Click a name below to read more about the instructor.
Carrie Bohlmann (Polack), Co-owner/Marketing Director/ Program Supervisor
Carrie Bohlmann (formerly Polack) has worked professionally in the industry for 27 years. She started her dance training in Wisconsin, with Dance Instructors, Mary Cummings and Kellie Plath from age five. She continued her training at Oklahoma City University’s Dance Performance Program and finally earned her BFA degree in Dance Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she worked with with artists such as Janet Lilly (Bill T. Jones & Arnie Zane Dance Company), Andre Tyson (Alvin Ailey Dance Company) and the late, great Ed Burgess (Jennifer Muller Dance Company). After graduating, Carrie moved to Chicago and began her career as an instructor of ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance. She had the opportunity of teaching and learning the craft of the business under Jenny Campbell at Jenny’s Dance Centre for two years. Around that time Carrie also began her health and fitness career as a certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor. She discovered fitness was a great love of hers. After training clients for a few years, decided to put that on hold to open a performing arts school with her sisters, Annie and Margaret. She is proud and thankful to be sharing the realization of her childhood dream with her sisters as the co-owners of Virtuoso Performing Arts. Since opening VPA back in 2003, Carrie has been taught and directed programs at VPA since it's inception and continues to manage/build the studio. Additionally, she has recently decided to again pursue the fitness avenue she started years ago and became certified as a Holistic Wellness Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She uses this knowledge daily with the dancers at VPA.
Q & A with Carrie
Favorite food: Scrambled Eggs and Veggies
Favorite color: Green
Favorite animal: Dog
Performance advice: If you have done the hard work, trained and rehearsed consistently, you will be able to let go and enjoy on stage and the technique will be second nature.
Favorite dance company: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Favorite dance genre: contemporary or modern
Interesting fact about me: I'm a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Holistic Wellness Coach
Favorite quote: There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. --Martha Graham
What I like about teaching: Seeing students' eyes light up when they finally get a skill they've been working on for a while.
Teaching method: I’m kind of a “no nonsense” type of teacher. I don’t put up with negative attitudes and I try to push good classroom etiquette. Back in the day I used to be less positive and I learned over the years that positive reinforcement is extremely powerful, so I try to use that as much as possible. I believe every class needs to have laughter. It’s all about balance.
Annie Conway (Polack), Co-owner/Dance Instructor/Choreographer/Recreational Director/Program Supervisor
Annie Conway grew up just outside of Milwaukee, receiving her early training from Accent on Dance Studios in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She later went on to study at Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she performed works by Billy Siegenfeld, Agnes DeMille (set by Gemze De Lappe) and Larry White of the Martha Graham Dance Company, ultimately earning her BFA in Dance Performance with highest honors. Upon moving to Chicago, she apprenticed with River North Chicago Dance Company and performed with Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances. In 2003, her childhood dream of opening a performing arts school became a reality when she and her two sisters co-founded Virtuoso Performing Arts (VPA) – a studio offering training in Acting, Dance, Music and Tumbling to students in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Throughout VPA’s 15 year existence, choreography grew to be one of Annie’s greatest passions. She is in her second season with Still Inspired(?), presenting her work as one of four choreographers.
Annie marvels at the abundance of joy dance has brought into her life and is always eager to share it with the young people of this community – most notably, her three young daughters.
Margaret Thompson (Polack), Co-owner/Program Supervisor
Margaret Thompson (formerly Polack) has been dancing for 32 years and has had the pleasure of teaching dance for the past 23 years. Margaret grew up outside of Milwaukee and began her dance training at the age of 3 and continued throughout high school at Accent On Dance Studios. She later attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she studied with some of the top teachers and choreographers in the industry and ultimately earned a BFA in Dance Performance. Immediately following graduation, Margaret moved to Chicago to pursue her childhood dream in opening a studio with her sisters. Margaret is married and is raising 2 young sons. She is thrilled that she has been able to run VPA alongside her 2 sisters since 2003. She is inspired every day by the students, parents and faculty of VPA.
Rhys Bakulinski, Guest Dance Instructor / Office Administrator
Rhys Bakulinski is a senior musical theater performance major at Columbia College Chicago. After studying dance and music at VPA for eleven years she went on to focus on theatrical dance, voice, and choreography. Her recent works include choreography for Columbia’s productions of Caroline, or Change and If We Were Birds, along with pieces in the 2017 and 2018 seasons of the Still Inspired: Future Artists showcase. We are tickled to see how Rhys has blossomed into the performer she is today and we are honored to have her teaching as a guest for us! She was also recently hired as an Office Administrator for VPA!
Favorite food: Pierogies!
Favorite color: Yellow
Favorite animal: Octopus
Performance advice: Dancing is a form of storytelling. If you believe in what you are conveying, and are honest with yourself as a mover, you will be unstoppable.
Favorite choreographer: Twyla Tharp!! I love a choreographer that brings modern and contemporary dance into the realm of musical theater.
Favorite musical: Tie between "Caroline, or Change” and “October Sky.”
Favorite musician: An ever changing fact! Always love Amy Winehouse and as of late Leon Bridges. If you ever need music recommendations I am constantly finding new things to listen to, please come chat!
Interesting fact about me: I have a pug named Alfred.
Favorite quote: “We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.” -Maya Angelou
Being such a versatile performer (dance, singing, acting, guitar, musical theater), which performing arts genre do you love the most and why? I don’t really have a favorite to be honest. I express myself through all forms of art because my brain moves at a million miles per minute and each aspect fulfills a different need for me. I suppose what I do most often is dance, it is my home base where I feel the most comfortable.
Francesca (Frankie) Baron, Dance Instructor/Choreographer
Francesca (Frankie) Baron is a Chicago-based artist that graduated from Lindenwood University where she received her BA in Dance and Psychology (2016). While living in Chicago, she has performed in the You are Here performance presented by Project606 Dance Chicago, A New Light presented by Trifecta Dance Collective, Elgin Fringe Festival, DanceChance presented by DanceWorks Chicago, Carnival’s Choreographer Ball, Visceral Dance Chicago’s Within, and in the evening length work Firstbite choreographed by Brian McGinnis. She’s had the opportunity to have her work be shown at ACDA (American College Dance Association), College of Dupage Annual Choreographer’s Competition & Showcase, and Lindenwood University. Her scope of dance broadened when she attended the American Dance Festival 6-week school where she trained with former Batsheva member Tom Weinberger in Gaga technique, Kate Skarpetowska in Lar Lubovitch repertoire, John Jasperse, and Jennifer Nugent. Additional choreographers that she has worked with include Becca Lemme, Larry Keigwin, Michael Mizerany, Joy Davis, and Jessica Deahr. Aside from completing the ADF she has trained with companies including Visceral Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago, Keigwin + Co, and Inaside Chicago Dance. Currently, Francesca is a member of Project 606 Dance. She looks forward to growing in the dance community as a performer, choreographer, and educator.
Favorite food: Arugula
Favorite color: Green
Favorite animal: Fox
Performance advice: Being nervous is okay it just means that you care about what you're doing. Enjoy every performance as if it is your last one. Be appreciative that you get perform for an audience and share your passion- it is a gift denied to many.
Favorite dance company: Batsheva Dance Company
Favorite choreographer: Crystal Pite
Interesting fact about me: I love to take naps!
Favorite quote: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs - ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Harold Thurman Whitman
Teaching method: Always give 100% in class, I am giving my all and expect the same from the dancers. I like to harvest a focused, disciplined, and open space for all students. Work hard but don't forget to have fun and smile too!
How do you know when you've taken a great dance class? When you leave feeling better than when you arrived. When you finish class and immediately have to tell someone about the class you have just taken (I always call my mom)!
Melissa Bravo, Dance Instructor/Choreographer
Melissa has been training in dance for over 20 years. She grew up studying the styles of Hip Hop, Ballet, Pointe, Lyrical, Modern, Contemporary, Musical Theatre, Tap, Jazz, Poms & Tumbling at various local studios throughout Chicagoland. At 10 years, she realized her passion for teaching dance when she became a teaching assistant. From that point on, she's worked hard, learning from instructors at studios, camps, conventions & master classes, to bring knowledge to her peers & students. She's joined several dance companies in Chicago performing, choreographing and competing at FACT, MAFA, Intercollegiate Urban Dance Competition, Urbanite, Carnival Choreographer's Ball, Masterpiece Dance Competition, Prelude Midwest & World of Dance Chicago. CurrentlyMelissa dances with Ascension Performing Arts, The Dream Team & The Puzzle Leage (2016 WOD Orlando Champions).
Sabriah Floberg, Dance Instructor/Choreographer
Sabriah has been dancing for 14 years and has had the privilege to train under the instruction of many professional dancers and choreographers. Her love for dance really grew when she started training at Virtuoso Performing Arts the summer of 2004 under instruction of Carrie Bohlmann, Annie Conway, and Margaret Thompson. These three sisters inspired Sabriah to pursue dance as a professional career, and have impacted her more than they will ever know. She trained as a student at VPA for 7 years and went through the apprenticeship program. In the 3 years of apprenticing that she did, she received invaluable training that she still carries with her eve now as a full-time dance teacher.
After graduating High School, Sabriah was a principal dancer in a professional Latin/Contemporary Company called Rodriguez Dance Theater. The following year, Sabriah attended Illinois State University where she was trained by the incredible faculty as well as two guest artists, including Joanna Rosenthall (Artistic Director of Same Planet Different World – Chicago, IL) and Julie Tice (former Paul Taylor company member – New York, IL). In Fall 2012 through Spring 2013, Sabriah taught with City Dance Peoria, a non-profit, dedicated to changing lives through dance and arts mentorship.
Sabriah’s passion for working with children, learning, growing, and deepening her relationship with friends and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, motivates her to live each day with a joyful and thankful heart. She feels extremely privileged to be part of VPA's amazing faculty, and loves discovering daily what it looks like to be dance teacher, wife, and now "mommy."
Marlene Flood, Voice and Theater Instructor
Marlene Flood is an Equity Actress and Singer in Chicago. Marlene’s regional theatre credits include: “Dialogues Of The Carmelites” (Lyric Opera of Chicago), “Passion”, “The Taming Of The Shrew” and “Sunday In The Park With George” (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre). Fosca in “Passion” Jeff Citation Award: Best Actress (Porchlight Music Theatre), Raffaela in “Grand Hotel”, Aldonza in “Man Of La Mancha” (Theatre At The Center), Emma Goldman in “Ragtime” and Sister Sophia in “Sound Of Music” (Light Opera Works).
Marlene has also performed for Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Pheasant Run Theatre, National Jewish Theatre, Candlelight Dinner Theatre, and Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County, Wisconsin. Some of her favorite roles include: Eva Peron in “Evita”, Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”, Lady Thiang in “The King and I”, Agnes in “I Do, I Do”, Emma Goldman in “Tintypes” and Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker”. Marlene also created the original roles for the “American Girl” musicals: “ The American Girls Revue” and “Circle Of Friends”. She sang with the show’s lyricist, Gretchen Cryer, when recording the CD’s for both shows.
Marlene is the Alto Section Leader/Soloist for Immaculate Conception Parish. She has taught Musical Theatre Classes and Workshops for Metropolis Performing Arts Center, and their Outreach Program. She also directed the production of “The Wizard Of Oz” for their Children’s Theatre Company.
Marlene has also taught the Pre~School Theatre Class called “Expressive Kids” for the Northbrook Park District, where she also has taught classes and directed musical theatre productions for their Summer Theatre Camps.
At Virtuoso Performing Arts, Marlene has taught Workshops in Voice and Voice-Over, and Character Movement, as well as Classes in Acting and Musical Theatre. She currently teaches Private Voice Lessons for Virtuoso, and also Assistant Directs their Summer Musical Theatre Camp.
Marlene holds a Bachelor Degree in Arts: Theatre Performance; a Bachelor Degree in Music: Vocal Performance; and a Masters Degree in Music: Vocal Performance.
Q & A with Marlene
Currently resides: Chicago, IL
Favorite food: Caramel Ice Cream
Favorite color: Purple
Favorite animal: Dolphin
Favorite moment: Standing backstage on Opening Night of “Funny Girl” listening to the Overture, realizing that my childhood dream of playing “Fannie Brice” had just come true!!
Performance advice: “Don’t force your body to do what it already knows! Be focused, but relaxed, so Grace can enter the skill!” ~Liang Chow
Favorite singer and why: Barbra Streisand! Because she transports the emotions and the story of her songs through her seamless voice with effortless and invisible technique!
Favorite musical genre to sing: Musical Theatre and Musical Standards! But, I also love certain Art Songs and Arias. Vocal music that lends itself to storytelling interpretation, unique to the singer!
Interesting fact about me: The beauty, inspiration, and passion that comes from music can carry me through any moment that may be difficult for me.
Favorite quote: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be touched, but are felt with the heart!”~Helen Keller
What I like about teaching: Being constantly rewarded by my students when I see their inspirations shining through them into their singing! Also, it is so very true, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils, you’ll be taught! I learn from them every single day!
Most difficult skill to teach to beginning singers: Breathing correctly from their diaphragm and naturally opening up to prepare for the entire phrase of the music.
Most difficult skill to teach to more advanced singers: To phrase the music with the lyrics leading, as if it’s dialogue on pitch; and keeping the vowels in the words placed and focused while carrying the line of the music through the entire sentence.
Best advice for your students: Sing from your heart with passion and fearlessness to tell your story of the song!
In Addition: I believe that one of the best gifts I can give my students is self~confidence to help them realize their dreams and believe in themselves enough to make their dreams come true!
Irina Goldman, Dance Instructor/Choreographer/VPADC Assistant Director
Irina hails from Deerfield, IL and began her early training in the Chicago area. She went on to further her studies at the Gus Giordano Dance School and Visceral Dance Chicago scholarship programs. Irina earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts with concentrations in Performance and Choreography from the University of Iowa with Highest Honors. While at UI, she had the pleasure of performing in many faculty concerts and toured as a member of the UI Dancers in Company. Her choreography was showcased in many UI performances, culminating in her own evening-length show “Kaleidoscopic Memoirs”, in which she acted as the choreographer and producer. Upon graduation, Irina moved to Chicago where she had the opportunity to dance for Still Inspired(?), Chicago Repertory Ballet, and Inaside Chicago Dance. She has had the pleasure of performing works by choreographers such as Joshua Blake Carter, Anna Long, Rebecca McLindon, Wade Schaaf, and Laura Thurston. Irina is currently dancing with Dance in the Parks for her second season, and Still Inspired(?) for her fourth. When she’s not performing, Irina also loves to teach and choreograph and currently works as Assistant Director of Virtuoso Performing Arts Dance Company. She acts as Youth Partner Performance Coordinator for Dance in the Parks, as well as Co-Producer of Future Artists and Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Still Inspired(?). We are so very lucky to have Irina on board!
Tou Ger Lee, Guest Choreographer
Born in the small city of Appleton, Wisconsin, Tou discovered the art of Dance at the age of 10 and has been in love with it since. At the age of 19, he realized that Dance was what he truly desired and made the decision to pursue his dreams in Chicago. From there, Tou became a member of the Electric Funketeers, in which he trained in the fundamentals of Popping and played a direct role in rebuilding the Popping scene of Chicago. He also became a member of Kapwa Modern, which paved the path for him to get into the choreography scene.
Since then, Tou has been blessed enough to become a member of various other groups, in which he directed, choreographed, and performed with for events, such as World Of Dance, Prelude, Master Piece, and many more. Tou has tutored and choreographed pieces that went on to place at competitions and has taught all over the Chicagoland area to spread the positive knowledge and culture of street Dance and urban movement.
Tou resided in Los Angeles for 10 months in 2016/2017, where he trained with some of the best Dancers in the world while discovering his purpose in Dance and in life - to change the world through art. He currently lives back in Chicago and teaches classes to both adults and children while also working towards his Life Coach certification through the Accomplishment Coaching Program. His goal is to merge the knowledge learned as an ontological Life Coach with Dance and art in order to support the world in becoming an even better place, and he would love to have you join him on this journey.
"As a firm believer that Dance is a vessel for who we are as human Beings, I encourage my students to Dance well and live even better."
Gail Mangurten, Piano Instructor
Gail graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Music Education. She was Musical Director at Tuxedo Junction and has taught at the Junior High and High School levels. Currently, Gail is a member of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band and the College of Dupage Jazz Ensemble. She has performed at Carnegie Hall and toured Western Europe.
Beth Ann Melnick, Operations Manager & Musical Theater Instructor
Beth Ann Melnick graduated from Millikin University in 2013 with a BA Theatre degree and a dance minor. She began her serious endeavor into the arts at Virtuoso Performing Arts over 10 years ago. Since then she has trained, performed and stage managed at Virtuoso Performing Arts as well as at Millikin University and various places in the community. In 2013 she was hired as a Receptionist at VPA and was quickly promoted to Office Manager and now Operations Manager. Beth Ann continues to prove her knowledge of everything VPA and customers continue to offer great feedback on their interactions with her. VPA Ownership is proud to have her running the show!
Sydney Goeman, Dance Instructor/Choreographer
Sydney Goeman, is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a BFA in Dance and a Minor in Business Administration. While at Arizona, She had the opportunity to train and perform works by James Clouser, Elizabeth George, Sam Watson, Doug Nielsen, Amy Ernst, Michael Williams, Susan Quinn, and Tammy Dyke-Compton. Sydney also worked with Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst, learning and performing "Chicago Suite," and "Megalopolis" from Keigwin Dance Company. She also had the opportunity to perform throughout China with Art.If.Act. Dance Project in the summer of 2012. Since moving to Chicago, Sydney has trained on scholarship at Visceral Dance Center, and has been apart of Esoteric Dance Project. She has also performed in "Within" through Visceral Dance Center, and "New Dances" with Thodos Dance Chicago. Sydney is currently in her second season as a company member of NOMI Dance Chicago. Sydney originally trained at the same studio as the VPA owners at Accent on Dance in Wisconsin. She is an amazing dancer and teacher and we can't wait to see what she has in store for our dancers!
Favorite food? Homemade Soup!
Favorite color? Lavender and Yellow
Favorite animal? Dog
Performance advice? Dance for yourself, with confidence!
Favorite dance company? Too many to choose a favorite - I love when a company can pull off several different styles, BodyTraffic being one of them.
Favorite choreographer? Again, too many to choose a favorite - I've always loved Peter Chu, his movement is so intricate but it still feels so natural to me.
Interesting fact? I just got married on September 22nd!
Favorite quote? The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work.
Teaching method? My goal as a teacher is to encourage self-expression and create a positive learning environment.
Why do you like teaching? I love when I can share my joy for dance with my students, and seeing them gain confidence throughout the year.
How do you know when you've taken a great dance class? When you leave feeling like you accomplished something, were challenged by something , and got a good sweat!
Evan Pinter, Guitar/Bass/Ukulele Instructor
Evan Pinter is a born and bred Chicago musician, composer, and producer. He began playing guitar at age ten which started a rich musical upbringing alongside his brother who plays drums. This allowed him to advance rather quickly, and greatly shaped his playing. Eventually setting sights on becoming a professional musician, Evan attended Columbia College and graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies.
Evan has gained a vast musical skill set and developed a wide network of musicians since graduating. Both a regular of the live stage and the studio, Evan has experienced many facets of the musical world. His main focus now is teaching, performing live, composing for independent films and projects, and producing music in his home studio.
Fun Fact: Evan is highly proficient at whistling.
Matt Pumanes, Guest Choreographer
Matt Pumanes has trained extensively in urban movement, jazz funk, modern, and contemporary. He is the artistic director of The Piecemakers and The Puzzle League. Since 2010, Matt has lead The Puzzle League to numerous dance championships including World of Dance, Prelude, and Chapkis' Collaboration. He has earned many training scholarships including classes at Debbie Reynolds, Millennium Dance Complex, Urban Jamm, and Monsters of Hip Hop. Currently, Matt teaches weekly classes at the new Puzzle Box Dance Studio and travels across the US to share his craft. Some choreography credits include: Elephant Man, DJ Sultan, Hip Hop International, The Luvabulls, We Day, REVEAL, Fanny Pak, America's Best Dance Crew Tour, and Mischief Makers.
Kristina Saldarelli, Dance Instructor / Choreographer
Kristina Saldarelli received her early dance training and mentorship from Jenny Campbell in the suburbs of Chicago. She broadened her performing arts education at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point earning a BA in Theatre Arts: Dance. She later received her MA in Communication, Media, and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. Her choreography has been adjudicated at American College Dance Festival, produced in several concert venues, and ranked highly in national youth dance competitions. She has taught tap, jazz, ballet/pointe, musical theatre, and modern/contemporary throughout IL and WI since 2000. She loves sharing her passion with her students and encourages them to access their creativity to broadened their knowledge of dance. Kristina performed professionally with the Chicago-based dance company, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project from 2005-2018. Along with the entire company, she received an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement for Individual Excellence On Camera: Performer” for her work in the multiple-Emmy-Award-winning documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There, produced by HMS Media and aired on PBS. She has had the privilege of performing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a part of JUBA!: Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance and has served an adjunct lecturer of dance at Northwestern University. Currently, Kristina is an adjunct professor of dance and guest choreographer at Carthage College where she directed Away From the Mirror in 2016 & 2018. She has taught at Virtuoso since 2014 and continues to be inspired by the students and faculty in the VPA community! Kristina is married and has two daughters who also love to dance.
Erin Spain, Tumbling Instructor
Erin Spain resides in Chicago with her husband and 12-year-old son. She started tumbling when she was 4 years old. She began to help her coach teach classes at The Dance Theatre of Elgin at age 11. She continued assisting and teaching there until she was 18. For the past 8 years she has been teaching private/semi-private lessons in the park ridge area. The VPA Owners noticed that some of the VPA dance students were exceptionally well trained tumblers, they found out they were trained by Ms. Erin. Since then VPA has hired her on to teach tumbling for their brand new tumbling program. VPA is very excited to have such a talented gymnast and coach on staff!
Rebecca Sparks, Guest Choreographer
Rebecca Sparks (Lima, Peru) began her training in Dayton, Ohio, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance from Wright State University. During her college years she was a member of Dayton Contemporary Dance Second Company (DCDC2), and spent her senior year as an apprentice for the main company, DCDC. Upon graduating, she danced with DCDC for seven years, under the direction of Kevin Ward and subsequently Debbie Blunden-Diggs. At DCDC, she had the honor to work with acclaimed choreographers Donald Byrd, Ronald K. Brown, Rennie Harris, Eleo Pomare and Dianne McIntyre, among others. Additionally, she was the recipient of the Josie Award for Outstanding Female Dancer of the Year in 2012. Rebecca has also performed with MamLuft and Co. Dance based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. She has taught throughout the Dayton area and served as director for DCDC2 last year. She is beyond excited to make Chicago her home and be teaching at Virtuoso Performing Arts.
Laura Thurston, VPADC Director/Dance Instructor/Choreographer
Laura Thurston studied dance at Northern Dance Theatre of Northern Illinois University and at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago where she graduated with a BA in Dance Performance. She began performing professionally in 2004 and has performed with Chicago Dance Crash, Corpo Dance Company, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, and Piel Morena Contemporary Dance. She’s performed throughout the midwest, in NYC, and in Monterrey, Mexico. Laura was the CFO, Executive Director, and Outreach Coordinator for Piel Morena Contemporary Dance from 2010-2013. Most recently, Laura independently Co-Produced Still Inspired (?), a dance production in Chicago where she presented her choreography titled Found and Lost. She looks forward to producing more productions that provide opportunities for professional dancers and choreographers to gain exposure in our local community.
Laura enjoys inspiring dancers to find their full potential. Each break-through in technique and ability takes time and work, so she encourages students to recognize the dedication needed to meet their goals as those improvements are some of the most joyous experiences a student can have. As a teacher, Laura is honored to be a part of that process!
Q&A with Laura
Funny or interesting fact about yourself: I’ve always wanted to do comedy improvisation. Who wouldn’t want to be silly for a living?
Currently resides: In Chicago. We moved just over a year ago to the outskirts of the city. It feels like a Suburb compared to Old Towne where we lived for 3 years prior!
Favorite Things: I have a minor obsession with sushi. I also LOVE ice cream! Ben and Jerry’s… MMMMMM
I adore being in nature, so naturally my favorite color is green.
I have many top life moments including: Performing (that "rush” you get being on stage is addicting!), laughing until your stomach hurts with my dearest friends, going to my parents house and falling asleep on their couch as an adult… (remembering a time of far-less responsibility), and of course, getting my first professional performance opportunity as a dancer. But, there are two moments that top all:
1. Getting married to my best friend, Andrew. We laughed our way through the ceremonial ritual of filling a jar of sand with two different colors. We also “high-fived” each other after signing the marriage certificate. It was very “us” and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
2. The day my son was born.
3. The day my daughter was born.
Life is miraculous. Bringing someone in to this world is undeniably life’s most precious gift.
Favorite famous dancer or choreographer & why: Mikhail Baryshnikov. He inspired so many male ballet dancers after his prime. He truly set the bar for others to push to their ultimate best. And, he had the greatest mentality. I use his motto all the time when I teach, “The only person you can be better than is yourself.” In a world that is so easy to compare yourself to others, he became the best because he only asked to be better than himself yesterday.
Favorite dance style: Contemporary. It is so versatile and “freeing."
Favorite quote: “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” - Merce Cunningham
Which dance skill/move is most difficult to teach to beginning dancers: I would have to say the skill of being flexible. When I see a beginning student struggling to say, get their splits, I know it is not something I can fix or correct in that moment. I can encourage them to keep going, inch by inch, day by day, week by week. It is yet another skill dancers acquire with dedication and hard work. It can be discouraging for a beginner to feel like their body is incapable. Keeping that student’s mentality positive, dedicated, and willing is not easy. Perseverance is awesome though…
Which dance skill/move is most difficult to teach to more advanced dancers: Movement quality and transitions!
What you like about teaching: I like that it is a challenge, more so mentally than physically. Encouraging students to want to learn, while also having fun can be a daunting task. Dance is a very disciplined art-form. It takes hard work. Having a room full of students who understand that and push themselves makes me feel as though I’ve done my job to inspire them. After all, each child is very different from the next. I am constantly challenged by each class, each student, each season. My goal is to not only teach technique, but to create a great class dynamic. Seeing progression and the excitement on students faces when they begin to realize their potential is the BEST PART!
How do you know when your dancers have had a really great class or rehearsal? When they leave sweating and there’s a “buzz” about them (even though they are physically exhausted). When they have that satisfied look on their face and want to talk about their experience with others on their way out the door, I know I did my job that day.
Best advice for your students: Be patient and dedicated to yourself. You’ll exceed your expectations before you know it! Enjoy the journey!
What do you have going on now professionally outside teaching for VPA? Well in 2013 I started producing a dance show in Chicago called Still Inspired(?). It is a dance performance showcasing the inspirations of multiple independent dance and visual artists. With four pieces and four choreographers, the performance attempts to share visions within the realm of art between "still" and "live". I wanted to collaborate visual arts with dance as a way to create new waves of inspiration to move, while providing exposure of dance and visual arts to each other by sharing audiences in appreciation of other art forms, therefore expanding and broadening not only our audience, but our audience's appreciation for the arts as a whole. As it turned out, it was a niche in the Chicago community that would stay, and I am currently producing it's 5th season on February 22 and 23 at the Athenaeum Theatre!
David Zizic, Director of Music & Theater/Instructor
David Zizic is Director of Music & Theatre at Virtuoso Performing Arts. In that capacity, he has had the pleasure of teaching many acting, voice and musical theatre students through the years, and he has been stage director and music director for Virtuoso's Musical Theatre Summer Camp. David has been a part of the VPA faculty since the company's inception. He has also coached students in many acting and voice competitions. David has recently worked at Northbrook Theatre as Music Director for the Theatre for Young Audiences productions as well as instructor for summer music & theatre camp. David was Music Director for E.D.G.E. Youth Theatre. David was Music Director and accompanist for Tall Ship Adventures' acclaimed production of "The Pirates of Penzance" on Lake Michigan. In addition to music directing, David has performed extensively as an actor, singer and accompanist. Some performing credits include performances with Theatre at the Center, Light Opera Works, Bailiwick Repertory, and Illinois Theatre Center. David was a long-time ensemble member with Imagination Theatre, which travels around Chicago to perform interactive musical shows for marginalized audiences. David has recently worked with Lifeline Theatre and has produced and accompanied several cabaret performances. David is also currently the Music Director and accompanist at Bethany Union Church of Chicago.
Fun Facts About Mr. David...
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself. I have a huge collection of “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia and I know the script by heart.
Where do you live? Rogers Park, Chicago
What are your favorite things? Going to the beach, traveling, playing piano, hanging out with friends
Who is your favorite famous singer or performer & why? Whitney Houston is my favorite singer! She had a voice so amazing it’s been written about in voice training manuals. She was the perfect combination of power, style and soul.
What is your favorite musical and why? “Into the Woods” is my favorite musical (but it’s really hard to choose just one). The music and lyrics are brilliant and it’s got a very exciting, well-developed plot!
What is your favorite quote? “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. -D.L. Moody
Which skill is most difficult to teach to beginning students? The most important thing to teach beginning performers is to be confident.
What do you like about teaching? No day is ever the same: there are always new things to discover as creating art is fluid and infinitely creativI’d.
What's your best advice for your students? Never say you can’t do something. Do your best and be the best “you” you can be!
2018-19 Instructor Apprentices