School of Dance Faculty
Maria Castello - Ballet, Modern, Partnering, Pointe & Variations
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 (Ayala) - Ballet, Conditioning, Pilates, Pointe, Stretch, Variations & Yoga
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.
Tracey Davis - Ballet & Modern
Bio Coming Soon...
Stephanie Foster - Ballet
Bio Coming Soon...
Susie Matthews - Ballet & Tap, Children's Division & Outreach
Susie Matthews joined RDC's faculty last summer and is grateful to be continuing her tenure. She recently graduated from Rockford University with her BFA in Acting & Directing and a minor in English literature. Susie has trained in tap, modern, ballet, musical theatre, jazz, and Laban Movement Analysis. Additionally, she has been fortunate to experience world and social dance styles through myriad organizations. She is excited to be instructing at the company and looks forward to growing as a teacher and dancer.
Gabrielle Myers - Ballet, Pointe, Children's Division & Outreach
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.
Betsy Puig - Ballet
Bio Coming soon...
Mary Read - Ballet, Contemporary Ballet & Pointe
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 & Outreach
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. 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, 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.”
Theresa joined the RDC Outreach team in the summer of 2016. She has found that sharing her passion for fitness and dance in the community to be very rewarding.
Gretchen Stark - Children's Division
Bio Coming soon...
Hannah Zammuto - Dance Theater, Tap & Children's Division
Hannah is excited to be returning for her third year as a faculty member and tap dance instructor with Rockford Dance Company. 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 three going on four years. 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 tap dance and dance performance with the wonderful students and faculty at Rockford Dance Company.
Joey Zanders - Ballet, Hip-Hop, Jazz & Outreach
Bio Coming Soon!