season as a performing apprentice with Alluvion Dance Chicago and is a member of the work/study program at Visceral Dance Center. She is excited for her second year at LFDA!
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 21st 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, and continues to serve as the Company Technique Mistress.
KRISTY WHITE started dance at 3 years and had been performing since the age of six.  She received her training from such notable teachers as Laura Wade, Jeff Hancock, Eduardo Villaro, Wilfredo Rivero, Lisa Sheppard, Paula David, and Cheri Lindell. Her training has be furthered through Chicago National Association of Dance Masters and Dupree Jazz Forum. Kristy is a former member of Luna Negra Dance Ensemble of Chicago, Terpsichore, and has performed in Dance Explosion with TJ & Company.  She has participated in the musical “Grease” playing the role of ChaCha DiGregorio, “Who’s That Girl” Benefit and “Dance for Dreams.”  Kristy’s choreographic credits include “A Chance to Dance” (TJ & Company,) Lake Forest High School musical, competitive high school Pom Squads, dance ensembles, and soloists.  Starting in 1998, Kristy began teaching throughout the Chicagoland. In addition to this, she extended her dance career and become a certified massage therapist. Currently, she is the Technique Coach for Libertyville HS Varsity and JV Dance Teams. She is the director of LAD Ensemble and also is the director of Lake County Dance Showcase through the Waukegan Arts Council.   Kristy is the director of the Prelude Dance Theatre Trainee Company/Company Coordinator for Lake Forest Dance Academy. 


220 E. Deerpath, Lake Forest, IL 60045
(847) 234-2600
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