Kyle Ayers, Dance Arts Director
Kyle Ayers is an educator and artist currently residing in Urbana, Illinois. He graduated from Illinois State University in 2016 where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre with a major in Acting. He has thorough experience with stage makeup, lighting design, and costume design. While at ISU, Kyle also intensely studied dance technique in Modern, Ballet, and Jazz, and regularly performed in the Illinois State Dance Theatre concerts each semester. He has worked with choreographers from around the country, including Jennifer Harge, Tiffanee Arnold, Michael Richman, Bryan and Shaina Baira, Brian McGinnis, and many more.
He is currently working as the Contemporary Dance Instructor for Champaign Park District in Champaign, Illinois. He teaches classical Modern technique and stages choreography in their annual concert each April. In 2017, Kyle was selected as an Emerging Choreographer for NewDANCEfest, sponsored by the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, and was invited to stage an original work for their Gala Performance in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Kyle is employed at St. Joseph-Ogden High School as the color guard instructor and he is going into his third year as faculty at Unity High School in Tolono, Illinois where he is also employed as the color guard instructor and show designer for the marching band. His contributions include choreography and instruction of the guard, visual design, drill design, and helping compose the horn line visuals. His choreography has been seen at Illinois State University, Unity High School, St. Joseph-Ogden High School and Hoopeston Area High School.
Jessica Bengtson, Dance Arts Assistant
Jessica began her training in Decatur, Illinois where she was an exam candidate with the Royal Academy of Dance. At age eleven, she was accepted to the National Academy of Arts in Champaign where she trained until its closure in the spring of 1987. Jessica has trained and performed under a variety of notable teachers to include Petrus Bosman, David Keener, Robert Dicello, and Mark Schneider. Jessica has been a Dance Arts instructor since 1989 where she has taught all levels of Royal Academy of Dance ballet syllabus classes, as well as all levels of Adult Ballet.
Bella Chapman trained for 11 years at the Champaign Ballet Academy, primarily focusing on classical Vaganova style ballet. As a Senior Company member in the Champaign Urbana Ballet, she has performed in multiple productions of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty, including the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. In summer 2014, she trained with the Pacific Ballet Academy in Mountain View, California. Additionally, she has taken classes in aerial arts and pole fitness at Defy Gravity.
Bella Dallas is so excited to teach Creative Movement at the Champaign Park District Dance Arts School. She has been choreographing in the area for eight years and has been dancing for fourteen. She is a local and has been participating in the Arts since she was six. She has also worked with multiple dance companies and has also led the ballet program at the Urbana Park District.
Cameron Davis is a student at the University of Illinois studying Elementary Education with minors in Psychology and Spanish. She has been competitively Irish dancing since she was in 1st grade, and has been teaching Irish dance for three years. During her free time, Cammi loves to sing, hang out with her sorority sisters, volunteer with elementary students through an after school reading program, spend as much time outside in nature as possible, and, of course, dance.
Whitney Havice began her dance training in ballet at the age of five in the Vaganova method at the Lee School of Ballet in Champaign, IL. and since then has studied, trained, and performed in numerous other styles of dance. She has choreographed, directed and/or appeared in over fifty musical theatre productions locally and in the Chicago area for the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company, Parkland College, the Station Theatre, Brown Paper Box Co, and others. In addition, she has served as the Dance Rehearsal Director for the LyricTheatre at the UI, and as the Musical Theatre Dance instructor at the Little Theatre on the Square. She has also taught dance classes in a variety of styles at other studios in the Champaign-Urbana area, and is the class coordinator for the Dance for People with Parkinsons program at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Maya McMurray has trained pre-professionally in ballet and modern for 14 years. She has studied at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Giordano Dance School, Orlando Ballet, the Indiana University Ballet Program, Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, the Cuban National Ballet, and Boston Ballet. She was a member of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet and the Opificio Contemporary Dance Company. She has performed with the Mandala Dance Company, the Joffrey, and Ballet West. She is currently a student at the University of Illinois studying Communication and French.
Tanya Picard is a teacher and choreographer from the Chicago area who took her first dance class at the age of 6, her first Giordano and Luigi jazz classes at the age of 10, and has never stopped moving since. In New York, in addition to studying jazz with Luigi, she has studied modern at the Martha Graham Dance Center and tap with Bob Audy and Charles “Cookie” Cook. A lifelong student of Gus Giordano, she has been awarded scholarships for several of her students to take master classes at the Giordano studios. Tanya is currently an active participant in Chicago Human Rhythm Project and studies Duncan technique at the Joffrey Ballet. She is actively involved in Duncan Dance Chicago.
Tanya did her graduate work in theatre at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis where she served as the Artistic Director for Pasticcio Dance Ensemble, a regional contemporary company. Her areas of academic focus are devised theatre, literary analysis, and dance history. While in Minneapolis, she also worked as choreographer for the Renaissance Faires in Chicago and Boston, creating the original “Gypsy Dancers,” and choreographed more musicals than she cares to count. Returning to Chicago, in addition to teaching technique classes, serving as a movement specialist for an early childhood program, and directing an adult tap company, she received grants to produce two original works: Amelia and Leonardo and Elements. In 2009, she organized a two-day Luigi workshop taught by Luigi’s assistant, Francis Roach, and produced Never Stop Moving, a special performance honoring Luigi’s influence.
Tanya is the Artistic Director of Impulse Tap Ensemble in Bloomington, IL, and for Impulse Arts in Champaign, IL. Impulse is devoted to classical rhythm tap and cross-cultural percussive dance. Since 2011, Tanya has created unique pieces that fuse text, tap, modern, and jazz dance and have been presented at the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois. The ensemble has studied with nationally renowned tap artist and teacher Jimmy Payne, Jr. of Chicago, who has created several tap pieces for the company. Most recently, Tanya did the tap choreography for CUTC’s production of Mary Poppins and Parkland’s Anything Goes, and was invited to do an artistic residency in Luigi Technique for Bristol Ballet.
Tanya’s favorite quote is: “To dance, put your hand over your heart and listen to the sound of your soul.”
Elisandra Rosario was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and began dancing at the age of five. She started her studies by taking ballet and tap classes and slowly began adding more dance styles to her studies; including Hip Hop, Pointe, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, and West African. Elisandra attended the Chicago High School for the Arts where she continued her dance training, now with a more serious attitude towards the art form. Her commitment to Dance lead her to attend the University of Illinois where she received her Bachelors in Fine Arts. Elisandra now spreads her knowledge of dance by teaching throughout the Champaign-Urbana community.
Meghan Uppinghouse danced with the Champaign Park District for 12 years. She has completed the Royal Academy of Dance program. Her favorite role she has played was Queen Titania in a Mid-Summer Night’s Dream as well as being a part of a contemporary piece entitled, “A yessong.” She loves to teach creative movement and ballet levels 1 and 2.
Anneka began taking classes at age 8 at Mainstream Dance in Covington, Georgia, where she later joined the pre-professional company Covington Regional Ballet. Under the tutelage of Jaime Robtison, she was trained primarily in Cecchetti, Vaganova and Balanchine styles, and also studied contemporary and modern choreography. When she was 15 she received a scholarship to study a rigorous Vaganova syllabus at Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet with Margaritta de Saa White and John White. Later at 16, Anneka attended the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program, also under a scholarship, and was able to take class under notable teachers such as Shannon Parsley, Jared Redick, and Christopher Hird. Throughout her pre-professional career she performed in roles such as Clara (Nutcracker), Snow Queen (Nutcracker), Lilac Fairy (Sleeping Beauty), and Cinderella (Cinderella). While still taking dance recreationally, Anneka also loves staying active with cycling and running.
James Shaffnit, Accompanist
James Schaffnit has been playing for dance classes since 1979 and has played for company classes for American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Arizona, Nevada Ballet Theater, and Hubbard Street Dance Company. He was on staff at California Institute of the Arts from 1994-96 and is currently on staff at the University of Illinois and Springer Cultural Center in Champaign. James has also worked as an exam pianist for the Royal Academy of Dance since 1991 and currently plays more than half of the Vocational Graded Exams in the United States. He holds degrees in piano performance from Arizona State University and California State University, Northridge.