Arts Faculty

Gerard Ahlgren, Instrumental Music Department Chair
Trumpeter Gerard Ahlgren is based in the Minneapolis, Minnesota. He currently holds a Master’s Degree in Music Performance from McNally Smith College of Music with emphasis on Jazz Studies. Gerard plays locally with Blue Water Kings, Soultight Committee, Northstar, Jaedyn James and the Hunger, and Moonlight Serenaders. Gerard also has extensive experience playing professionally with the History Theatre and for Old Log Theater as well as Breck Middle School. Because of his diverse training from various trumpet players including Dave Jensen, Charles Lazarus, Marshall Scott, Michael Davison, and Adam Meckler, Gerard is fluent in several styles of music including jazz, blues, latin, fusion, and classical.

Genevieve Bennett, Theatre Teacher
Genevieve is a freelance director and teacher based in Minneapolis. Credits include Hedda Gabler, The Bear (The Southern Theater); Beyond the Owing (Red Eye); Bee Eater (Bryant Lake Bowl); The Good Doctor (Jon Hassler Theater); Anna Bella Eema, Goodnight Desdemona Good Morning Juliet (Theatre Unbound); The Seagull (Twin Cities Chekhov Festival); Camille (Old Arizona).  She is the chair of the Theatre program at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and has guest directed for the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program. She received an MFA in Directing from Columbia University and a BFA with Honors in Theatre from the Experimental Theatre Wing/Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Lisa Berman, Dance Teacher
A Minnesota native, has been breaking since 2004. She has danced as a member of Collective Hip Hop Dance Company, received the Jerome Travel and Study Grant for Choreography in 2008 to study under Bgirl Aruna in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and is the founder of In New Company (INC), an explorative dance theater company rooted in Hip Hop, whose members collaborate in order to represent various pockets of the Minnesota dance community. She has had the privilege of performing nationally at venues including NJPAC, Paradise Theater, Lincoln Center, “Performa” Biennial in NYC, Art Basel Miami and the National History Museum in Washington DC. She has also performed internationally in the Netherlands at “Street Science,” the Gallery Tribute to Women in Hip Hop, and The National History Museum of Amsterdam. Within the last year, MonaLisa has had the opportunity to work as a Hip Hop instructor for the St. Paul Conservatory of Performing Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Intermedia Arts, and The Cowles Center. She has most recently performed at the Joint Project, Elements in Translation, alongside Desdemona and Carnage for the Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges Inaugural Ball, at The Cowles Center for Bboy J-sun’s show “Hip Hop,” Hip Hop Choreographer’s Evening, “Rooted” at Intermedia Arts, and Choreographer’s Evening at the Walker Art Center with INC.

Matt Blair, Vocal Arts Accompanist
Matt Blair is a pianist, composer, improviser, and educator currently based in Minneapolis, MN. His latest projects include performing with Good Trouble, a jazz septet dedicated to playing all original music; Slipstream, a chamber quartet that focuses on the commissioning and performing of new music; and with Vacant Paradise, a solo piano project that is a personal quest to find a deeper connection to the instrument he has devoted his work to. Matt has performed across the United States in a variety of venues and festivals including The Bay View Jazz Fest, Chicago’s Park West Theatre, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee’s Jazz Estate and historic Pfister Hotel, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, The Trout Museum of Art, The Fox Valley Performing Arts Center, and Lawrence University’s improvised music festival Improvisationalu. He has had the honor of performing with many great improvisers including John Christensen, Devin Drobka, José Encarnación, Jonathan Greenstein, Christopher Porterfield, Hal Rammel, Dane Richeson, and Chris Weller. As a part of Slipstream, Matt has also premiered new compositions by Patrick Marschke, John Mayrose, JP Merz, Chris Misch-Bloxdorf, and David Werfelmann. As an educator, Matt has taught both classical and jazz piano lessons to beginners and advanced students of all ages. He has given workshops or performances at Drake University, Interlochen Center for the Arts, University Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Middleton High School in Middleton, WI, Appleton Public Montessori, Clovis Grove Elementary School in Menasha, WI, Nicolet Elementary School in Menasha, WI, and Wilson Elementary School in Neenah, WI. He has also had the opportunity to intern at the New York Jazz Academy in New York City helping teach jazz piano lessons, jazz theory courses, and coach small ensembles. Matt received a Bachelor of Music degree with a self-designed major in contemporary improvisation at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. His mentors include Tim Albright, Bill Carrothers, Patty Darling, José Encarnación, Michael Mizrahi, Anthony Padilla, and Matt Turner.

L.A. Buckner, Instrumental Music Teacher
Arthur “L.A.” Buckner is an active performing musician, teaching artist, and producer from the Northside of Minneapolis. He sets himself apart from other drummers and musicians with his ability to appropriately incorporate Latin, blues, pop, hip-hop, and R&B influences into whatever style of music he is playing. L.A. holds a Master’s degree in Music Performance from McNally Smith College of Music. Currently, he serves as co-host for the PBS music education YouTube series “Sound Field,” exploring the music theory, production, history, and culture behind our favorite songs and musical styles. L.A.’s artistry is full of energy, excitement, culture and excellence.

Victoria Carpenter, Creative Writing Teacher
Victoria Carpenter is a self-taught, multimedia artist with a focus in storytelling as a form of healing. They grew up in rural Minnesota and are currently based out of Saint Paul. Victoria is Co-Founder and current Director of Flip the Script Festival, a 2SLGBTQIA+ film festival focusing on positive, celebratory representations of the Queer community. Victoria is an award-winning filmmaker, most recently for their short film, “A Years Long Day” (Best Documentary, Denali Film Festival). They are currently in post-production for their first feature-length documentary following the 4,000 mile journey across the US of the first woman and the first non-binary person to canoe the 4th-longest river system in the world.

Brandon Chambers, Visual Art Teacher
Brandon Chambers is a visual artist committed to a multidisciplinary practice. He uses art as a vessel to document and preserve his grappling with the human condition and its effects on lived experience. He does this abstractly by engaging in the creative act in varying contexts and observing himself, the process and results to draw conclusions and insights about existing. Brandon’s most recent interest is in the idea of virtual reality, not just as an emerging technology, but as a philosophical concept tracing back to Plato’s Cave and the question of how information and our perceptions shape our reality and how we live with uncertainty about the nature of reality. Brandon received his BA in Studio Art from the University of Maryland and an MFA from the University of Minnesota.

Clare Chapman, Musical Theatre Accompanist
Clare Chapman is a piano teacher and accompanist in the Twin Cities area. She earned her M.M. in Piano Performance from Minnesota State Mankato and B.A. in Music & English Literature from Loras College in Dubuque, IA. Clare has worked as a collaborative pianist at Minnesota State, Gustavus Adolphus College, and Loras College, where she accompanied choirs, vocalists and instrumentalists. She taught piano as adjunct faculty at Loras College & Divine Word College for three years before moving to the Twin Cities. Clare enjoys accompanying musical theatre styles and has played for many shows over the years. Clare runs a private piano studio out of her home in Stillwater, MN.

Bruce DeMorrow, Dance Teacher
Bruce DeMorrow trained at Woodbury Dance Center in Woodbury, MN. His energetic approach to tap classes along with his new, cutting-edge choreography at a fast and upbeat pace leaves his students feeling full of life.  He was a competition dancer for many years at Woodbury Dance Center and has won numerous awards.  He has had a variety of involvement with outside tap dance companies and is an experienced performer and choreographer.  He recently performed with Kaleena Miller’s I Love Her!Shift and Here Now performances and with Rhythmic Circus in their Feet Don’t Fail Me Now critically acclaimed show.  Mr. Bruce is also very active with the Twin Cities Tap Festival.

Alex Eady, Dance Teacher
Alexandra Eady is a performer, dance teacher and fitness manager in the Twin Cities. She joined Ananya Dance Theatre at the age of 16 while in school here at Saint Paul Conservatory. She graduated from SPCPA in 2012 and went on to study dance at the University of Minnesota. This is her 8th season with Ananya Dance Theatre, a company that intersects contemporary dance with a philosophy of social justice to create productions that premiere annually in the Twin Cities and tour nationally and internationally. Alexandra teaches dance workshops and master classes locally, in schools across the Twin Cities metro area, as well as around the world while on tour with the company. She has a passion for whole life wellbeing which includes the physical wellness and fitness practices for the body and has been teaching various forms of fitness for 6 years. She is incredibly thankful for her wonderful mentors, teachers, students, friends and family that give her endless energy and light.

Jay Eisenberg, Theatre Teacher
Jay Owen Eisenberg is an actor, writer, director and arts educator based in Minneapolis by way of New York City and Los Angeles. He is a teaching artist with the Guthrie Theater and Children’s Theatre Company, and a frequent collaborator with Pillsbury House + Theatre (≈[almost equal to], Breaking Ice, Chicago Avenue Project) and Mixed Blood Theatre (On Our Own Terms, Charm, HIR), where he also serves as the Transgender Community Organizer. Jay has recently worked with Open Eye Figure Theatre on Constance in the Darkness, as well as his solo show, BIG OLD ROCK. He is the recipient of a 2018 A.R.T. Residency, a 2017 MSAB Artist Initiative Grant, and a 2016 SPACE on Ryder Farm Residency. Jay received his BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Wing, and he is a proud member of both AEA/SAG-AFTRA. As a writer, he is represented by Alloy Entertainment, where he has a children’s book and a YA novel in the works.

Patricia Fox, Visual Art Teacher
Patricia Fox obtained her Bachelor degree in English from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and her Master of Fine Arts from Augsburg University. She is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and filmmaker who has also published several creative non-fiction pieces. She just made her directorial debut on a second short film she also wrote. The film is currently in post-production, slated to be finished in September 2021.

Penelope Freeh, Dance Teacher
Penelope Freeh is a St. Paul-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and writer. In 2010 she won a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Choreographers and a SAGE Award for Outstanding Performer. Previous awards include a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Dancers (1998), a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship (1998), two Career Opportunity Grants (1999, 2001) and an Artist Initiative Grant (2012) and a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant (2001). Penelope danced for James Sewell Ballet for seventeen years, serving as Artistic Associate from 2007–2011. She has set the company’s repertory on Portland Opera, Alaska Dance Theatre, Houston’s Earthen Vessels and California’s Company C among others. Her choreography has been commissioned by: James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Orchestra, 3-Legged Race, the Walker Art Center/Southern Theater’s Momentum, the Weisman Art Museum, Minnesota Ballet, Skylark Opera and Russia’s Link Vostok Dance Festival among others. She has twice been presented by New York City’s Ballet Builders. Residencies include: Minnesota Dance Lab (Regional Dance Development Initiative) at the College of St. Benedict, St. Catherine University, Carleton College, the University of MN, MN State University, the Reif Center in Grand Rapids, MN, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and the Perpich Center for Arts Education. Penelope is affiliate faculty at the University of Minnesota and Zenon Dance School. She is summer faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in MI. She is a Walker Art Center blogger for Dance. Her next project, Test Pilot, a dance opera in collaboration with composer Jocelyn Hagen, will premiere in September 2014 as part of The O’Shaughnessy Women of Substance Series.

Alex Barreto Hathaway, Musical Theatre and Theatre Teacher
Alex Barreto Hathaway is a process-based artist and educator that leans into playfulness, theatrical clown, mask and physical theatre, clown again, and stories that celebrate the Latinx experience He earned his BA in Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota with a thesis project exhibiting Mask, Puppetry, and Street Theatre practices studied in Pernambuco, Brazil. Since 2010, he has worked with theatre groups such as Open Eye, Exposed Brick, Red Bird, Theatre Forever, SteppingStone, as well as on tours throughout communities in the Midwest through the site-specific work of Sod House, TigerLion Arts, and The Department of Public Transformation. Additionally, he has devised, designed, and/or directed original pieces ranging from puppet operas (This Side of the Blue and Basement Creatures), to mask performances (The Legend of Diego and Escúchame), to ensemble-created multi-disciplinary installations (Awkward Love, Animus, and Fat Cat Falls). From 2016-2020, he designed and led arts-based learning for international English-learners at Roosevelt Highschool and then Highland Park High School. Barreto Hathaway was selected for an Artist in Residency program where he and participants from towns across the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate region dreamed-up and presented a month-long festival exhibiting art, music, photography, and puppetry created from local interviews recorded in 2020. In the same year, he and his partner became first-time parents to a hilarious kid named Ray.

Joseph James, Dance Teacher
Joseph got his start in dancing through musical theater in high school as a Sophomore. He moved to social styles such as Latin and Swing, and from there found Breaking and got connected with the Funkstyles scene. Over the years, he has represented 4got10 Elementz, where he got his start, as well as YML (Yesterday’s Missing Life), and ALL DAY. Joseph has performed in places such as the Guthrie, Ordway, State Fair, doing shows like ROOTED and Being Brothas, Sistah Solo, and in productions at Main Street Theatre. Likewise, he choreographed “High School Musical” for Morris Park Players, and has taught at Moore than Dance and House of Dance Twin Cities studios and often serves as an adjudicator at dance competitions.

Judith James Ries, Musical Theatre Department Co-Chair, Dance Teacher
Judith spent eleven years performing and touring nationally with JAZZDANCE! by Danny Buraczeski as soloist, principal dancer and company member. Most recently she has performed with Joanne Spencer and Dana Kassel at Choreographer’s Evening 2013 and Rhythmically Speaking 2014. She currently teaches jazz dance at Hamline University, Concordia University and Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Additionally, she has been a guest instructor at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College and Gustavus Adolphus College. As a choreographer, James Ries’s work has been produced by Zenon Dance Company, Hamline University Dance Ensemble, Eclectic Edge Ensemble and Park Square Theater. James Reis’s J-Term project investigates the Beatnik era through dance, poetry and live music.

Sam Johnson, Dance Department Chair
Sam is a Minneapolis-based performance maker and doer. He received a B. S. in Dance from Skidmore College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Performing Arts in Dance at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He has worked with a number of choreographers including Daniel Linehand, Mariah Maloney, Justin Jones, Judith Howard, BodyCartography Project and Angharad Davies. Mr. Johnson is a cofounder of the performance collective SuperGroup.

Wu Chen Khoo, Theatre Teacher
Wu Chen Khoo is a lighting designer, community and labor organizer, stagehand, technical director and production manager based in the Twin Cities. He has over 20 years of experience working in the arts and entertainment industry, primarily in theatre and dance. He co-founded the community outreach and education program Technical Tools of the Trade along with Laura Wilhelm. He shares his life with his partner Kristin and children Teng Jin and Yi Lian.

Michael Kleber-Diggs, Creative Writing Department Chair
Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. His debut poetry collection, Worldly Things, won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and will be published by Milkweed Editions in June of this year. Among other places, Michael’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Great River Review, Water~Stone Review, Poem-a-Day, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Potomac Review, Hunger Mountain, Memorious, and a few anthologies. Michael is a past Fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, a past-winner of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry, and the former Poet Laureate of Anoka County libraries. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has been supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Jerome Foundation. Michael is married to Karen Kleber-Diggs, a tropical horticulturist and orchid specialist. Karen and Michael have a daughter who is pursuing a BFA in Dance Performance at SUNY Purchase.

Jill Lile, Dance Teacher
Jill has been educating dancers since the age of 15.  She has a lifelong interest in dance and dance education which she has pursued by teaching at all levels.  After receiving her early training in Omaha and with the Royal Academy of Dancing in London, England, as well as scholarships with San Francisco Ballet School, and Banff Center for the Performing Arts,  she went on to dance with the Madison Ballet.  She then studied dance at Texas Christian University, getting her Bachelors of Fine Arts followed by her Masters of Fine Arts in dance.  She has danced with Omaha Ballet, Ft. Worth Ballet, Illinois Dance Theatre ( where she worked with Anna Sokolow), and Beverly Blossom and Dancers.  At Ballet Arts  MN she performed Antony Tudor’s Judgement of Paris under the direction of Sallie Wilson.  Jill Lile has twice been a recipient of the Craft of Choreography Conference Award with the National Association for Regional Ballet.  She served as Assistant Professor of Dance at Creighton University for 5 years, and taught dance at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  She has participated in the dance teacher training program with Irene Dowd at the National Ballet of Canada School since 2002.  In Minnesota she has taught ballet at Ballet Arts MN, Minnesota Dance Theatre, St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and DanceWorks.  Besides her career in dance, she is a chiropractor and acupuncturist specializing in the prevention and treatment of dance injuries.

Whitney McClusky, Dance Teacher
Whitney began studying African dance twelve years ago at The Djoniba Dance and Drum Center in New York where she studied with Master dancers from West Africa, including members of Les Mervielles de Guinea and Les Ballets Africains. Since then, she has had the opportunity to travel to Senegal and Guinea to deepen her knowledge of West African Dance. In 2009, she established Duniya Drum & Dance, a local performance group and organization in support of African drum and dance in the Twin Cities. Currently she serves as Director of Duniya and teaches within in the Minnesota school systems, as well as weekly classes at Patrick’s Cabaret.

Suzy Messerole, Theatre Department Co-Chair
Suzy is a freelance director that has been working in the Twin Cities for the past 15 years, as well as the co-Artistic Director of Exposed Brick Theatre.  Her artistic passion is directing new work.  At the History Theatre, she has directed the world premieres of Jeany Park’s 100 Men’s Wife, Kevin Kling’s A Tale of Twin Cities and Aamera Siddiqui’s American as Curry Pie, which she co-directed with Meena Natarajan.  Other favorite projects include Stacey Parshall’s Shipside for Exposed Brick and Allison Moore’s Split for the University of MN/Guthrie Theatre BFA program.  Suzy is a recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant, through which she wrote Venus Nefanda, and a Jerome Foundation Naked Stages Performing Arts fellowship, through which she co-created Draw Two Circles with frequent collaborator Aamera Siddiqui.  She has performed at the 2006 Women Playwrights International Conference in Indonesia, the 2008 Asian American Theatre Conference Showcase in Minneapolis, and the 2009 WPI Conference in India.  She directed the 2011 production of Four Destinies for Mu Performing Arts.

Nora Montañez, Theatre Teacher
Nora Montañez is an Afro-descendent Indigenous Peruvian director, producer, performer, educator and playwright. She was raised in Paterson, NJ and holds a BFA from Florida Atlantic University. In Minneapolis, Nora has performed at Theatre Latte Da, Children’s Theatre Company, Jungle Theater, Guthrie Theater, Theatre Mu, Mixed Blood and many others. In Chicago, Nora has worked with Teatro Vista, Congo Square, Chicago Dramatist and Court Theatre. Nora has been commissioned by Penumbra Theatre (Race Workshop), Theatre 45° and Exposed Brick Theatre. As a director, Nora has directed various productions for Minneapolis Public Schools, Chicago Avenue Project and has Assistant Directed at Ten Thousand Things and National Past Time Theatre in Chicago. Nora is a teaching artist with Upstream Arts and has taught in various Minneapolis and Chicago Public Schools. She was a 2018 Next Step Grant recipient and a 2020 Many Voices Mentee with the Playwrights Center. Nora is also the Founder of ALMA (Alliance of Latinx Minnesota Artists), which facilitates alliances among the spectrum of Minnesotan Latinx/e artists.

Katya Oicherman, Visual Art Teacher
Katya Oicherman is an artist, educator and textile researcher. Engaging with video, installation, performance, craft and writing, she explores how personal and collective memories and identities are reflected in, and shaped by, material culture. Her creative research delves into the textiles in her family stories and histories as Soviet Jews, resulting in animated films and writing. Examining the role of cloth in contemporary art, performance and cinema she creates performative lectures with textiles. Her historical research focuses on the material culture of sleep. Katya has lived in Russia, Israel and the UK, currently she is based in Minneapolis, USA. She is a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Minnesota and a Continuing Education lecturer at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She studied textile design and art, and modern Jewish studies in Israel and the UK. In her practice-based PhD (Goldsmiths, London) she studied 19th century German Jewish ritual textiles to develop a model of imbuing historical craft artifacts with contemporary relevance through rigorous creative research. She exhibited her artwork internationally. She published catalogue essays for prominent Israeli textile artists and research articles on the subject of the PhD. She taught textile art, design and history and headed the department of Textile Design (Shenkar College, Israel). She worked in the industry as a weaving textile designer for interior textiles.

Shon Parker, Vocal Arts Department Chair
Shon Parker is a diverse vocalist, arranger and educator with a variety of experience in styles including pop, rock, opera, classical, and jazz. He earned his M.M. in Performance from Western Michigan University and his B.A. in Music from Washington State University where he also had a minor in Jazz studies. Shon has performed in venues across the country including the Isaac Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall, The Appel Room at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the International Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, OH. He has created, directed, adjudicated, and presented at multiple Jazz festivals across the country and has a love for all genres in singing. Shon currently serves as adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg University. He is a member of ACDA.

Aaron Preusse, Theatre Teacher
Aaron received honors of Advanced Gold with Recommendation from the British Academy of Dramatic Combat and is also an Advanced Actor Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors. In addition to performing locally and regionally, Aaron has created fights for The Mammals Theater Company, UW Marathon County, Eat Street Players, Lyric Arts Company of Anoka, Concordia University of St Paul and Visitation School/VISTA Productions. He has worked on the film Profile of  Killer where he was both Stunt Coordinator and Stunt Double. Aaron was also a precision stunt driver for the movie Thin Ice. Aaron is a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Casey Rafn, Musical Theatre Teacher
Casey Rafn is active as a freelance pianist in the country and abroad. As a collaborative pianist, he has performed at venues in Latin America, Canada, New York City, and all across the United States. He can often be found in concert with members of the Minnesota Orchestra or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. As a solo pianist he has taken top prizes at the International Liszt-Garrison competition in Baltimore, as well as state competitions in Minnesota and Iowa. He is a member of the saxophone-piano trio {Tres}, and enjoys playing for multiple arts organizations in his home of Minneapolis, MN.

Sara Robinson, Musical Theatre Department Co-Chair
Sara is an actor, singer, and vocal coach recently relocated to the Twin Cities following a faculty appointment at Arizona State University.  With a belief in uniting the performer’s voice, body, and mind, Ms. Schwabe teaches from a variety of disciplines.  She has trained with SITI Company, Peter Sellars, David Barker, Rachel Bowditch, Bonnie Eckard, Micha Espinosa, and Joan Melton. As an actor, Ms. Schwabe has worked throughout the Southeast and Arizona. She was a resident artist with the Actors Co-op (Knoxville, TN) from 1998 – 2008. She is also the co-founder of the Global Cabaret interactive performance events, and is the leader of Sara Schwabe & Her Yankee Jass Band.  Ms. Schwabe was a featured speaker at the VASTA voice conference in Mexico City 2010 and the recipient of the Meritorious Achievement in Acting award from the Kennedy Center in 2011. Ms. Schwabe is a member of VASTA, NATS, and Phi Kappa Phi. She received an MFA in Performance (Acting) from Arizona State University and holds a BA in Vocal Performance from the College of St. Benedict.

Djenane Saint Juste, Dance Teacher
A native of Haiti, Djenane is the Artistic Director of Afoutayi Haitian Dance, Music and Arts Company. She is a professional choreographer, dancer, actress and vocalist specializing in Haitian traditional dance and folklore. Djenane has also been trained in Ballet, Hip Hop, Modern, Jazz and Ballroom at the Institut de Danse JAKA, Institut de Dance Vivianne Gauthier, and Artcho Dance Company in Haiti. She is the creator and instigator of the Annual Haitian Cultural Festival, and has brought exciting new themes and activities to engage participants in Haitian culture since the first Haitian Festival in 2009. Djenane has dedicated herself to the research, development and promotion of traditional Haitian dance, song and storytelling. She is an artist in residence at Hamline University, Coppin University and St. Olaf University. Djenane’s work towards the preservation of Haitian culture has been documented in works such as “Making Caribbean Dance” by Susanna Sloat, as well as “Lavil: Life, Love, and Death in Port-au-Prince (Voice of Witness)” by Peter Orner, Evan Lyon, and Edwidge Danticat. She published her first children book “The Mermaid and The Whale” in Fall 2020.

Mike Salow, Instrumental Music Teacher
Mike Salow is a multifaceted guitarist with over 20 years of playing experience. He graduated with honors from McNally Smith College of Music receiving a B.M. in guitar performance with a music business minor. After graduating in 2012, Mike was asked back to McNally Smith to join the guitar department as a teacher where he taught for the next 4 ½ years. Outside of teaching Mike has worked with various fusion, funk, jazz, hip-hop, blues, metal, pop, country, and rock bands. Currently Mike gigs throughout the Twin Cities with several groups, most notably with Minneapolis based rock band, Chester Bay. After joining Chester Bay in September of 2009, Chester Bay toured throughout the upper Midwest, was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, and also opened for national acts such as Candlebox, Los Lobos, Fitz and the Tantrums, and The Avett Brothers. Aside from Chester Bay, Mike acts as composer, guitarist, and producer of Twin Cities Progressive Metal band, Ideology. The band released their debut album in Fall of 2016 and is a project founded by Mike and Five Finger Death Punch drummer, Charlie Engen. Besides having taught at McNally Smith College of Music, Mike is also founder/teacher of Lessons With Mike LLC and Ideal Music Lessons. Two companies that are one in the same and specialize in providing in-home music lessons throughout the Twin Cities. You can also find Mike teaching online for InfiniteGuitar.com where his main lesson focus is on advanced jazz/fusion playing.

Laura Selle Virtucio, Dance Teacher
Laura holds a BFA from the University of Minnesota. Among her greatest accomplishments she counts her long partnership as a company member and choreographers’ assistant with Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre and Shapiro & Smith Dance. With these companies, Laura has danced as a featured performer on stages nationwide, including the Joyce Theater (NY), Annenberg Center (PA), the Guthrie (MN) and The Southern Theater (MN) and has set numerous repertory works across the country. Laura is also a member of Carl Flink’s Black Label Movement and has performed as a dancer in productions with the Minnesota Opera. She has served as affiliate faculty in dance programs at the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. Laura is a recipient of the 2007 McKnight Fellowship for Dancers, a 2007 Sage Award for Best Performer, and was named Best Dancer in 2001 by City Pages of Minneapolis.

Justin Spooner, Theatre Department Co-Chair
Justin comes to us via the world-renowned Open Eye Figure Theatre, where he is an artistic associate. Open Eye is one of the leading authentic and legitimate theaters for professional puppeteers in the country. Justin is teacher, director, designer, and performer. He is an alumnus of the Abandoned Practices Institute, through the School of the Art Institute Chicago. Justin holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota.

Sam Stokley, Creative Writing Teacher
Sam Stokley is a disabled artist and educator from Peoria, IL living in Minneapolis. Since receiving his MFA from Hamline University, Sam has taught and mentored with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop and at The Loft Literary Center, as well as served on numerous MRAC grant panels. Sam’s writing across genres is housed, among elsewhere, in Water~House Review, Barrelhouse, Arkansas International, Puerto del Sol, Fairy Tale Review, and Poetry City. His chapbook manuscript, Dystrophies, is a two time finalist (BOAAT Press, Driftwood Press) and was recently longlisted by Frontier Poetry. A Tin House Winter Workshop alum, Sam’s essay “How to Discuss Race as a White Person” was anthologized in Brevity Magazine’s Best of Brevity, released in 2020 (Rose Metal Press). Sam was born with and lives with Epidermolysis Bullosa.

Joe Strahan, Dance Accompanist
Joe Strachan is a pianist in the Twin Cities area. Joe performs with the Courageous, Endeavors, Twin Cities Latin Jazz Orchestra, Charanga Tropical, Adam Meckler Orchestra, The Graydon Peterson Quartet, Mina Moore, and many other groups. As a session player he has added keyboards to records by Big Cats! and Moon and Pollution. In 2009 Joe won the prestigious Schubert Club Jazz Piano Competition. Also that year he was also a member of the Minnesota Youth Jazz Ensemble which toured Europe performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival as well as venues in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Joe went to the University of Minneosta graduating in 2013. In 2015 Joe traveled to Cuba with Charanga tropical and recorded a cd in Havana. In the Twin Cities Joe has performed at virtually every venue of note including First Avenue, The Dakota Jazz Club, Artists Quarter, Studio Z, Icehouse, MacPhail Center for Music, and the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Scott Stafford, Dance Teacher
Scott Stafford is a native of Detroit, MI, earning his BA from Michigan State University. He enjoys life as a performer, teaching artist, and dancing person – currently sweating, loving, and creating in Minneapolis, MN. His choreography and collaborative efforts have been presented at The Walker Art Center, The Southern Theater, Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, The Red Eye Theater, and Fresh Oysters Performance Research. As a performer, he’s had the pleasure of performing the work of Dolo McComb, Karen Sherman, Stuart Pimsler, Suzanne Costello, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Kristy Faulkner, among others. He began voguing in 2014, continuing his training throughout the U.K. with members of the House of Milan and Mugler. He continues to compete in the ballroom scene – walking the category of New Way Vogue Performance as Edward007. Scott views expression as vital to every individual – accessible to every body, and necessary to every lifestyle.

Darrius Strong, Dance Teacher
Darrius Strong is a Twin Cities based choreographer, dancer, and educator whose creative work has been chosen for Rhythmically Speaking and the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening. He was featured in The New Griots Festival in 2015, as well as an American Standard billboard advertisement in NYC Time Square in 2016. He was also a 2017 Momentum New Works recipient. Strong has created works for Threads Dance Project, Flying Foot Forum, Alternative Motion Projects, and James Sewell Ballet. Recently, he was selected as a recipient of the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. Strong developed his own dance company STRONGmovement in 2015. He is also a faculty member at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, TU Dance Center and Eleve Performing Arts Center, where he teaches how to connect their identity to movement. Strong is also a company member of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. Learn more at strong-movement.com.

Erika Terwilliger, Visual Art Teacher
Erika Terwilliger is a multi-media artist living and working in Minneapolis Minnesota. While ceramics grounds her practice, she works in a variety of mediums including felting, dyeing, weaving, and gardening. Born and raised in Eau Claire Wisconsin, Terwilliger is influenced by a childhood spent planting, harvesting, and preserving produce from her family’s large garden. She attended St. Olaf College and received her B.A. in studio art in 2016. After graduating, she took part in St. Olaf’s 5th Year Emerging Artist Program before completing her MFA at the University of Minnesota in 2020. In pursuit of her thesis work she was awarded two fellowships to research Shaker textiles in upstate New York and traditional weaving practices in Dundee Scotland where she also completed a residency at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. She currently teaches ceramics as a lecturer at the University of Minnesota and has recently been awarded residencies at Second Shift Studios and Franconia Sculpture Park.

Joseph Tran, Dance Teacher
Joseph “MN Joe” Tran is a professional breaker of 14 years. He is known for his unique dynamic power moves which have helped him secure 1st place titles in Italy, France, the Netherlands, California, Washington and Minnesota. A recent graduate at The Meta Institute and a certified NLP Practitioner and Therapeutic Coach©, MN Joe hopes to use his experience as a dancer and coach to assist others in achieving their excellence.

Brooks Turner, Visual Art Department Chair
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator. His recent work engages the history of fascism in Minnesota and has been supported through a 2020 Artist Residency in the Weisman’s Collaboration Incubator, a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a Minnesota Humanities Center Innovation Lab Grant, and a Rimon: Minnesota Jewish Arts Council Project Support Grant. His work has been exhibited nationally, with upcoming exhibitions at the Weisman Art Museum and St. Cloud State University. Since 2014, he has taught sculpture, drawing, and painting at the University of California, Los Angeles, St. Cloud State University, and Ridgewater College. In 2017, he wrote A Guide to Charles Ray Sleeping Mime, published with Paperleaf Press, and continues to write essays for Hair and Nails Gallery and Temp/reviews.