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
Ms. Tracy Davis has been teaching dance for many years at various capacities. With a Teaching Degree, Dance Minor and Certification, her education and experiences have served her well. She has worked for and put on numerous performances for entities such as Rockford Area Arts Council, Ellis Arts Academy where she served as the Elementary Dance Educator and Arts Integration Implementer, Rockford Public Schools (Camp Journey and other programs), and Rockford Park District. Also being a proud "Dance Mom", she traveled with her son's Dance team through their amazing run on Season 6 America's Got Talent, all the way to the semi-finals. Being heavily involved in the arts from a young age, from Pom squads to various dance teams and a proud product of Auburn High School's CAPA gives her the instinct and ability to instruct and motivate students to achieve their personal best.
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.
Sophie Hernandez - Outreach Artist
Sophie Hernandez is a senior at Boylan High School. She has been dancing since the age of 2 and started dancing on competitive teams in Florida at the age of 8; winning many titles and awards. She later moved to Illinois and danced at Evolve Dance Company until she joined the Boylan High School dance team where she and her team have received many awards in their conference. Not only is Sophie on the dance team, but she also does choir! She has won State in choir for the past three years, and choir is what helped transition her to Theatre. Sophomore year she joined Theatre where her director, Ms. Hannah Sleger, has given her many opportunities to continue the art of dance in a beautifully unique way. Sophie has studied ballet, jazz, tap, acro and theatre dance. She sees dance and theatre as gifts from God that she is supposed to share with others, and is so excited to have the opportunity to teach and inspire students who have the same dream. Sophie will continue her schooling at Illinois state University where she will study Music Therapy and Minor in Dance.
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.
Gina Maggio - Ballet & Jazz - Student Division
Gina Maggio has trained in the art of dance since the age of 3. Her passion of dance has led her to many opportunities. She danced recreationally until the age of 8. She then joined a competitive team where she earned many titles and awards. By the age of 14, Gina attended Boylan Catholic High School where she began dancing for the Boylan dance team. During that time, Gina and her team won many competitions such as 1st place in conference, and 2nd place in sectionals. Gina has trained in many styles of dance including tap, jazz, lyrical, and hip hop. She currently attends Rock Valley College with a focus on business. She plans on attending cosmetology school to integrate another art form into her life.
I’m so excited to be part of the RDC family and thrilled to be teaching something that I’m so passionate about.
Kevin Polaski - Outreach Artist
Kevin has been a fitness instructor for over 10 years. He teaches a variety of group fitness classes at the Rockford YMCAs.
Kevin is an avid runner, cyclist and fitness enthusiast. He is thrilled to be part of RDC's outreach programming and loves introducing movement and exercise to people of all abilities.
I enjoy the feeling of helping people discover their abilities through movement, rhythm and exercise. The smiles on the faces of participants in my outreach classes brings joy to my heart.
Mary Read - Ballet, Jazz, Modern & Pointe - Student Division
Mary 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). Read has also received partial scholarships to dance in summer intensives with Thodos Dance Chicago in 2010 and 2011. Read earned her BFA in dance performance from NIU in 2013. Upon graduation, she received the Dean's Award for the College of Visual and Performing Arts; an award that reflects academic excellence, leadership and artistic versatility. That year she was also voted "Best Modern Contemporary Dancer" by NIU students. She then stayed at NIU to earn her Masters in Education with a focus in Physical Education. Read is now in her fourth season of Meraki, which is a contemporary dance company in Naperville, IL. Her most recent performances with Meraki were July 28 and 29, 2018 at Madison Street Theatre, Oak Park, IL. Besides performing, Read has also taught technique and choreographed for the Élan Dance Company at the Naperville Park District (2012-2015), and is currently teaching dance at College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn, IL). She is excited to start her third year on faculty at 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.
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.
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.