Sofie Besser grew up in Oak Park, Illinois attending technique classes at the Academy of Movement and Music. She was a member of MOMENTA for seven years and travelled with them to Austria to perform in Young Tanzommer in 2013. After graduating from OPRF in 2016, she continued her education at Purdue University where she earned a B.S. degree in Athletic Training along with minors in Dance and Psychology. While at Purdue, she had opportunities to study sports medicine techniques in China as well as a summer internship with the sports medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. Sofie recently passed her Board of Certification exam and earned an Athletic Training Certification (ATC). Currently, she is enrolled in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. While at Northwestern, she hopes to grow as a medical professional and seek opportunities providing care for performing arts companies. Sofie hopes to work with ballet companies in the future and use her ATC and future DPT credentials to engage dancers in injury prevention and rehabilitation to keep them on the stage rather than in the wings. Sofie has always had a passion for working with early childhood programs. This began at the Academy when at age 11 she started demonstrating for Intro level ballet classes. She also worked at the Park District of Oak Park in their early childhood summer day camps. Her favorite part of working with kids is seeing them grow into their individuality as they develop new interests and learn about the world. Sofie is excited to return to the Academy to teach Intro ballet classes this year!
Laura Brand has performed extensively in classical and modern concert dance companies as well as in musical theater, commercial and industrial shows. Her concert work includes performances with the Chicago Ballet Theater, MOMENTA, The Beverly Dance Ensemble, The Polish Opera Company, the Lyric Opera Company of Chicago, The David Puszh Company, the Ukrainian Folk Dancers and in the Tribune Charities production of Ruth Page’s Nutcracker. She has also been in the PBS television production of Page’s Die Fledermaus and conducted workshops for dance teachers. She was a judge at the Dance Olympus competition. Laura has studied with Loretto Rozak, Larry Long, Richard Arve and Lou Conte. She currently works at a number of Chicago area schools including the Academy of Movement and Music.
Ballet, Jazz, Modern
Tatiana Castañeda grew up dancing at the Academy from age three all the way to age eighteen when she graduated high school. Her senior year she performed the role of Odette in Act 2 of Swan Lake with MOMENTA and also danced the lead role in La Fille Mal Gardee in the June recital. She is excited to be back at the Academy to teach after having assisted and filled in for retired Academy teacher Caroline TeDesco during the summers when Caroline was expecting her daughter. Tatiana recently received her BFA in Dance from Point Park University where she performed in works by Dominic Walsh, Matthew Powell, and Jay Kirk, as well as a restaging of Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. She was also a swing for a production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, with choreography by Kiesha Lalama, at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Pennsylvania. Tatiana is so grateful for the opportunity to teach ballet and jazz here at the Academy of Movement and Music where her love of dance was allowed to grow.
Ballet, Modern, Contemporary
Born and raised in Taiwan, Mei-Kuang Chen received her early dance training in Chinese classical dance and folk dance as well as Ballet and Modern dance. Seeking further dance education, Ms. Chen has since received her BFA from Ohio State University and her MFA from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Ms. Chen joined Chicago based professional contemporary dance company-Hedwig Dances in 1999 and became the artistic associate two years later. In 2003 Ms. Chen received the prestigious Ruth Page Dance Award from the Chicago Dance Coalition. From 2007-2010 Ms. Chen also taught Mandarin Chinese at Proviso Math and Science Academy. Being a long-time faculty member at the Loyola University Chicago and The Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, Ms. Chen is truly grateful for the good fortune to be surrounded by so many wonderful colleagues and students. Continuing to be able to perform and choreograph with MOMENTA dance company is the cherry on the top!!
Director | Ballet
Stephanie Clemens “founded” the Academy in 1971 in her Oak Park living room when she rolled up the rug and began giving dance lessons to neighborhood children. Since that time the Academy has grown into a real village Institution, home to approximately 900 students: 150 families in the A.R.T.S. preschool program, the rest in dance and music classes. Stephanie studied dance at Juilliard and took a B.A. in Physical Anthropology at U.C.L.A. where she did research on the evolution of the human locomotor system. Stephanie spends her time at the Academy teaching in the dance division and has developed the Introduction to Ballet program for preschool age children. She is the Artistic Director of MOMENTA, the Academy’s resident performing company. She has three grown sons, Jason and Justin Prost and JP Tenuta, all of whom have been students at the Academy. Her youngest son teaches ballet at the Academy.
Sally Donaubauer, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist who specializes in orthopedics and dance medicine, a Pilates instructor, ballet teacher, and former professional modern/contemporary dancer. Sally attended the University of Iowa for undergrad, where she studied Exercise Science and Dance and performed with the University’s ‘Dancers in Company’. While at Iowa, she performed works by Doris Humphrey, David Parsons, Alan Sener, and many others. Upon graduation she moved to New York City where she danced professionally as a modern/contemporary dancer with Pam Tanowitz Dance, among others. While dancing in NYC, she became certified to teach Pilates at the Kane School/Kinected in 2000. Eventually she went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Southern California in 2008. After PT school, Sally moved back to NYC and worked as a physical therapist for the renowned Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. Through Harkness, she worked exclusively with dancers in the clinic and provided on-site physical therapy backstage at Broadway shows such as Wicked and, In the Heights, as well as for several professional dance companies including the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Sally has taught anatomy courses for dancers and Pilates instructors, Pilates teacher training and continuing education courses, dance medicine courses, Pilates for physical therapy lectures, and dancer injury prevention workshops throughout the country. In addition, she has presented at several regional and international performing arts and dance medicine conferences and was cofounder of the Dance Clinic at the Cleveland Clinic. Sally is thrilled to have now settled in the Chicago area with her family and is excited to continue to blend her passions for dance, Pilates, and dancer wellness at the Academy!
Merril Doty is a modern dance teacher and performer, as well as a trauma-informed Yoga instructor and Reiki master. She received her undergraduate degree in Dance History from Goucher College, and studied Social and Cultural Foundations in Education at DePaul University. With over 15 years of teaching experience, Merril has studied creative movement for children with Gail Corbin, Lori Belilove, and Larry Ipple. She is also certified to teach Yoga for children through OM Slice Kids Yoga. Merril grew up dancing at the Academy and has taught classes here over the years. She teaches Humphrey Modern.
Teresa Deziel is an alum of both the Academy of Movement and Music as well as MOMENTA. Teresa traveled to Austria in 2007 with MOMENTA to perform as part of Young Tanzommer. She has duel Bachelor of Science degrees in Dance and Art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a Bachelor of Art Degree in Advertising Art Direction from Columbia College Chicago. While at UW-Madison she participated in several College Dance conferences, spent a month in Brazil dancing at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, and attended the Dance Education Laboratory at the Harkness Center for Dance in New York City. After graduating she traveled to the World Dance Alliance-America’s conference in Vancouver to perform with Li Chiao-Ping Dance and Jin Wen Yu. Teresa teaches beginning ballet classes at the Academy and is currently the Assistant Director of MOMENTA Dance Company.
Isabella Ginter came to us from Intuit as she was entering high school; she had also had considerable experience in theater. Home-schooled, Isabella was able to work here in the preschool as an aide, and returned each day to dance. During her senior year, she performed the title role in Giselle Act 2 with MOMENTA and the role of Nikiya in Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere. Isabella is currently enrolled (on-line) at Texas Christian University as a dance major on scholarship. During her high school years, Isabella worked as a demonstrator with younger students, and this summer, was assistant to Laura Brand and Stephanie Clemens. She has also taught at the Margo Dean School of Ballet in Fort Worth, Texas.
Deborah Goodman began her dance training at Northern Illinois University. In 1990, she moved to New York to study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance where she received a full scholarship and took park in the reconstruction of Ms. Graham’s original work, “Prelude to Action” from Sketches from Chronicle, and performed in the reconstruction of Martha Graham’s Panorama. From 1998-2005, Deborah had the great pleasure to work with Yuriko as her assistant and demonstrator. While in New York, she performed with Richard Move, Sandra Kaufmann Dance, Goldhuber & Latsky, Pearl Lang Dance Theater, Colleen Heffernan and Lacy James’ Merriminne dancers, among others. Deborah has served on the faculty of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, New York University, Long Island University, The Connecticut Conservatory of the Performing Arts and Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. In 2006, Deborah moved back to Chicago where she dances for MOMENTA. She serves on the faculties of The Chicago Academy for the Arts, Loyola University Chicago and The Academy of Movement and Music, Oak Park.
Sandra Kaufmann danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York and served as Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Ensemble. Additionally, she performed with the Pearl Lang Dance Theatre and with Richard Move. Her choreography has been presented in musical and theatrical productions, concert, dance and video throughout the United States. Sandra works as an independent choreographer, as a repetiteur restaging works of Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham, and as a dancer with MOMENTA. She has served on the faculty of Barnard College, New York University, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the University of Chicago, The Academy of Movement and Music and is now the Director of Dance at Loyola University Chicago.
Anne Marie Loesch
Anne Marie Loesch grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. There her first job was as an assistant at the local dance studio. Ever since, Anne Marie has been teaching and sharing her love for dance. She began studying Humphrey-Weidman's modern dance technique under Mary Ann Mee, dancer and demonstrator for Charles Weidman. Katharyn Horne provided her with a solid ballet background in Cecchetti. It was under these two talented women that she began her professional dance career with Dance Central, Kinetyx Dance Ensemble, and Moving Poets Theatre of Dance. Since settling in Chicago she has performed with MOMENTA, Joel Hall Dancers, Paul Sanasardo, Zephyr Dance, and various independent artists. Ms. Loesch has served as the Ballet Mistress for the Joel Hall Second Company and Noumenon Dance Ensemble. It is with great joy that Anne Marie joins the faculty of the Academy of Movement and Music.
Ballet, Jazz, Modern
Gina Sigismondi began her formal dance training in Oak Park at the Academy of Movement and Music. Gina danced on scholarship for four years at Northern Illinois University, where she earned her B.A. in Dance Performance. Her professional experience includes dancing for Chicago area independent choreographers Paula Frasz, Kirby Reed, Winifred Haun, Sarita Smith Childs, Sandra Kaufmann, and as a member of Fox River Dance Company, MOMENTA Repertory Ensemble, and MOMENTA. She has taught ballet, jazz, modern, musical theater, creative movement, and physical fitness. Gina continues to perform and choreograph for MOMENTA.
Sarita Smith Childs
Sarita Smith Childs is a Chicago Based Choreographer and Master Instructor infusing Graham and Horton based modern with Jazz and West African Foundations to create contemporary works. She is a proud Alum of both the Academy of Movement and Music and Momenta and received her B.A. in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, NY. Her work has recently been commissioned by Grammy nominated Blues Harpist, Billy Branch; Blues and Folk Fiddler Anne Harris; Joffrey Ballet Community Engagement; Visceral Dance Chicago and Grayscale Dance – Los Angeles. She is currently a Company Class Instructor for Inaside Chicago Dance; on faculty at the Academy of Movement and Music; a Teaching Artist for the Joffrey Academy of Dance; Guest Faculty, Extensions Dance Company; Contemporary Faculty, Visceral Dance Chicago; and an Instructor of Dance – Ballet at Loyola University Chicago. Sarita is a recipient of the Ruth Page Award for Dance Performance and the Black Theater Alliance Ira Aldridge Award for Best Performance; and a 2016 Nominee for the 3Arts Chicago Award for Choreography, She currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Oak Park Area Arts Council and Roosevelt University Chicago College of the Performing Arts.
JP Tenuta grew up dancing at the Academy of Movement and Music and with MOMENTA. He completed his BFA in Dance at Northern Illinois University in 1999, where he studied with Randall Newsom and Judith Chitwood. He performed for two years with the Nashville Ballet and two years with Luna Negra. He has also performed in the Chicago area with Lyric Opera, The Civic Ballet, Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet and with the Salt Creek Ballet. He continues to perform and choreograph for MOMENTA and toured Austria with them in 2003 and 2010. He has taught in a number of Chicago area schools and is a regular faculty member at the Academy of Movement and Music; he has also taught on the Dance Masters circuit and recently served as assistant director for MOMENTA as it toured for Tanzsommer International in Austria.