Faculty & Staff
Courtney Laves-Mearini - Director
The Stretch and Tone class with Courtney has been a great class for me as a beginner trying to get in shape and I have noticed for the athletic person looking to add variety to their fitness routine. Her careful instruction and guidance means that the class suits a variety of ability and fitness levels. Courtney is very sensitive and able to meet the workout needs of each student while leading this group class. All parts of the body are worked on to improve tone, balance and flexibility. We are also taught correct use of hand weights for strength building as well as breathing techniques for endurance and relaxation. Stretch and Tone is addressing my overall fitness and strength, and is a challenging workout that helps me to relax and focus on a thorough full body workout as well as giving me skills and exercises to do at home.— Lisa O’Brien
I am very grateful for your studio and haven’t felt this well in years!
Courtney received her training in Houston, Texas studying primarily under Anne and Nicolas Polajenko, Gilbert Rome, ABT’s Alexander Minz, Claire Duncan and James Clouser. She also had the opportunity to study with Fosse jazz dancer, Delia Weddington-Stewart for five years while growing up in Houston. She trained for a year at the University of Utah under Li-Chou Chang and had the opportunity to work with Sir Anton Dolin and Toni Lander, restaging Pas de Quatre in the role of Marie Taglioni. She danced with several ballet companies including Atlanta Ballet, South Carolina Ballet Theater and Cleveland San Jose Ballet. She danced lead roles in Serenade as the Russian Lead, soloist in Paquita, Sleeping Beauty as Princess Aurora, Concerto Borocco principal, Raymonda Variations soloist, and Lynn-Taylor Corbett’s Appearances.
Courtney has been teaching ballet since 1978 for various studios in Houston, Florida and Cleveland including teaching at the University of Akron’s dance department. She received her B.A. in Anthropology and Communications from Cleveland State University in 1997 and has excavated for three field seasons on the Maya Mountain Archaeological Project in Belize, Central America with Dr. Peter Dunham.
In 2009, Courtney created the non-profit, 501(c) 3, City Ballet of Cleveland and is currently Artistic & Executive Director. The company became a member of the prestigious Regional Dance America Northeast in 2013 and Courtney became the region’s treasurer for 2015-2016.
Samantha Basford (Ballet)
The Plain Dealer’s Zachary Lewis reviews Samantha’s Feldenkrais class.
Samantha Damoulakis is a former professional dancer with the Miami City Ballet. She trained in New York at the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center. Since 2002, Samantha has taught at various schools around the country including the Miami City Ballet School. Most recently, she was the artistic assistant to Peter Martins and Kay Mazzo at the School of American Ballet. Samantha completed her certification in the Feldenkreis technique in 2012 and is available for individual and group treatment. She is currently working with the students at Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and Oberlin Conservatory.
Abigail Besse (Ballet)
Abigail Besse began dancing at the age of 4 with Linda Adolphi and Paul Wilson at Cleveland City Dance. She has trained under Courtney Laves-Mearini, Mark Otloski, and Andrea Blankstein-Otloski. She danced with Light of the World Ballet in Syracuse, New York and was a graduate of their trainee program. She joined the teaching staff at Cleveland City Dance in 2013 and also is a guest performer with City Ballet of Cleveland.
Bridget Biliunas (Ballet)
The Therapeutic Ballet class with Bridget has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to study ballet for the first time and an excellent chance for some of my classmates the opportunity to return to the ballet studio after years away from dance. The class includes traditional barre work, center work, and stretching and toning with Thera bands. Classical ballet terminology is taught and careful attention is given to technique for each student. Bridget’s instruction is geared for each student’s ability level within the class. Therapeutic Ballet has provided me with a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of ballet as a new adult student in a very enthusiastic and affirming environment.— Lisa O’Brien
I am very grateful for your studio and haven’t felt this well in years!
Bridget Biliunas was formally trained in Russian Classical Ballet by Cleveland ballet teachers Marguerite Duncan and Nancy Arcury and danced in their company, Northcoast Ballet Theatre from 1991 to 1998. She also accompanied their children’s ballet classes and student-taught under Sonja Kraljevic. She later studied and danced with Margaret Holden at Cleveland Dance Theater and studied with Kay Eichman of The Cleveland Ballet. She has attended dance and science somatic seminars in Cleveland; Chicago, New York City’s Broadway Dance Center and participated in Food For Thought, an emergent choreography program. Bridget has performed at the Cleveland Playhouse, The Masonic Temple, Cleveland’s Palace Theater, and Tower City Productions among others. She has danced with Serena Polish Folk Group and Gorale Polish Folk Dancers, appearing in local televised holiday showcases. From 2001 to 2003, she was co-artistic director of Grandinele Lithuanian Folk Assemble and choreographed dances for its 50th Jubilee performance in the spring of 2003. She taught accredited ballet classes at Lakeland Community College and teaches intermediate and advanced level ballet at Interpretations Dance Academy (formerly Dance by Gloria) since 2004.
Bridget holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education. Bridget has been teaching at Cleveland City Dance since 2012. In competition, Bridget’s choreography was awarded Best Showmanship at the Tremaine Dance Competition.
Her former students have studied and performed with Pittsburg Ballet, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Greensboro Ballet, and the National American Miss Pageant. Bridget became certified in the Silver Swan program in 2017. Silver Swan Locations in Cleveland.
Diana Braun (Lyrical & Tap)
Diana Braun is an alumnus of Cleveland City Dance and has been training with the studio since she was 7 years old. She is a recent graduate of Otterbein College where she received a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in dance. At Otterbein, she was able to work with Randy Skinner in Otterbein production of 42nd Street. She was also chosen to be the student choreographer for the 2009 dance concert To Each, His Own. Diana has been teaching with CCD since 2009.
Jill Buchanan (Children’s Ballet)
Jill Buchanan received her early ballet training from Ray and Jan Smith at the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby. She has a BFA in dance from the University of Cincinnati where she studied both ballet and modern dance. She also attended John Carroll University and earned her Elementary Education degree. She has taught classes at the Fine Arts Association and the Beck Center in Lakewood. Since 2013 Jill has taught creative movement for preschool and pre-kindergarten students at Hawken Lower School. Jill and her husband Mark welcomed daughter Hazel Anne to the family in April 2014.
Daniel Cho (Jazz)
Daniel Cho is from San Francisco, California, and holds a BA special major in Dance and Education from Swarthmore College. He received his training from Point Park Conservatory, the Laban Conservatoire in London, the Ballet X Summer Intensive, the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and the Coastal City Ballet in Vancouver, British Columbia. Daniel is a recent graduate of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, and has joined Verb Ballets as an apprentice for the 2018-19 season.
DeJa Conner (Hip-Hop)
DeJa Conner, aka Queen Millennial, is a representation of dance, youth, and art with diverse approach to that which has purpose! For 18 years, her performance opportunities have been with the Cavaliers and Rockets as a child, broadening her horizons and strengthening her to learn new styles. These styles include Line Dancing, Chicago Steppin’, Hip-Hop styles, such as G-boying, Popping, Locking, Boogaloo, Krumping etc. as well as Modern Arts.
Her specialty is teaching the culture of the different dance styles and cultural dancing, which includes West African Dance, Ballroom Dancing, Salsa and Cha Cha. Teaching the origins of the dance style helps build a connection with the mind, body and movement presentation! That’s what Ms. DeJa or DeJ is known for: EDUCATING! The knowledge of the art and teaching it to the youth is what makes the art in dancing so important. Motivating and mentoring while teaching with LOTS of fun, helps inspire different forms of art. Understanding that history plays an essential role in everything that we know in today’s dance lifetime! “Every day I have an affirmation for myself, but the youth affirm that the dance I teach is worth living!”
“I am SHE, Queen of the Millennials, who liberates the youth through the music of my feet.” — Queen M.
JoEllen Cornrich (Adult Ballet & Barre Fitness)
JoEllen Cornrich has been involved with dance and fitness most of her life. She introduced the ballet program at the Mandel JCC as well as teaching a stretch and firm class for many years at that facility. JoEllen continues to train fitness enthusiasts and guest teach. JoEllen trained at The Conservatory at the University of Cincinnati, studied at the University of Akron with the Ohio Ballet, the Akron Russian School of Ballet, and the Cleveland Institute of Dance with Alex Martin and John Begg. Currently studies at Cleveland City Dance. BFA University of Cincinnati.
Kathleen Davis Pierce (Ballet)
Kathleen Davis Pierce (Ballet) has a B.S. in Dance from Kent State University. Kathleen has taught at Canton Ballet, Kent State Motor Development Program, the JCC, and the Fairmount Center. She has taught adult and seniors at Cuyahoga Community College and at Kent State Research and Fitness Program. She has performed with the Leaven Dance Company and Dance Image. Kathleen is also a certified Reike master as of October 2002. As of 2015 Kathleen is now a full time teacher at Shaker Schools.
Jan Deal (Ballet)
Jan Deal (Ballet) started her training in the Cecchetti method of ballet in North Olmstead, Ohio with Alys Beaucaires. She then received a scholarship with Alex Martin and danced as a trainee for the Cleveland School of Ballet. She graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana with a B.A. degree and performed with the Butler Ballet Company. Her teaching career started with Jan being offered the position of Director and Les Beaucaries Dance Studio. She also taught classes at the Beck Center for Fine Arts in Lakewood. She has taught pre-ballet at Cleveland City Dance for several years. Jan also teaches pre-ballet classes at her local West End Y and is also the choreographer for the spring musicals at a private elementary school, Mater Dei in Wickliffe. She’s also looking forward to returning to the staff at Cleveland City Dance.
Alison Dubsky (Ballet & Pilates)
Ms. Dubsky began her ballet training at the Ashtabula Arts Center and finished her studies at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and the Joffrey Ballet School. Upon graduation Alison embarked on a professional career where she performed throughout North America. During Ms. Dubsky’s tenure as a professional ballet dancer, she danced with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, the Joffrey Ensemble Dancers, the Sarasota Ballet, the Richmond Ballet and the Alberta Ballet. Some of Ms. Dubsky’s favorite roles include the Black Queen from Checkmate, the Sugar Plum from The Nutcracker, Jiri Kylian’s Forgotten Land and the principal couple in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante.
Emily Edwards (Balanced Body Pilates Mat Instructor)
Emily began her Pilates passion ten years ago in Houston, Texas under the instruction of Krista Schuelke, owner of 713 Pilates. She has completed the Balanced Body Pilates Instructor courses for Mat 1, Mat 2, Reformer 1, 2 and 3 in Cleveland, Ohio under the comprehensive teachings of Troy McCarty. The Balanced Body Pilates program combines the traditional repertoire of Joseph H. Pilates with contemporary exercises based on the latest advancements in movement, science and related disciplines. Emily also has a background as a professional saddle seat equitation horseback instructor. She received her B.B.A. and M.B.A from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi in 2004. Emily is excited to start teaching so close to home for 2018.
Julia Galletta (Ballet)
Jennifer Cho Salaff shares photos and writes about her ballet experience in Julia’s class at CCD: Ballet at 40 (portraits of a rookie)
Julia joined Cleveland City Dance after graduating in 2010 from Jacksonville University with a B.F.A. in dance in and business minor. Specializing in ballet and modern dance, Julia took classes at Cleveland City Dance, the Ballet Academy, and attended summer programs at the Dance Institute in Akron and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet during high school. Julia is also certified in Pilates Initiation 101 and 201 by the Physical Mind Institute as of 2010. Additionally, Julia interned with American Dance Festival in 2008 where she provided administration for their summer program Julia also is a certified teacher by American Ballet Theatre in Primary Level Level 3 as of summer 2011.
A passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, Maria Hanley is leaving New York City to teach children in the Greater Cleveland area. She specializes in teaching infants through 6 years. In the past six years, Maria designed and implemented ballet programs for the young families and after school division at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, Maria taught creative movement, creative ballet, and parent/toddler classes at Dancewave Center and The Mark Morris Dance Group. She has also taught with New York City Ballet in their outreach program. Maria holds a Master’s degree in dance education from New York University (2007) and a Bachelor’s degree in dance performance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania (2005). She has presented about early childhood dance at the Dance Teacher Summit for the past four years. She has also been featured in publications including Dance Teacher Magazine and Dance Studio Life Magazine. Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers (www.mariasmovers.com), where she shares her creative ideas about teaching young dancers.
Meghann Hennen (Children’s Ballet)
Ms Megan, is excellent with the children, she imparts so much more than just dance. The kids learn self love, balance, endurance, beauty, culture and discipline to name a few qualities.
(Yelp review from Michael B.)
Alumni Meghann Hennen returned to Cleveland after being away for ten years in New York City. Her background is constructed of being ballet trained, along with being a competitive figure skater, and artist. She graduated with her BFA from The Mary Schiller Myers School of Art in 2006 and received her MFA from Parsons, The New School for Design in 2008. Meghann has been teaching children for the past ten years, and decided to get her second masters specializing in early childhood education and special education. She recently graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University and is honored to be back and bring her passion and interests to Cleveland City Dance.
April Hirsh (Tap)
April is originally from Syracuse, New York, and grew up taking dance classes at Miss Colleen’s School of Dance in New York. April has a bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology from The State University of New York at Geneseo. While at Geneseo, she choreographed and performed in 6 student dance productions, and taught hip hop for the Salvation Army and tap, jazz, hip hop, lyrical, and musical theater at Kasey’s Creative Dance Studio. April came to Cleveland to study social work at Case Western Reserve University, and currently teaches jazz, hip-hop, and musical theater for Strongsville Dance Company. April is the director of the tap company, Cleveland City Rhythm in residence at Cleveland City Dance.
Michael, a New Jersey native, trained under the direction of John White and Margarita de Saa at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet. While studying under John White and Margarita de Saa, he also had the privilege of working with choreographers Bryan Koulman and Lina Early performing a variety of classical, modern, and contemporary works. During Michael’s time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, he was involved in a small ensemble called Pages to Pirouettes. The ensemble’s purpose is to take storybook ballets, such as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Cinderella, to grade schools in the entire Philadelphia area and teach school children about ballet and dance in general. Michael also spent several months studying at the Boston Ballet School prior to joining a professional company.
Michael joined The Sarasota Ballet of Florida as an apprentice in 1999 and retired as a principle in 2008. Including Sarasota Ballet’s full repertoire, he performed many leading male roles including Lysander and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Siegfried, as well as Rothbart, in Swan Lake, Othello in Othello, and the Cavalier in the holiday favorite The Nutcracker. Michael also had the distinguished honor of portraying Don Jose in Alberto Alonso’s Carmen, not only on stage but also in the documentary project Dancing in Freedom’s Shoes portraying Alberto Alonso’s illustrious life and career in ballet.
Michael’s contemporary repertoire includes many pieces by James Buckley including Business Casual, Centaur, The Rite of Spring, and Anne Frank. He also reset Mr. Buckley’s Anne Frank on The Sarasota Ballet in January of 2006. In 2002, Michael had the honor of working with choreographer Christopher Fleming to celebrate the artist Jean Claude Gaugy’s inspirational masterpiece The Awakening. The work was revealed in Santa Fe, New Mexico to a ballet that reflected the artist’s struggle to overcome impossible odds. Michael has received pedagogy training based upon the Vaganova Syllabus, which is the same syllabus he trained under at The Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet.
Heather Koniz Young (Ballet, Jazz, Modern)
Heather holds a Master of Fine Arts in Contemporary Dance from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Arts from Hamilton College. She is a part-time lecturer at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University and also teaches Barre classes at Yoga Roots. Mrs. Young has most recently worked with Groundworks Dance Theater as a Teaching Artist for their residency at Woodbury Elementary School. In February, she joined the Read to Learn...Dance to Move program with DANCE Cleveland. Young dances professionally with Antaeus Dance and has also performed with the Verlezza Dance Company, Marquez Dance Project and Tikvah Company of Artists. In addition to teaching and performing, Mrs. Young is the Office Manager at Cleveland City Dance. She and her husband welcomed their son, Carter, on July 4, 2015.
Ethan Michael Lee
Ethan Michael Lee is an Ohio native from North Canton and started his training at Canton Ballet under the artistic direction of Cassandra Crowley at the age of 12. He has also trained at schools such as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Chautauqua, and Joffrey Ballet to name a few. Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival 2013 was Ethan’s first performance with Neos Dance Theatre, making this his fifth year with Neos Dance Theatre. He has been performing roles for Neos ballets such as Bobby Wesner’s original Snow White, Dracula, and an array of contemporary pieces he has choreographed. Currently Ethan is the Artistic Director of A Time to Dance Junior Company, and over the years has choreographed numerous pieces including four ballets. When not performing with Neos or choreographing, Ethan also guests throughout North East Ohio to perform with local ballet schools, such as Ballet Theatre of Ohio, Canton Ballet, Great Lakes Youth Ballet, and many others.
Diane Lucas (Ballet)
Diane Lucas trained at Fairmount Center for the Performing Arts as a scholarship recipient and then at The Dance Center of Cleveland Heights, both under the direction of John Begg. As a scholarship student, she gained valuable performing and teaching experience and served as a teacher’s assistant to Mr. Begg. She has performed with various regional companies in both classical and contemporary styles including Fairmount Center Company, Dance Center Company and Cleveland Chamber Ballet. Diane has an extensive teaching background and has taught for over 20 years at various dance schools. She is also on the teaching staff of The Dance Stop studio.
Rachael K. Palermo (Jazz & Ballet)
Rachael is a dancer, choreographer, and educator from Northfield, Ohio. As a performer and choreographer, she has enjoyed working with area dance companies, schools, and theater companies throughout Northeast Ohio. As an educator, Rachael has taught in the Cleveland area private sector for over 20 years, and is in her fourth year of teaching in higher education. She previously worked as a dance studio Owner/Director for 10 years, and is a member of the National Dance Education Organization. Rachael holds a B.F.A. in Dance from The University of Akron, where she performed with The University of Akron Dance Company. She went on to New York University for graduate studies, and received her M.A. in Teaching Dance in Higher Education and the Professions in 2013. Additionally, she holds her Statement of Eligibility for Alternative Resident Educator License in Dance from the Ohio Department of Education. Most recently, Rachael served as Artistic/School Director at Ballet Western Reserve and worked as adjunct faculty at Youngstown State University.
Lori Simplican (Jazz & Musical Theater)
“I just started adult ballet this year with CCD! I am so happy I did. I was so nervous when I signed up, and am glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. The teachers are knowledgeable and fun, and the class really kind! Everyone is happy to be there and to be learning together.”
— Katja Alexandria comment from CCD’s Facebook page
Ms. Lori grew up studying jazz dance from the renowned teacher/choreographer Dee Hillier. Lori performed locally in theaters and as a member of the Dee Hillier Dance Company where she was a part of the Lighting of Public Square Show and the Opening of the remodeled Allen theater. She has also studied with some of the very best in ballet, tap and modern dance, and continues her dance education by attending classes and dance conventions to stay current with the latest trends in dance.
Lori’s teaching career spans over two decades throughout the Cleveland area. She was on the faculty and co-consort director of the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater. Along with teaching at a number of local studios, she has choreographed for many local theaters and worked with the late Joan Sidor at Independence City School District, creating their musical programs.
Lori is currently a teaching artist for Dancing Classrooms Northeast Ohio, a program that teaches ballroom dance to schools throughout the Cleveland area.
Shannon Sterne (Modern)
Shannon Sterne is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at Case Western Reserve University where she teaches Graham-based modern dance technique, dance kinesiology, and dance history. Previously, she danced internationally with the San Diego Ballet, toured nationally with the Dancing Wheels Company, and performed throughout southern California and Ohio as a freelance artist. She has had the pleasure of performing works by many notable choreographers including George Balanchine, Heinz Poll, Martha Graham, Pascal Rioult, David Rousseve, and Michael Uthoff. Her choreography has been met with critical acclaim nationwide, notably, at the San Diego International Fringe Festival, the OhioDance Festival, and at Cleveland Public Theatre. Sterne is also a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with research interests emphasizing nutrition and wellness for dancers. She continues to teach master classes in Graham technique at Cleveland City Dance and regularly sets choreography on the company dancers.
Sara Lawrence-Sucato (Modern & Tap)
Sara Lawrence-Sucato graduated with Honors from Mercyhurst University (Erie, PA) with a degree in Dance Teaching and Choreography. She is currently in her tenth season as a professional dancer with The Dancing Wheels Company and is a dance instructor at several Cleveland-area dance studios. She has studied with noted teachers Madame Natalie Krassovska, Laura Alonso, Cynthia Harvey, Vivi Flindt, Finis Jhung, Christopher Huggins, and Milton Myers. Her performance credits include roles in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, La Sylphide, Pas de Quatre, Paquita Variations, Bolero. With Dancing Wheels, Sara has performed works by Nai Ni Chen, Christopher Fleming, Heidi Latsky, Stuart Pimsler, David Rousseve, Robert Wesner, as well as renowned choreographers Donald McKayle and Dianne McIntyre. She has performed with Columbus Ohio’s Columbus Dance Theatre and The Dance Cure as well as Erie’s Shen and Bones Performance Group and SoMar Dance Works. Sara’s choreographic credits include dances performed as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks (2015) and Big [Box] Series (2009, 2010) and Revolutions (2012) for The Dancing Wheels Company. Sara joined the Cleveland City Dance faculty in 2014.
Karin Tooley has extensive experience as a pianist for dancers. She has a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. While still a student, she began accompanying classes at the School of Cleveland Ballet. Karin has also accompanied ballet and modern dance at Mather Dance Center at Case, the Cecchetti Council of America Summer Dance Intensive, Cleveland City Dance, Cleveland School of Dance, Cleveland School of the Arts, Cleveland San Jose Ballet, Verb Ballets, Dancing Wheels, Cleveland Inner City Ballet, Pointe of Departure, Cleveland State University Dance, and Fairmount Fine Arts Center. She also serves as pianist at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland and accompanies Windsong, Cleveland’s Feminist Chorus. Karin performed with CityMusic Cleveland in the children’s opera Brundibar in 2012.
Her original scores include numerous small pieces for student productions at the School of Cleveland Ballet, Cleveland School of Dance and Cleveland School of the Arts, as well as the 75-minute An Urban Nutcracker, a modern/street version of the tale by CSA’s Youth at Risk Dancing and Pilobolus Dance Theatre, which received national attention in Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.