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LIZ SCHMIDT
artistic director

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SHELBY BENSINGER
recreational and company instructor

Shelby graduated from Wayne State University with a double major in Dance (BS) and Sociology (BA). She is also a certified PreK-12 Dance Educator. She completed her student teaching under Toi Banks in the dance department at Harrison High School. As well as teaching at SDW and being the chapter sponsor for the National Honor Society for Dance Arts at SDW, she is a part time middle school teacher at My Virtual Academy. At Wayne State, she was able to work with dance artists such as Nicholas Leichter, BodyCartography and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She has performed professionally around the Detroit area at the Detroit Dance Race, MC3 choreography collective, BodyCartography (Closer) at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Nick Cave’s HEARD, among others. Miss Shelby grew up training at Spotlight Dance Works as a member of the pre-professional company under the direction of Liz Schmidt-Mazurkiewicz. She spent her summers training at rigorous intensives such as The Dance Sessions, and American Ballet Theatre Summer Training Program. She has also previously interned and worked remotely for National Dance Education Organization, the leading organization that supports dance educators across the country. 

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MAYLEIGH DEBRUYNE
recreational instructor

Mayleigh DeBruyne is a first year teacher at Spotlight Dance Works and has assisted for the past 2 years for the SDW recreational program. Currently in her junior year at Anchor Bay High School, where she is in her third year on the Anchor Bay Varsity Dance Team. She has been dancing since she was 5 and competitively since she was 6 with a focus in ballet, but trained in all genres. Some of the performances that Mayleigh has been a part of are the Moscow Ballet Nutcracker, Nutcracker Nouveau, and Nutcracker Ballet Theater Company. She has attended the Cecchetti Hope summer intensive. Mayleigh’s main goal as a teacher is to create special moments with her students while helping them find their passion in dance.

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KATE CLARK-MARTIN
recreational and company instructor

Originally from Clinton Township, Michigan, Kate has an extensive dance background. Growing up dancing at Spotlight DanceWorks in Chesterfield, MI, she danced competitively with her studio, as well as on her high school dance team. While attending Western Michigan University, Kate was a 4 year member of the WMU Bronco Dance Team. She was Captain her Junior and Senior years, and led the WMU Dance Team to their 2007 NDA Collegiate National Championship. She received several awards throughout her college career including “Rookie of the Year,” “Leader of the Year,” and was voted “Most Valuable Dancer” her senior year. In 2008, while continuing her studies at WMU, Kate opened her own studio in Kalamazoo, MI, “West Michigan Dance Center,” and formed the WMDC competitive company. Upon graduating in 2009 with a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, Spanish & Dance, she also took over the role as Head Coach of the Western Michigan University Dance Team. Kate served as owner & artistic director of West Michigan Dance Center for 7 years, during which time her competitive company received numerous awards for technique, choreography & national recognition. She also traveled several weekends each season serving as an adjudicator for VIP Dance Competition. In June 2015, Kate sold her studio and moved to New Orleans to begin a new chapter of her life as a National Director for VIP Dance Competition. While in New Orleans, she enjoyed teaching & choreographing for local studios. Kate continues to teach & choreograph for studios & collegiate dance teams across the country. Kate currently resides in Royal Oak, MI with her Husband Scott. She loves being back on the east side of Michigan & teaching at Spotlight!

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FRANCESCA GARIPPA
assistant artistic director

Francesca is going into her 10th season at Spotlight Dance Works. Ms. Garippa has been dancing since the age of 6 and has many accolades which include being a contestant on CBS's Star Search. She is a graduate of Oakland University with a BFA in Dance and a BS in Business Administration.  She graduated with high honors and was awarded the prestigious MaTilDa Award for Outstanding Dance Performance. Her choreography has been chosen to be presented at the TEDx Presentation in 2014, and has received high recognition across the country.  During her time at OU, Francesca performed with Oakland Dance Theatre, OU Repertory Dance Company,  Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Eisenhower Dance. She was offered scholarships for 4 years to attend summer intensives including the River North Chicago Professional Intensive and the David Dorfman Winter Intensive. Ms. Garippa has performed works by choreographers such as Kendra Portier, Alexandra Beller, Dusan Tynek, Lindsey Dietz-Marchant, Kevin Iega Jeff, Frank Chavez, Laurie Eisenhower, Ali Woerner, and Thayer Jonutz. Francesca spent 2 seasons with Take Root Dance Company in Rochester, MI, and is now focusing her efforts as Assistant Artistic Director at SDW, judging for VIP Dance Competitions, and as and Advertising professional at Dentsu.  Miss Fran is certified in Acrobatic Arts and Sugarfoot Therapy and has a passion for educating her students in injury prevention. 

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JENNY MEEKS
ignite director
 

Jenny Meeks completed her pre-professional training at Spotlight Dance Works under the direction of Liz Schmidt-Mazurkiewicz. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago (2008) with a BA in Dance specializing in teaching. She went on to pursue her Masters in Education plus certification in 2012 and received her Provisional Certificate in 2016 from Marygrove College. Meeks has been on faculty as a company and recreational instructor at Spotlight since 2003. She was appointed Assistant Artistic Director from 2010-2015. After serving as adjunct faculty at Oakland University teaching Jazz to Dance minors and Musical Theatre Majors; Meeks became a dance educator at Arts Academy in the Woods; an arts integrated high school located in Fraser, MI. She has helped students flourish in Modern/Contemporary, Jazz, Tap, Ballet, Hip Hop and Dance Composition. She took on the role of Performing Arts Co-Chair in 2014 and was designated Performing Arts Chair from 2015-2018. She has helped to re-write the dance program, as well as, organize and manage community outreach and school wide performance events. Meeks is a former member of Mack Avenue Dance Company, a Detroit based Contemporary dance company in which she performed the work of Stephanie Liapis, Chris Masters and Colleen Thomas from 2009-2011. She has choreographed and/or taught workshops at various studios and dance programs throughout the Metro-Detroit area . She has also presented and performed choreography at Motor City Choreography Collective, Happenings: A Collaboration of Detroit Artists and Art Lab J’s Detroit Dance Race. Meeks is incredibly passionate about understanding the mechanics of the body and promoting efficient practice. She is trained in the Stott Pilates Method, is Barre Guild certified in the Lotte Berk barre method and pedagogy. She is currently training through the ITT Method (Integrated Teacher Training) to complete her Mat and Apparatus Pilates certifications in Spring 2020. 

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NICOLE MEREDITH
company ballet mistress

Nicole Meredith began her classical training in the Vaganova method at Metropolitan Ballet Center under the direction of Renée Wood.  She also trained at the Annual International Ballet Seminar Summer Intensive for two seasons under the tutelage of ballet greats Mikhail Lavrovsky, Gelsey Kirkland and Jürgen Schneider.  Here she placed in pre-professional levels and was chosen to perform in a featured role in an original work choreographed by Mr. Lavrovsky.She continued her dance education at Wayne State University where she received a four year Talent Scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a Minor in Dance Education.  She was a member of the WSU Dance Company and had the privilege of performing original works created by Sonya Tayeh, Samantha Shelton, Erica Wilson-Perkins and Chris Masters.  Additional performance experience includes Soloist and Principle roles in Coppélia, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Paquita.Since finishing her degree, Ms. Meredith’s focus has been on her teaching career.  She has been instructing and choreographing in the Metro-Detroit area since 2002.  She is versed in teaching classical ballet technique, as well as contemporary and lyrical styles.  Her choreography has won numerous top honors at both regional and national competitions.  Nicole’s passion is to equip her students with a solid base in classical training while evoking artistry and expression in their performance.

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MEG PAUL
company ballet mistress

Meg Paul brings a wealth of significant professional experience in ballet and Broadway performance and teaching artistry. She has worked closely with important dance pioneers and choreographers in the field: from the repertoire and artistic direction of Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey to works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Alonzo King, Dwight Rhoden, and Twyla Tharp. Her thirty-year career encompasses a wide range of national and international experience in performance, choreography, directing, teaching, program development, community engagement, and arts management. Ms. Paul was a ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Ron De Jesus Dance. She was dance captain, lead understudy and full swing for Twyla Tharp’s Tony award-winning Broadway musical Movin’ Out. Her awards include The Princess Grace Award, winner of The International Dance Competition of the Americas, and the Copperfoot Award. Ms. Paul has curated and directed several dance concerts and benefits including National City Stars of Ballet and Broadway and Detroit Music Hall’s annual 313 Choreography Expo. She was honored as a Detroit Renaissance Hero by the Detroit Free Press for her work on National City Stars of Ballet and Broadway.  Currently, Ms. Paul is Director of Dance and Senior Lecturer at Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance. She serves as Ballet Master for Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Program Director for Complexions Academy, faculty at Spotlight Dance Works, and teaches master classes for numerous summer intensives around the globe.

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AVA PINTER
recreational instructor
 

Ava Pinter is a Senior Pre-Professional Company Team Captain and is thrilled to be stepping into a new role as a recreational instructor as SDW.  Ava is a student at Lakeview High School and an integral member of the Varsity Dance Team.  She has been a key asset to the SDW Senior Pre-Pro company for 7 years where she's had the opportunity to train with master teachers like Adam McGaw, Nick Young, Maddi Burg, and Lily Shepherd. Ava has been awarded top placements at national competitions and multiple scholarships for her dancing.  In addition to her training, Ava has been a trusted classroom assistant in the recreational program for six years, with a strong focus on pre and mini level classes.  Ava thrives in a leadership role, and has assisted in the planning and execution of many in-studio events and opportunities, and cannot wait for the year ahead. 

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ANNA TARAVELLA
recreational and company instructor

Anna Taravella is currently enrolled in the Honors College at Oakland University earning a B.F.A. in Dance. Before college, Anna trained under Liz Schmidt in the Pre Professional Training Program at Spotlight Dance Works. While in this program, Anna was named President of SDW’s Chapter of the National Honor Society of Dance Arts as well as Senior Company Team Captain. As a performer, Anna has had the opportunity to study with nationally recognized choreographers such as Sonya Tayeh, Lauren Adams, Brooke Pierotti, Matt Luck, Danny Lawn, Jeremy Arnold, Adam McGaw, Liz Riga, Ali Woerner, Christina Tasco, and more. Additionally, she has trained at intensives such as Complexions Contemporary Ballet (Detroit, MI), Motor City Tap Fest (Detroit, MI), Contemporary Now (Frisco, TX), and The Summer Dance Sessions (Charlton, MA). Anna began teaching dance at age 16, and has since grown to love working with young dancers in all styles. Anna is an Acrobatic Arts Certified teacher, focusing on safety and proper technique in acro. Her goal as a teacher is to make sure her students enjoy their time in class and gain self-confidence while learning new things. She is so excited for many years to come teaching at SDW!

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ASHLEY TARAVELLA
sparks director

Ashley Taravella is a recent graduate of Wayne State University, graduating with a BFA in Dance Honors in 2020. Before college, she trained at Spotlight Dance Works in Chesterfield, MI under the direction of Liz Schmidt. Ashley has trained at intensives such as Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Detroit, Axis Connect in New York City, BAIRA in Detroit, Molly Shanahan/MadShak in Chicago, Contemporary Now in Dallas, and more. During her time at Spotlight, Ashley had the honor of performing works by Sonya Tayeh, Lauren Adams, Travis Wall, Andrew Winghart, Adam McGaw, and more. At Wayne State, she was able to perform work by choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Meg Paul, and Biba Bell. Her Senior Capstone piece was chosen to perform in WSU’s December Dance Concert at the Music Hall in Detroit, and she is a recipient of the Maggie Allesee Copperfoot Award for choreography. Professionally, Ashley has performed with Take Root Dance Company and at the Detroit Opera House for Liz Schmidt. She has been an assistant to choreographers including Liz Schmidt, Adam McGaw, and Lauren Adams. Ashley is certified as a teacher in Progressing Ballet Technique and Acrobatic Arts. Ashley also loves training in Pilates to supplement her dancing. She is currently a recreational and company instructor at Spotlight Dance Works and an apprentice with Take Root Dance Company. As a dance instructor, Ashley emphasizes both technique and artistry, and teaches her students the importance of both hard work and fun. As a choreographer, her competitive dances have won several first overall awards and choreography awards at competitions. Ashley’s main goal when teaching is for her students to learn something new, feel proud of their hard work, and be inspired. 

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KAITLIN ARENA
recreational instructor
 

Kaitlin Arena began her dance training at Spotlight Dance Works in Chesterfield, MI under the direction of Liz Schmidt at age seven. In May of 2021, Kaitlin graduated from Oakland University, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. She has trained at intensives such as LA Contemporary Dance, Gibney Company, and studied dance abroad in Berlin, Germany at the Tanzfabrik and the Freie Universität in May and April of 2018. During her time at Spotlight, Kaitlin had the honor of performing works and training under Sonya Tayeh, Lauren Adams, Adam McGaw, Meg Paul, and more. At the university, she trained under Thayer Jonutz, Ali Woerner, Gregory Patterson, Stephanie Pizzo, Liz Riga, Christina Tasco, and Jennifer Harge. Kaitlin also had the opportunity to work with guest choreographers Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, DIAVOLO, Dusan Tynék, Zvi Gotheiner, and more through being in the Repertory Company at OU. Kaitlin received the Maggie Allesse Choreography Award through Oakland University in 2021 for her self-produced show, The Things We Feel and has recently set a work on Eisenhower Dance Detroit Youth Ensemble, Brenau University, and OU’s dance program. She is currently a full company member with Take Root, under artistic direction of Ali Woerner and an instructor at Spotlight Dance Works. To add on to her movement studies, Kaitlin is a pilates instructor at Reforming Foundations Pilates and Wellness in Rochester and Berkley, MI.

Liz Schmidt has served as the Artistic Director of Spotlight Dance Works in Chesterfield, Michigan since 2001 years. During her tenure, her pre-professional training program has grown to the honorable status of “Top 20 Studios” in North America as named by Dance Spirit Magazine in 2011. One year later this achievement was followed by Liz ‘s selection as Dance Teacher Magazine’s, 2012 Dance Teacher of the Year Award. Liz was also a 2012 and 2013 finalist in the Capezio ACE Awards for choreographic excellence and was recently named by Wayne State University as the 2012-2013 recipient of the Arts Achievement Award in dance. Since receiving her Bachelor of Science in dance from Wayne State University in 2004, Liz has served on faculty at Wayne State University and University of Michigan, teaching advanced jazz technique. She has also enjoyed guest teaching positions at Oakland University, Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, and ACDFA as well as serving on faculty for The Dance Sessions. Liz has performed with Detroit Dance Collective, Gravity Dance Company and is a proud original member of Shifting Sol and Take Root.