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Instructor Bios

Gwen Kaiser, Dance Arts Supervisor



Jessica Bengtson

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.

 Kyla Brown

Kyla Brown

Kyla grew up dancing in Utah and studied Dance Education at Brigham Young University, where she had the opportunity to tour to Eastern Europe and South Africa and Zimbabwe to teach and perform. Kyla volunteered with two organizations in southern India where she taught life skills through dance to children from leprosy colonies. Post-school she started a dance program at a girls high school treatment center in Utah. After moving to Boston, Kyla performed with multiple companies, including Boston Community Dance Project, as well as taught in local studios. She now resides in Champaign with her husband and two kids. She had the opportunity to perform for the “Dancing With the CU Stars” event and has been enjoying teaching for the Champaign Parks District. Kyla has a love for teaching, advocating for, and performing many styles of dance such as contemporary, jazz, ballet, hip hop, tap, and musical theater. 


Lorelei Cosper

Lorelei Cosper was born and raised in Champaign-Urbana and has been performing across the area since 2010. Their training started off through local schools and theatre programs in musical theatre, tap, and jazz. For the past decade, she has trained in ballet and Cunningham and Limon-based Modern. They have also taken classes learning Character and the foundations of Graham and Horton technique. She’s had the privilege of attending workshops with Mark Morris Dance Group members Billy Smith and Domingo Estrada Jr. 

Lorelei studied Psychology at Parkland College and is most interested in how the field entwines with dance. More specifically, how neurodiverse students can find safety, confidence, and joy through movement.


Maria Genung

Maria Isabel began her ballet training at the age of 6 in Miami, FL at Armour Dance Theater (formally known as TAYB) and learned a mixture of Vaganova and Balanchine styles of ballet. She later moved to Illinois in 2012 and continued her dance training in the Vaganova Method of ballet along with several other styles of dance including: Graham, Jazz, Character, and Rhythm Tap at the USA Ballet in Bloomington, IL for 9 years. She also was a part of the ISU Swinging RedBirds club for 2 years where she learned East Coast Swing, Blues dance, Lindy Hop, and Charleston.

Maria Isabel graduated cum laude with her BA in Dance from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has performed many pieces from within the classical ballet repertoire, as well as, a few unique modern pieces. Maria has also had the privilege to dance in several schools over the years including: The Central Illinois Ballet in Peoria, IL, Carillon Danza ASD in Rome, Italy, and Ballet Reginato in Tucuman, Argentina. As a teacher, Maria Isabel loves to share the joy of ballet and its history with her students.


Whitney Havice

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.

Lilly Rice

Lillian Rice is an Arts Educator from Champaign Illinois. She teaches Beginning Adult Ballet as well as Creative Movement. She has had 12 years of Vaganova Ballet training, and is delighted to share her knowledge with emerging dancers of every age. In addition to her Dance Arts career, Lillian is a full time student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is a senior majoring in Art Education. 

Anna Oates Schlaack

Anna Oates Schlaack (she/her) began her dance studies at the age of 14 at Dance Studio B in Wilson, NC after years of wishing to dance. Anna was and continues to be inspired by her younger sister who started to dance at the age of 2, before she could even walk. Her sister has Down Syndrome. From Western Carolina University, where she received a minor in dance, into her adulthood, Anna has carried her love for dance in academic applications and studio classes. 

Anna has studied ballet (primarily Cecchetti and Vaganova Methods), tap, jazz, musical theater dance, contemporary, and Modern, and has taught ballet, tap, tumbling, and creative movement for ages 3-7.

From her home to the studio and other forms of teaching, Anna is mindful of different learning abilities and strives to create an inclusive environment, especially for those individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Corbin Phillips

Corbin is a Dancer and Choreographer from Champaign, IL. He graduated from The University of Iowa with a BFA in dance and a focus on Choreography. He grew up training locally and then spending time with schools such as Ballet Chicago, Tampa Ballet, Next Generation Ballet, Joffrey Chicago, and Dance Theater of Harlem. Through college he trained in various modern and contemporary styles while continuing his ballet training. His choreographic works explore the contrast between classical ballet lines and idiosyncratic movements while creating a fluidity between the two. His works have been presented at Dance Arts Spring Performance, the University of Iowa, and the YAGP Chicago Regional Competition.

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.


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