Arts Faculty

Gerard Ahlgren, Instrumental Music Department Co-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.

Kashimana Ahua, Vocal Arts Teacher
Kashimana is a musician, singer, songwriter, composer, producer, lyricist and artist with a rich soulful blues voice that soars through her original compositions. The name Kashimana means ‘that’s her heart’ and her catchy and compelling songs show you where her heart beats painting stories of her experiences growing up in Nigeria, Kenya, traveling through Africa, Europe and living in the United States. You can listen to Kashimana’s debut solo album, ‘Love from the Sun’ on Itunes and Bandcamp.
Kashimana is the 2018-19 In Common Composer in Residence in Willmar, MN, a community residency geared towards teaching and using songwriting as a tool to encourage the people of Willmar to share their stories. Kashimana is also one of the selected 2019 Cedar Commissions Artist; her project, ‘Phantom Cries’ is a musical exploration of her journey into motherhood while shedding some light on the high maternal mortality rate of African American women. She also recently debuted a story scoring project titled ‘A Soundscape of Stories’ at the 2019 Northern Spark Festival, working with numerous local and national story tellers.

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.

Yu-Ann Chen, Dance Accompanist
Yu-Ann Chen was born in Taipei, Taiwan. Currently, she is pursuing her DMA degree in piano performance at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities under Professor Alexander Braginsky since 2018. As also a teaching assistant, she teaches group piano classes to both non-music and music majors’ students. She has provided classical piano music at the Saint Paul Ballet as an accompanist since 2019. She earned a Master of Music degree and Graduate Performance Diploma from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University under Professor Benjamin Pasternack, and a Bachelor of Music degree from the Soochow University in Taiwan. She was awarded Frances M. Wentz Turner Prize in Piano for musicality in Peabody Conservatory and the second prize of the University of Minnesota Annual Concerto Competition in 2019.

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.

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.

H. Adam Harris, Theatre Teacher
H. Adam Harris is an actor, director, teaching artist, and cultural equity consultant. He works at the intersection of theatre, education, social justice, and community engagement. Recent theatrical credits include directing the regional premiere of Redwood by Brittney K. Allen at The Jungle Theatre in Minneapolis. H. Adam is the Engagement Associate at the Playwrights’ Center; a resident teaching artist with the Guthrie Theater and CTC, Board Chair at Ten Thousand Things, and a freelance equity, diversity, and inclusion consultant for various organizations.

Timothy Herian, Dance Teacher
Timothy Herian began his dance training at age 15 at a small dance studio in his home town of Port Washington, Wisconsin. Timothy went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities with a BFA in dance. While at the U of M, Timothy performed works by Donald Byrd, Nora Chipaumire, Carl Flink, Penny Freeh, Uri Sands, Marciano Silva Dos Santos, and Arnie Zane. As a student, Timothy was a founding member of Contempo Physical Dance, and also performed with Threads Dance Project. Timothy is a two-time University Research Opportunity Program grant recipient for his dance research with Linda Talcott Lee, and Ananya Chatterjea. After graduating, Timothy spent time in New York Performing with Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, and Project 44. After returning to the Twin Cities in 2014, Timothy has performed with Ananya Dance Theatre, Arena Dances, Black Label Movement, Contempo, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, and Threads. Timothy was honored to be among the performers to receive the Sage Award for best performance in 2015, for their work on the Lost Voices in Jazz project.

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.

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 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.

Jennifer Parker, Vocal Arts Teacher
Jennifer Parker has maintained a varied music career as an educator, performer, arranger, director and songwriter. Jennifer has been invited to give presentations at the Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, and Washington State Music Education Conventions been directed All-State Vocal Jazz Ensembles in Illinois, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Colorado. In 2019 she was she was commissioned to write and premier her composition and arrangement, “This Make Believe,” in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Jazz Education Network in Reno, NV. Her song “Sign of Life” was featured in the documentary My Dream, My Right, a humanitarian awareness documentary focused on Syrian refugee children and premiered in the 2015 Minneapolis film festival. Her composition “Home” will be featured on an upcoming album by the Los Angeles based vocal quartet, True North. Jennifer has been working in music education for over 20 years and is proud to have shared time with amazing colleagues and students at Washington State University, Concordia University, McNally Smith College of Music, North Central University, Inver Hills Community College, and SPCPA.

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.

Jennifer Pray, Dance Teacher
Jennifer Pray is a Twin Cities based dancer, creator, and teaching artist with a focus on works that blend movement with voice, text, film, and physical theater. Originally from central Iowa, Jenn is a 2012 Summa Cum Laude graduate from the University of Iowa, where she earned a BA in Dance & International Studies. Her teaching and performance credits span the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Since moving to the Twin Cities, Jenn has had the honor to work with many choreographers and companies, including Threads Dance Project, STRONGmovement, Live Action Set, Ballet Minnesota, and Penny Freeh. She is currently in her third season as a company artist with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT). While on national and Minnesota tours, she’s had the opportunity to lead residencies, workshops and classes as part of SPDT’s innovative model of community engaged art. Jenn is also on faculty with Ashley Ballet Arts Academy, and teaches yoga and mindfulness throughout the Twin Cities.

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.

Hillary Price, Visual Arts Teacher
Hillary Price is an artist and educator focusing primarily on paintings that function as installations using non-traditional materials and interactive technology. She is a maker of objects, images and spaces that question our own reality and the synchronicity of visual structures connecting us to the universe around us. Her current work includes a coloring book entitled Beautiful Creepies and a wider painting series investigating the overlaps between imagined entities and real structures. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally- including a residency in Fujioka, Japan in 2017 and published works in Susie magazine based out of Brooklyn, New York in 2019. Her teaching experience since 2013 includes elementary education, college level drawing at the University of Minnesota, and most recently teen and adult workshops through the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. From 2011 to 2013, she ran a non-profit gallery with colleagues in Las Vegas that focused on equitable arts access, creating opportunities and space for installation and experimental artists.  With experience working in a variety of classrooms and galleries, she leverages her unique art world perspective to inspire her students to share their voices in the classroom and beyond.

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, Theatre Teacher
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.

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 where his main lesson focus is on advanced jazz/fusion playing.

Elise Santa, Instrumental Music Department Co-Chair
Elise Santa is an internationally trained music director based in the Twin Cities. She holds extensive experience as a musical director, accompanist, conductor and teacher. She has held positions as music director and assistant music director on numerous musical theatre productions, in-house musical theatre projects, cabarets, and children’s theatre. She is also an experienced keyboard programmer, pit musician and vocal coach. As a teacher, she has taught band and music classes within Minnesota public schools, held a private piano studio for ten years and has been an active member of MMTA. Elise is currently an active music director within the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota community. Elise holds a K-12 teaching license in instrumental music education and a Bachelor of Music degree (magna cum laude) in Music Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Music Direction from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London, UK.

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.

Aamera Siddiqui, Theatre Teacher
Aamera was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to South Asian – Muslim parents. By age thirteen, she had resided in Tanzania, Zambia, the United States and Yemen. Her experiences with and exposure to numerous cultures, languages, religions and political conflicts have culminated in a life as a playwright residing in Saint Paul, MN. Siddiqui has had the pleasure of working with theater companies including Illusion Theater, Mixed Blood, Pillsbury House Theater, Pangea World Theater and more. In 2005, she co-founded Exposed Brick Theatre which is dedicated to telling the untold story and giving voice to marginalized and silenced communities. She’s written over 60 customized educational plays for K-12 schools which address school climate issues including xenophobia, racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and bullying. From 2006 to 2008, she was a two-time recipient of the Many Voices Fellowship during which time she wrote my first full-length play titled CHUP. In 2008, Siddiqui was selected as a featured playwright at The National Asian-American Theater Conference. Two years later, she wrote her one-woman show, “American as Curry Pie,” which premiered at the History Theater in 2011. In 2014, Siddiqui received a prestigious Artist Initiative grant and created “Freedom Daze” which was produced at Intermedia Arts in 2015. In 2016, she received a Cultural Community Partnership grant to create “CLOTH,” a play that explores a womens relationships to cloth covering and choice and the many factors influencing that choice. In 2016, she wrote another full-length play titled “Please Dont Feed the Children” which was commissioned by Pangea World Theater. As a South-Asian-American-Muslim woman raised everywhere but home, Siddiqui’s entire existence has been in the discomfort zone. Therefore, her plays exist in the hyphens in the intersections where racial, cultural, religious and gender identities meet with politics and patriarchy. Her own experiences and identities inform her work and as a side effect, her plays challenge single narratives that have been prescribed by popular and dominant cultures.

Justin Spooner, Theatre Teacher
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.

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

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 Arts 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. 

Tamara Anne Turner, Visual Arts Teacher
Tamara Anne Turner is an artist and educator, with experience teaching K-12 and college art. She received a Master’s in Fine Arts from the University of California Los Angeles and a Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota. Tamara creates narrative sculptures and collages that depict the personal moments of life that form into our political beliefs and ideology. Her most recent work looks at the history of social democracy in the United States by examining the life and legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Additionally, She is currently writing and illustrating a children’s book, which contextualizes historical works of art through the lens of post-colonial theory. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Canada.

Maria Vejdani, Vocal Arts Teacher
Maria is a classically trained vocalist with a passion for performing, studying and teaching a variety of musical styles. She holds a B. A. in Vocal Music Education from Luther College in Decorah, IA and a M. A. in Contemporary Vocal Performance from McNally Smith College of Music. Maria has been a member and director of several vocal ensembles including the Luther College Nordic Choir and the McNally Smith Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. A choral career highlight was leading and performing in the choir that sang in the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience at the Xcel Energy Center under composer and director Ramin Djawadi. In addition to singing in and directing vocal ensembles, Maria enjoys songwriting, performing as a solo jazz vocalist in local venues and participating in Musical Theater. Notable roles include: Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical,  Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, and Ado Annie in Oklahoma!. Outside of her academic and musical career, Maria loves hiking and spending time outdoors. In 2019, she and her husband Joseph, summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania! She recently completed her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training coursework and regularly incorporates short yoga practices in her classes at SPCPA to help her students stay connected to their bodies and improve their energy and focus.