HINSDALE DANCE ACADEMY
Junior Company Director
Jazz/Contemporary Department Director
Jennifer Grapes is a former Principal Ballerina, Master Instructor, the owner of the Hinsdale Dance Academy and the Artistic Director of the Hinsdale Ballet Theatre located in Hinsdale, IL. Ms. Grapes is an internationally traveled dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Ms. Grapes grew up studying all forms of dance including ballet, modern/contemporary, jazz, and tap. She received her early training from Melissa Morris (Blue Springs Ballet), Yvonne Craig, Sharon Romine, Luba Gulyaeva, Michael Simms, and the Kansas City Ballet School as well as receiving scholarships to study at the Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Rock School. After high school, she was able to fine-tune her technique and artistry by studying extensively under the tutelage of former Milwaukee Ballet Principal, Paula Weber, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. There, she was able to also add Lester Horton’s and Martha Graham’s Modern technique to her technical repertoire.
Ms. Grapes started dancing professionally at the tender age of 19 with the Albany Berkshire Ballet whilst also working toward completing her college degree. Since then, Jennifer has seen much success all around the globe performing as a Principal Artist, master teacher, and adjudicator. Her professional career includes most of the title roles in the traditional ballet repertory and also other classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works by Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, August Bournonville, Kevin “Iega” Jeff, Adam Houghland, Laura Dean, Margo Sappington, Stephen Mills, Salvatore Aiello, Stuart Sebastien, Mark Godden, Dermot Burke, Karen Russo, Gregory Robinson, and Michael Pink to name a few. Ms. Grapes has danced for many elite professional companies such as the Milwaukee Ballet, Montgomery Ballet, Dayton Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Albany Berkshire Ballet, Ajkun Ballet Theatre, Atlantic Southeast Ballet, Lexington Ballet, and Wylliams/Henry Contemporary DANSE Theatre.
She has been a guest artist, master teacher, and adjudicator for several national and international dance festivals in Europe, Australia, and Canada and also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2006, she performed as the guest Principal Artist at the International Ballet Festival of Calabria (Italy) to rave reviews and in 2007; she portrayed the title roles in Carmen, Diana and Acteon, Karien, The Amazon (original creation), and Mozart: Epilogue of the Genius (original creation) at the legendary Symphony Space and City Center on Broadway in NYC. In 2008, she was selected to represent the Milwaukee Ballet at the Crossroads Ballet Festival in Kansas City, MO, where she danced one of her most popular roles, Black Swan Pas de Deux. Also in 2008, Jennifer toured throughout Australia’s east coast performing the leads in Paquita, The Sleeping Beauty, Alvin Ailey’s The River, as well as teaching several master classes and adjudicating the famous nationally acclaimed scholarship programs, Sydney Eistedfodd and the Marianne McIntyre Memorial International Scholarship Program. During her tenure with the Milwaukee Ballet she had several roles created for her in works such as Michael Pink’s Aubade, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Peter Pan, Nelly Van Bommel’s Gelem! Gelem!, Timothy O’Donnell’s The Games We Play, Mark Godden’s Wonder Wild, and Adam Houghland’s K413. In 2011, Jennifer joined the Montgomery Ballet as a Principal Artist where she again danced the coveted role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. That same year Jennifer was appointed Ballet Mistress of DManagement Dance Agency (an international artist agency representing the finest artists, teachers, and choreographers.) and co-directed the agency’s first international dance workshop, Performing in Chicago. She won glowing praise for her restaging of Giselle, Don Quixote, and her very own original work, Black Swan. In addition, Ms. Grapes has been featured in DANCEtrain magazine and photographed by former American Ballet Theatre star, Ted Kivitt, and acclaimed dance photographer, Dani Brown. She is also a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and has also worked with Bloch and Bunheads of New York to create new product lines for dancers. She was also featured in the documentary film, The Waiting, by Tomosol Digital. In the summer of 2012, Ms. Grapes hosted her own summer dance workshop, Ballet JG, in Chicago as well as in New York at the Albany Berkshire Ballet. In the fall of 2012, Ms. Grapes was chosen by the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters (CNADM) to be on faculty for their Fall Workshop.
Since opening HDA in the fall of 2012, Ms. Grapes has coached seven students into placing among the Top 12 at the Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals. She has had four ensembles qualify and attend the New York City Finals, and in 2015, one of her students placed third in the classical division earning her spot as a soloist at the YAGP NYC finals. Four of her graduating seniors received nearly full scholarships to study dance at Butler University (Indiana), the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Point Park University, and the University of Iowa. Her students have also received scholarships to study at summer intensives with American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Austin, Boston Ballet, Jose Manuel Carreno, Milwaukee Ballet, Montgomery Ballet, to name a few. She also brought in master teachers from the most famous dance establishments across the world including: Australian Ballet, Ballet Austin, English National Ballet, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet to teach the students of HDA. Ms. Grapes has also choreographed her own original full-length productions of The Nutcracker, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and re-staged Giselle and Swan Lake Act II. All productions featured international guest artists from around the globe. Ms. Grapes has also taken her students on several field trips to see the Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet West, Eifman Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. In 2013, she took 15 of her advanced dancers to New York City. While in NYC, her dancers were able to take classes with the biggest names in ballet ( the late David Howard, Alexander Tressor, Elena Kunikova, and Nancy Bielski) and also see the breathtaking performance of American Ballet Theatre's production of Sylvia. Now that HDA is moving into it’s permanent dance space at 645 Blackhawk Drive and with over 7,000 square feet of dance space, she is looking forward to continuing to grow the young artists of the future by continuing to seek out the best education, opportunities, and performances for all of her students.
Mr. Patrick Willison began his dance education at the Judith Lee Johnson School of Dance in St. Petersburg, Florida. Upon entering middle school, Patrick began studying with the School of the Nashville Ballet on scholarship. Mr. Willison finished his graduate studies at the prestigious Houston Ballet Academy on scholarship as well. He also received full scholarships to study in the summer with the American Ballet Theatre, School of American Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Harrid Conservatory, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet (New York City, NY), and the Kirov Academy (Washington D.C.).
Mr. Willison began his performance career with the Bay Ballet Theatre, under the direction of Christopher Fleming. From there he went on to become a trainee with the Nashville Ballet where he performed in Paul Vasterling's The Nutcracker, Dracula, and Cinderella. While at the Houston Ballet Academy, he danced with the Houston Ballet in Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker, Cinderella, Cleopatra, L, Martinu 5th, and Swan Lake, Kenneth MacMillian's Mannon, Trey McIntyre's Peter Pan, as well as Graduation Ball, Vespri, and Le Diablo a Quatre. As a member of the Alabama Ballet in Birmingham, Patrick performed in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, Serenade, and Stars and Stripes. He also performed Carousel, Flower Festival Pas de Deux, Concert Fantasy, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, An American in Paris, and Don Quixote, as well as Leslie Browne's Brahm's Trio. Mr. Willison finished his performance career, and spent eight seasons, with the Montgomery Ballet. With MB, he toured Italy and all across the United States and Canada performing the leading roles in Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Le Corsaire, Giselle, The Nutcracker, Firebird, and Tim O’Donnell’s The Games We Play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, La Vivandiere, Snow White, The Phantom of the Opera, Fairy Doll, and Coppelia.
Mr. Willison found his passion for teaching during his graduate studies at the Houston Ballet Academy. From then, he began to hone his craft for teaching, coaching, directing, and creating syllabi for the next generation of dancers. During his last season with the Montgomery Ballet, he was appointed as co-director/ballet master for the Montgomery Ballet Academy & Company. Mr. Willison's students have placed in the Top 12 at the regional and New York City Finals for the Youth America Grand Prix. Mr. Willison is looking forward to passing the torch to the next generation of talented dancers at the Hinsdale Dance Academy.
Ms. Miller is a former Montgomery Ballet Soloist with experience teaching and dancing internationally since 2008. She began her early training at the age of 10 with the Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there, she went on to study at the Public Academy for Performing Arts, where she attended high school, to focus on professional dance and injury prevention for dancers. Nicole's training includes many forms of dance such as classical ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, hip hop, flamenco, and Ballet Folklorico. She has had the privilege of training with teachers specializing in the Vaganova technique, Bournonville technique, Cecchetti technique, and the styling of the great George Balanchine. Much of her professional training was received at The Joffrey Ballet with teachers such as Diane Orio, Eleanore D'Antuono, Willy Shives, and Trinette Singleton (who set an original piece with Ms. Miller performing the lead in 2007).
In 2008, at the age of 18, Nicole became a Montgomery Ballet professional apprentice under the direction of Elie Lazar. During Mr. Lazar's tenure she performed many soloist roles including "Moth" in A Midsummer's Night Dream and "Bridesmaid" in Don Quixote, Sylvia Pas de Deux, and Rossini Pas de Deux. In 2010, Nicole toured Italy with the Montgomery Ballet to perform in the Dance Festival, "Pietrasanta en Danza”, where the company received rave reviews. By 2013, Ms. Miller had become a soloist in the Montgomery Ballet Company. During her tenure with the Montgomery Ballet, she has performed many works including, Carmina Burana, Swan Lake, La Bayadere, Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, and The Nutcracker. In addition, Nicole has performed several leading roles such as "Swanhilda" in Coppelia, "Arethusa" in Italian Choreographer Adria Ferrali's Alpheus et Arethusa, "Mercedes" in Don Quixote, "Zulma" in Giselle, and "Aurora" in The Sleeping Beauty.
In 2014, Ms. Miller was promoted to Director of the Montgomery Ballet School and acted as The Montgomery Ballet's Ballet Mistress for the Professional Company with director Foye DuBose. While directing the Montgomery Ballet School, Nicole re-staged and choreographed several works from Swan Lake such as "Cygnets," "Big Swans," and "Princesses." She also choreographed her own original excerpt from Le Corsaire, "Jardine Anime." Ms. Miller's students have placed in the Top 12 at the regional and New York City Finals for the Youth America Grand Prix.
Ms. Miller is honored to join the prestigious ranks of the HDA faculty, under the direction of Jennifer Grapes, and is excited to share her knowledge and artistry with her students.
Shannon Hershman, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began her early dance training with the Laurel Youth Ballet, Johnstown Concert Ballet, and BalletMet in Columbus, OH. She left high school a year early to double major in both dance and biology at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, PA. While in college Shannon was a singer and dancer with American Entertainment Productions performing throughout the northeast at theme parks & special events. She was then was offered a position with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet in 2002. She was promoted to soloist in 2004. That same year, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from La Roche and was a featured dancer in a televised PBS tribute to director and choreographer Rob Marshall. Shannon was blessed to perform original works by Johan Renvall, Ze’eva Cohen, and Anjali Austin during her time at BCB. Wanting to expand her dance palate, Ms. Hershman finished her 5th & final season with Bodiography in 2007 and transitioned into jazz & contemporary dance. Despite being offered a company position with Groundworks Dance Theater, she apprenticed with River North Chicago Dance Company. In 2008 she joined Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. Shannon then apprenticed with Giordano Dance Chicago performing works by Giordano company members. She was then offered a position with Inaside Chicago Dance. She was honored to perform works by Harrison McEldowney, Eddy Ocampo, Autumn Eckman, and Lizzie Mackenzie, just to name a few. Shannon retired in 2013 after 5 seasons with ICD.
Upon retiring from dance, Ms. Hershman looked forward to teaching full time in both dance and Pilates. She was a finalist for BASI Pilates’ Kathy Grant Memorial Scholarship where she personally interviewed with BASI Pilates founder, Rael Isacowitz. The following year she completed the training program. Shannon is fortunate to have studied with many gifted Pilates instructors including Cindy Reid, Jeremy Brown, and Lynne Alberding. Taking multiple workshops from the amazing Karen Clippinger has also been inspirational.
In addition to teaching dance for more than 15 years, Ms. Hershman is currently a Tier 2 BASI Pilates instructor. She is also certified in Pilates Jumpboard, CoreAlign I & II, TRX, and Trigger Point foam rolling. In 2015 she personally studied with Esther Gokhale in a 3 day intensive in the Gokhale Method. Shannon most recently became a corrective exercise specialist in the Biomechanics Method, completed training in Yamuna Body Rolling and the American Ballet Theater National Training Curriculum Pre-Primary through Level 3. She has a passion for continuing education and sharing her knowledge with her students. Ms. Hershman is thrilled to be the new director of both JUCO and the Jazz & Contemporary Department. She looks forward to her 2nd season with the HDA family.
Carly Snelling began her early training at Wynn Twins School of Dance. As a member of their company, she was a Dance America/Dance Olympus national champion awarded Most Promising Performer, later winning the title of Senior Dancer of the Year in Las Vegas, NV. Graduating Cum Laude from Oklahoma City University, she received a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree in Dance Performance under the direction of Jo Rowan, along with receiving a Minor in History. Snelling was the female deputy of OCU's American Spirit Dance Company, performing in domestic tours in Branson, Missouri and Oklahoma. Since graduation, she has performed as a guest artist in Midwest Performing Arts' The Nutcracker, as The Sugar Plum Fairy. She has toured internationally in Austria, Italy, and Germany with Remix Dance Company and was the featured dancer for a national commercial for National Geographic’s Brain Games, presented by Acura.
Snelling has judged, choreographed, and held master classes throughout the Midwest, including for The Glenda Brown Choreography Project, while also traveling nationally as a full-time competition judge for BravO! National Dance and Talent Competition. While under her direction, the Junior Company has achieved numerous prestigious awards, including all soloists placing in the Top 10 Overall, several more placing in the Top 3 Overall, and proudly, the crowning achievement of 1st Overall. Snelling currently continues to perform professionally as a company member with Inaside Chicago Dance.
Growing up, Ms. Pontarelli trained in dance all over the Chicago-land area, including her finishing studies under the direction of Jennifer Grapes at the Hinsdale Dance Academy! Upon graduation from HDA, Julia was accepted into the dance department at Point Park University where she majored in dance. While at PP, Julia was able to hone her craft under the tutelage of some of the great names in dance right now like Desmond Richardson, Peter Merz, Jim Cooney, and Sonya Tayeh. During her studies at Point Park University, she trained in various dance genres including, ballet, modern, jazz, tap, contemporary partnering, and pointe. At Point Park, she was chosen to perform in many faculty showcases and student lead performances. Although Julia has a strong love for performing, she has discovered her passion for teaching and choreographing and is also IHSA certified in judging high school dance competitions. Ms. Pontarelli loves working with young dancers and sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with them. She is excited to join the HDA faculty for the 2016-2017 school year and help train the next HDA generation.
Since the age of three, Teagan has followed her love of dance, becoming an expressive and technically versatile ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, lyrical, and hip hop dancer. Teagan began her early ballet training under the direction of Avnun Yakubov and Homer Bryant, leading to her selection as a member of the 2006 children's cast of the Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker. Since then, she has continued her intensive ballet training under Avnun Yakubov, Jennifer Grapes, and Ryan Browning. As a competitive dancer, Teagan was involved in both the hip hop and jazz divisions at Xtreme Dance Force for seven years. While training under Sam Renzetti, JC Renzetti, and Alvin Ramirez, she danced in many top award-winning performances, including a Starpower Victory Cup winning hip-hop routine in the 2012-2013 season. Under the direction of Gil Mata at Xtreme, Teagan danced in National award winning jazz/contemporary routines, as well as performing in Dance Chicago. Teagan was also honored with the Dancer of the Year award, as well as multiple other awards and scholarships, while at Xtreme. For the past two years, Teagan has continued her ballet, jazz, and contemporary training under Jacquie Renzetti, Melissa Lobes, and Talia Balija with the Nationally award winning Dance Xplosion. Concurrently, Teagan danced on the York High School Dance Team as senior captain, leading her team to the state competition. Throughout her training, Teagan has had the pleasure of training under and performing pieces by a variety of choreographers, including Lizzie Mackenzie, Mia Michaels, TOKYO, Brooke Pierotti, Matt Tseng, Bobby Newberry, Jesse Santos, and many more. Teagan will be attending DePaul University, and is excited to continue to express and share her passion for dance through teaching.
Growing up as an Army Brat, Ellen Pierce had the opportunity to study with a variety of instructors around the country. She began her dance training, as a young child, with Ron Jones, in Augusta, GA. She continued her elementary training with the Columbus Ballet (Columbus, GA), under the direction of David Herriot. Upon moving to Virginia, she studied with Cynthia Kelly and the Virginia Civic Ballet, where she attained her Level III Cecchetti certificate. Ellen 's most significant growth was achieved through her study with Jennifer Grapes. She has performed numerous roles, and has had the pleasure of performing in Ron Jones' original ballet, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; David Heriott's The Nutcracker; Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and The Nutcracker with the Virginia Civic Ballet; and Giselle, Cinderella, and The Nutcracker with Jennifer Grapes. She has competed at the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix. Ellen is currently a student at the College of DuPage. She plans to major in ballet, with the intention of dancing professionally. Ellen is thrilled to continue her ballet training with Ms. Grapes, and to work with the young dancers in HDA's Young Children's Program.
Melissa began her training in upstate New York at the age of 5. She soon joined the School of Dance Arts for the Elmira-Corning Ballet under that direction of Mme. Halina Lutomski. She became a company apprentice at the age of 12. Melissa then joined the pre-company program at the Minnesota Dance Theatre, studying under director Loyce Houlton. In Minnesota, she went on to study with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and The Zenon Dance Company at The University of Minnesota. Melissa went on to join The South Community Theatre with lead roles in “A Chorus Line”, “Pippin” and “Swing, Swing, Swing” (original choreography by Vance Holmes). Locally, she has studied with the Lou Conte Dance School and The Ruth Page Dance Center. Melissa holds a Bachelors of Arts from Loyola University of Chicago. She is thrilled to be sharing her passion for dance with students of all ages.
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