School of Dance Faculty
Maria Castello - Ballet, Modern, Partnering, Pointe & Variations - Student Division
Maria graduated from the National School of Dance and the Contemporary Dance School of Teatro Municipal San Martin, both in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires. She is a Laban/Barteneiff Analyst of movement (CMA) and has a Master Degree in teaching with an endorsement in bilingual education. Maria has been a dancer, choreographer, and teacher for more than 30 years. She has worked in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. Her choreography has been presented internationally at prestigious places such as the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater and Dance Place in Washington D.C., Bay Area Dance Festival and Monterey Dance Festival in California, Espace Tangente in Montreal, Quebec and the Fringe Festival in Toronto, Ontario. From 1996 to 2004 Maria led the School of Rockford Dance Company as the first full time school director. In 2001 Maria received a Finalist Award in choreography from the Illinois Arts Council. In 2002 she was honored with the Hispanic Heritage Award, given by La Voz Latina for her contributions to the cultural life of the community. Maria is the Artistic Director of the Without Shoes Modern Dance Company. She teached at Lathrop Elementary School in the Bilingual Department.
Emily Cooke - Ballet, Pilates, Pointe, Stretch & Variations - Student Division
Emily Cooke has been dancing since the age of 3. She began studying at Salt Creek Ballet under the direction of Patricia Sigurdson former Principal dancer of American Ballet Theater. At that time, she had the pleasure of learning from Julie Kent, Susan O’Connell, Luba Gulyaeva and Randall Newsom. The next stage of her training was at the Rockford Dance Company under Artistic Director Joy Xu a former Principal dancer with the Shanghai Ballet while continuing to work with Randall Newsom at Northern Illinois University. An amazing summer intensive program brought Emily to the Judith Svalander School of Ballet in the mid 1990’s. Judith provided a different approach to ballet given her background as a Soloist with the Swedish National Touring Theatre as well as the Swedish Ballet of Gothenburg. Emily not only received top-level training in ballet but modern, choreography, partnering and jazz. The faculty included Principal and Soloist members of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Alvin Ailey and Milwaukee Ballet. This exposure to Milwaukee Ballet prompted Emily to audition and receive a scholarship to their summer intensive program.
The next phase in Emily’s journey was with Ballet Chicago. She danced under the instruction of Daniel Duell former Principal of New York City Ballet as well as Director/Ballet Mistress Patricia Blair. Emily felt honored to be in the presence of such talented individuals. Mr. Duell was taught and coached by Mr. George Balanchine on a daily basis which brought his presence into the studio each and every day.
Emily made the difficult decision to go to college instead of continuing with Ballet Chicago; however, she utilized her background to receive a scholarship in ballet and choreography. Dance has always been a part of Emily’s life. She continued to dance and choreograph throughout college and beyond.
Rockford Dance Company is the perfect home for Emily to give back to students by teaching them the classical ballet fundamentals, pointe technique, partnering, Yoga, Pilates, strength, conditioning and performance essence that she graciously received throughout her dance career.
Tracy Davis - Ballet & Modern - Children & Student Division
Bio Coming Soon...
Bailey Duffield - Ballet, Hip-Hop & Jazz - Student Division
Bailey started her dance training at the age of three at Beth Fowlers School of Dance in Genoa. She has studied in various styles of dance including Ballet, Tap, Jazz and Contemporary. She continued her training at Rockford Dance Company as a full company member for several years. She also has had the chance to dance and train with River North Dance Chicago and Columbia College Chicago.
Stephanie Foster - Ballet - Student Division
Stephanie began dancing at age 7 under the instruction of Pauline Baker Rogers in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she studied ballet until attending college at the University of Richmond. Stephanie was a member of the University Dancers, and had the opportunity to participate in workshops with Pilobolus, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and many others. She loves musical theater and while living in Philadelphia and Chicago, she performed in many musicals including Cabaret, Anything Goes, and A Chorus Line. As a child, dance was a source of inspiration and confidence for Stephanie. Miss Pauline made every student feel special, and Stephanie strives to carry on her ideals. She is very grateful to be a part of the Rockford Dance Company community. She looks forward to seeing her students every week and sharing her love of dance with them.
Julienne Jackson - Ballet - Children & Student Division
Julienne Jackson has studied dance since age 7. Julienne has taught and choreographed ballet and pointe for over 24 years in the Rockford area at Rockford Dance Company, Steps to Grace Dance Studio, Dance Source Unlimited and MaryLee's School of Dance. She has also taught Interpretive Worship in the Church and choreographed in the Christian settings for over 20 years. She is a past member of the Rockford Dance Company, studying under Joy Xu for 5 years. Julienne also studied under Jory Hancock and Melissa Lowe, from the New York City Ballet, University of Arizona, Tucson, Az. She studied dance as a child from Janet Quilici, Chuck Hoenes, and Jane Poor from the Rockford Dance Company School and Donna Bollinger from the YWCA. Later she studied under Randy Newsom, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL. Julienne earned a MFA in Art from Northern Illinois University. She teaches Art History at Rock Valley College. Julienne is married to Stephen and they have two daughters, Ashley and Savannah.
Gabrielle Myers - Ballet & Pre-Pointe - Children & Student Division
Gabrielle has been dancing since the age of 3 and has been teaching at the Rockford Dance Company since completing the teacher training program at RDC three years ago. Along with teaching, Gabrielle is a company member with Rockford Dance Company. She is currently attending Judson University and is working on getting her Bachelors in Human Services. Gabrielle is excited to share her love for dance with the students at Rockford Dance Company.
Mary Read - Ballet, Jazz, Modern & Pointe - Student Division
Mary Bajek Read trained in gymnastics from age 3 until 16, then transitioned into studying dance. She has trained in ballet, pointe, modern, lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, Latin and improv. She has participated in master classes with Hubbard Street, Paul Taylor and Diavolo at College of DuPage and attended master classes with River North and Alvin Ailey at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Mary has also received partial scholarships to dance in two summer intensives with Thodos Dance Chicago in 2010 and 2011. Mary earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in dance performance from NIU in May 2013. Upon graduation, she received the Dean's Award for the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts; an award that reflects academic excellence, leadership and artistic versatility. In November 2013, she was voted "Best Modern Contemporary Dancer" by NIU students; that following summer she attended an intensive with Aerial Dance Chicago. Mary is currently in her second year as a full-cast member of Meraki, which is a contemporary-based company in Naperville, IL. Her most recent performances with Meraki were March 11 and 12, 2016 at Madison Street Theatre, Oak Park, IL. Besides performing, Mary has also taught ballet and modern, as well as choreographed for the Élan Dance Company (Apprentices and Seniors) at the Naperville Park District from 2012-2015. She is honored to now have the opportunity to teach technique for the Rockford Dance Company.
Theresa Sinks - Barrevite, Cardio Tap - Active Division
Theresa has been an instructor with RDC since 2010. She holds several certifications through The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM). She is also the only certified BarreVite® trainer in the Midwest.
Theresa is also a certified SilverSneakers FLEX® instructor. Eligible participants can join her classes for free! You can check eligibility at www.silversneakers.com
Her focus is working with individuals 50 years old or better, concentrating on balance, flexibility, cardio, and core strength. Theresa loves introducing people to fitness through movement and dance. She makes keeping in shape enjoyable by teaching fun sequences and routines using great music and creating a safe and positive environment.
“My classes offer a wonderful way to keep one’s heart, body and mind healthy. In addition to improving their fitness level, other benefits include the opportunity to meet new people, relieving stress, and increasing energy all in a non-intimidating environment.”
Gretchen Stark - Ballet - Children Division
Gretchen danced with Rockford Dance Company since the age of three and has been teaching for four years now. Gretchen attended the Milwaukee Ballet Summer Intensive program in 2016 and 2018 ans was selected, with the Rockford University’s Orchesis Dance Company, to perform during the 2018 ACDA Gala at the University of Illinois. She has been instructed and choreographed by Brittany Fridenstine- Keefe, Matthew Keefe, Amy Wright, Emily Cooke, Rolando Yanes, Monica Isla, and Isaac Sharratt. She currently attends Rockford University and plans to major in Art and minor in dance and education. She continues to dance with Rockford Dance Company and she is also a current member of Rockford University’s dance company, Orchesis. Gretchen is thrilled to be back sharing her love of dance with the students at Rockford Dance Company.
Hannah Sleger - Ballet, Dance Theater, Tap - Children & Student Division
Hannah is excited to be returning for her fifth year as a faculty member with Rockford Dance Company; teaching Dance Theatre, Creative Movement, Jazz/Modern, Pre-ballet, and Ballet/Tap. She started dancing at 3 years old, studying tap dance, ballet, pointe, jazz, and lyrical during the fifteen years she attended Forest Hills Dance Academy in Loves Park, under the instruction of former owners Miss Frances and Teddi Burgess. Along with dance, Hannah became involved in theatre and the performing arts at a young age, an involvement that has spanned throughout her high school and college years, into adulthood. This passion has led to her current career, starting in 2007, as a Musical Theatre choreographer for Rockford area high schools and community theatre groups; some of which include Boylan High School, RVC’s Starlight and Studio theatres, The Bonzi Productions, and The (Usual) Suspects.
From the fall of 2010 to the winter of 2013, Hannah worked with the Rockford Area Arts Council as a drama and dance instructor with their Educational Outreach/ After School Program until she stepped into the Artistic Director position with the Boylan Players at Boylan Catholic High School; a role she is still blessed and honored to fill these past five years. Recently, Hannah has had the opportunity to direct productions with Starlight Theatre at RVC; co-directing and choreographing their 2017 production of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, and currently she is directing the first production for the newly formed Shakespearean troupe, Starlight Shakes, an adaption of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Hannah is continuously amazed by the drive, talents, and passion from each student, dancer, and performer that she has ever had the privilege to work with, and looks forward to continue sharing her love of dance in its many styles and the beauty of dance performance with the wonderful students and faculty at Rockford Dance Company.