MANAGING STAFF

Debra Giunta - Founding Director

Debra Giunta is the Founder and Director of Design Dance.  Debra grew up dancing in the south suburbs of Chicago and has over 25 years of dance experience.  She became director of her first dance education program in her hometown at the age of 16 and has been teaching, choreographing, directing and mentoring ever since.   As a dance educator for over 16 years, Debra has trained students ages 2-70 in a variety of dance disciplines including tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop and creative movement.  In 2008, Debra founded Design Dance as a way to bring dance education to children in all communities regardless of age, experience level, background and income through partnership with schools and community centers.  Debra is passionate about new ideas and continues to be grateful for the opportunity to explore new ways to collaborate with her peers in the field of arts education. 

Maggie Ferrell - Operations Manager

Maggie Ferrell is an educator and performer with a passion for spreading dance to all communities. Originally from Carmel, IN,  the majority of her dance training occurred at Performers Edge Dance Theatre.  Maggie continued onto The Ohio State University where she received a B.F.A in Dance with a focus in Pedagogy and a Minor in Business Administration. Her passion for teaching young students led to the creation of Duxberry Park After School Dance technique program in Columbus, OH. Maggie is excited to be living in Chicago and assisting in bringing dance to more students! 

Samantha Witthuhn - Community Engagement Coordinator

Samantha Witthuhn is a marketing and communications specialist with a unique background in youth education and development. After earning her B.A. in communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012, Sam began her career working with The Coca-Cola Company’s digital marketing team in Atlanta, GA., and eventually with SmithBucklin’s corporate marketing team in downtown Chicago. After three years in the office, Sam made the decision to take her talents overseas. Moving to Thailand in 2015, Sam taught English to middle and high school students for nearly a year in the Thai school system. Here, her drive for engaging and impacting our youth was ignited. After returning to the U.S. in 2016, Sam set out to bring her communications skills to organizations that served Chicago’s youth. She started working with the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center to plan and provide after school programming, oversee summer camp programs and even teach her own class of part-day preschoolers. Sam believes and champions the positive impact that arts education has on kids and couldn't be more excited to bring her communications expertise to Design Dance!

 

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STAFF

Jonathan Lazatin - Community Impact Designer

Jonathan Lazatin is an engineer, designer and educator who focuses on the intersection of creativity and learning. Jonathan has a BS in Aerospace Engineering from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. There he was coordinator of the Pilipino Cultural Exchange's hip hop dance group and has choreographed for Cal Poly's Spring Dance Show. After working in engineering, he took a leap to spend a year of learning with Experience Institute where he studied Engineering + Design Education, surveying educational programs across the country, teaching design to students and industry professionals and learning about the intersection of design and education.  

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Gabriella Wiltz - Video Editor

Gabriella Wiltz is a dancer, writer, videographer, editor and multimedia technology and design artist from the south side of Chicago. She graduated from The Ohio State University in May of 2017 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction in Dance. In the spring of 2014, Gabriella began her journey as a videographer, director and editor which ultimately lead to her focus of Dance Film and Technology within the Department of Dance her final two years. She has created promotional materials for the Department of Dance, the most notable being a mini-documentary on the traveling repertory company that toured Salvador, Brazil in 2016. As a performing member of that company, her goal was to give viewers the most authentic look into being in a company setting—that authenticity drives her vision as a filmmaker today. Since moving back to Chicago, Gabriella has continued working in the worlds of film and dance while constantly striving to merge the two.

 

TEACHING ARTISTS

Ariel M Dorsey is a native of Chicago, she began dancing at the age of 7 at Southwest fine Arts Academy now known as Premier One Dance Academy. There she remained for seven years performing in countless recitals and dance competitions. She began her formal training at Chicago Academy for the Arts under the direction of Ana Peskevska and Randy Duncan. Ariel went on to further her studies at SUNY Purchase College in New York where she graduated with a BFA in dance. Throughout her four years of study she worked with choreographers such as Nelly Van Bommel, Pam Tanowitz, Jonathan Alsberry, and Ori Flormen. Miss Dorsey was award the Jules Stone award in 2009 at Dance Olympus National Finals in New York City. Ariel currently resides in Chicago where she teaches Ballet at PDA, Hip Hop at Xilin Arts Academy, Mixed Movement and Hip Hop with Design Dance, while also dancing for Winifred Haun and Dancers.

Mack Oliver began teaching at the ripe old age of 17, when she founded and directed a dance program for the elementary schoolers in her rural Michigan hometown. After attending Southwestern Michigan College as a dance major, Mack moved to the Windy City and performed as an apprentice with Joel Hall Dance Company. A certified Zumba and Music Together Instructor, she is currently completing a 200-hour Hatha yoga certification and is passionate about continuing her education in order to best serve her beloved students. Though Mack enjoys teaching a wide variety of movement disciplines, her first and greatest love will always be classical ballet.

Taylor Chwae Taylor Chwae grew up dancing in Madison, Wisconsin, where she performed with Madison Ballet and was a member of the Madison Contemporary Vision Dance Company. While still in high school, Taylor trained with the Academie Américaine de Danse de Paris and Ballet Chicago. Taylor received her BFA in Dance and a Minor in Arts Management (summa cum laude and valedictorian) from Columbia College Chicago in 2016. At Columbia College, she performed in many student works, including one performed on the Auditorium Theater stage alongside Cirqua Rivera Dance Theatre. She was also selected to perform in pieces by faculty Taisha Paggett, Pam McNeil, and Peter Carpenter, and presented three of her own choreographic works on the Dance Center stage. Taylor is very passionate about providing students all over Chicago with a well-rounded dance education and give them the tools to succeed in many aspects of their lives.

Jessica Miret was born and raised in the always-sunny city of Miami, FL. She is of Cuban-American decent, fluent in both English & Spanish. She took her first dance class at 3yrs old and from then could not stop. She has been teaching and dancing professionally for 7-yrs, training in Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Modern, Lyrical, and Hip-Hop. She started her college studies at The Florida School of the Arts with a full scholarship where she graduated with her Associates in Science. She then attended The Theatre Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University where she graduated with Honors with her Bachelors in Fine Arts. After her first year in Chicago she knew this is where she wanted to be. Living in Chicago she is teaching dance while performing in musicals, plays and dance shows. She is thrilled to be working with design dance and teaching your little ones. 

Gloria Mwez is an artist who choreographs, teaches, and performs dance primarily in Chicago. She's currently a choreographing company member of Matter Dance Company. MDC has been voted Best Dance Company in the Chicago Reader's Best Of for 6 years. Chicago Untitled Project is the name of her cross-genre collaboration collective. She's toured with TapMan Productions and performed with Second City, KK Tyler Producitons, Movement Revolution Dance Crew, and David Dorfman Dance as well as several other groups. She's worked with and studied many genres of dance but her focus is contemporary jazz and contemporary hip hop.

Katie DeSalvo currently dances and choreographs with the Reveries in Motion contemporary dance company, a non-profit group which explores universal themes and non-traditional forms of dance in order to advocate and raise money for various causes. However, Katie began her dance training in the rural town of Coal City, IL. where she grew up dancing ballet, jazz, tap, and hip hop with the On Broadway Dance Company (OBD). Her love of performing and expression blossomed with the OBD group as they danced in multiple street festivals, half-time shows for college basketball games, as well as the Taste of Chicago. Her childhood was full of musical theatre and Katie took every opportunity to be a goof ball on the stage. Continuing in that spirit, she completed the Second City comedic improvisation conservatory and now infuses improv into her educative pedagogy. She then went on to study Interpersonal Communication, Theater, and Spanish at DePaul University, continuing on after her undergraduate studies to receive her Masters degree in Early Childhood Bilingual Education. Spanish opened up a door to Mexico City for her where she lived for a year working with children (3-8 years) through art. In her curriculum, she used authentic literature to inspire children to freely express themselves through original music, drama, and dance alongside their families. Additionally, she has choreographed numerous musicals for St Patrick’s High School as well as the third graders’ musical rendition of 101 Dalmatians at an elementary school in Mexico City. Katie believes that the very gifts that dance bestows upon us are those characteristics that benefit a society such as empathy, self-awareness, and an open mind.

Charlet Dupar’s passion for dance and fitness come from her love of performance and dance starting from the young age of 3. Music/movement and fitness were a big part of her upbringing. Sh grew up in her parent’s dance and martial arts studio; Academy of Arts in Louisiana. She moved here from Dallas, TX in 2011 and has continued her love of dance and fitness through theater performances and fitness programs. She has extensive training in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary and Latin and World dance styles and has trained at Millennium Dance Studio :A, The Centre for Dance TX and Dance Connection Chicago. She holds her Associates Degree in Acting performance from Kim Dawson Conservatory in the Southwest and has performed all over the state of Texas for corporate events, Cirque Children’s Theater, C&C PRoductions Body Art Ball, Bravo and Eclipse Entertainment companies and LoneStar Cirque School in Dallas TX. She is Zumba and Zumba Kids/Zumba Kids Jr. certified and certified in CPR/AED.

Julie Ferrell is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma where she trained under Debi Myers and Tulsa Ballet. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in dance, where she studied with and performed works by Melissa Thodos, Autumn Eckman, Talia Beck, James Moreno, David Justin, Lane Gifford, Patrick Suzeau, Muriel Cohen, Jerel Hilding, and was a member of the University Dance Company for eight semesters. Julie also attended intensives under The Cambrians, Elements Contemporary Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and the Strictly Seattle Dance Festival, working under Pat Graney. She choreographed several works on members of the University Dance Company in 2015 and 2016. In Chicago, Julie works as a company member for The Modern Marvels Dance Group, a performing apprentice with Noumenon Dance Ensemble, and as a freelance dancer and choreographer. Additionally, she teaches at Kaleidoscope Dance Studio in Skokie.

Annalissa Hartsell is a dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist hailing from Kekaha, HI.  She first found her light in a bumblebee tutu at the ripe old age of 5 and never looked back-- studying ballet, tap and jazz with Janie Crane at Kauai Dance Theater before pursuing her B.A. in Dance at Northwestern University.  While at NU, Annalissa worked with faculty including Amanda Lower, Billy Siegenfeld, Jeff Hancock, Jocelyn Garner, Laura Wade and Susan Lee, studying dance technique and composition as well as performing, choreographing and directing for multiple student and department productions.  In 2014 and 2016, Annalissa participated in the American College Dance Festival, and performed pieces by Jeff Hancock at both regional concerts and the National Gala at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Currently, Annalissa can be found dancing on scholarship at Lou Conte Dance Studios, performing with Noumenon Dance Ensemble and choreographing for the Wirtz Center for Performing Arts at Northwestern.  She is so excited to be joining the Design Dance family this year!

Stephanie Kilper grew up dancing in Stow, Ohio and moved to Chicago, IL just this past July. She attended Lake Erie College in Northeast Ohio for her undergraduate degree as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. After graduation she joined the faculty of Dance Evolution in her hometown teaching musical theater, ballet, jazz, and lyrical classes along with creating choreography for competitive students. At her Ohio church, Stephanie led a thriving dance program involving children ages 3-16 dancing together for special performances and encouraging each other as they grew in ability. Stephanie is currently a graduate student in the MFA Dance/ Movement Therapy and Counseling program at Columbia College Chicago and thrilled about the opportunity to continue to teach dance classes!

Emma ReevesEmma Reeves grew up in Bolivar, Missouri, then went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Dance from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and graduate Cum Laude in 2013. After graduation she moved to Chicago to attend Deeply Rooted Dance Theater's 2013 Pre-Professional Summer Intensive. Since moving to Chicago, she has performed with and choreographed works for J. Lindsay Brown Dance, and performed with Perceptual Motion Inc. Dance Company, Matter of Reaction Movement Project, and Core Project. In 2014 she studied privately with Sam Weber in San Francisco, California for a five-day tap intensive, and recently gained experience as an administrative intern for Khecari.

Megan Rhodes Megan Rhodes is a Chicago based dancer and choreographer currently performing and presenting work throughout the Chicagoland area. She is originally from North Carolina where she received her BFA in Dance Performance as well as her BFA in Theatre Arts from East Carolina University. Her choreography has received awards and recognition from Rebel Arts Publication, Camp Kate, and the North Carolina Dance Alliance. Since moving to Chicago she has shown work at DanceChance, THAWX, and NewMoves. She has choreographed competition dance pieces, musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors, and concert dance works including an evening length piece funded by URCA. She teaches at Beyond Words Dance Center and with Design Dance. She performs with The Kate Jablonski Statement and is a company member of Salty Lark Dance.

Originally from Knoxville TN, Abby Williams earned her BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography, a BA in Arts Administration, and a minor in Communications from Elon University. In addition, she also trained at LehrerDance Summer Intensive, Parsons Choreography Intensive, Hedwig Dance's Intensive and Bates Dance Festival. She has been teaching since 2008 in studios in Tennessee, North Carolina, and now in her new home of Illinois. Her choreography has been featured in Core Project’s Going Dutch 2015, Inaside Chicago Dance’s Choreographic Sponsorship Event 2015, Dance Chicago’s New Moves Series 2014, North Carolina Dance Alliance 2013, Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble Repertoire among other events. Williams has also had the privilege of performing with The Coincidentals as well as performing works by Jon Lehrer, Randy Duncan, Eleo Pomare, Michael Mao, and Regina Klenjoski.Williams is so excited to be a part of the Design Dance family!

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Alisha McMullin is going into her last year at Columbia College Chicago pursuing a BA in dance and a minor in business management. Alisha is trained in ballet, modern, West African, jazz, tap, and contemporary. Performing in various student shows at Columbia as well as shows in the city; Inaside Choreography Showcase, Columbia open house at the Auditorium Theater, and DanceChance Dance Works Chicago at Lou Conte.  She is currently a dance instructor at Little Marvels Early Childhood School teaching creative movement for the 2yr old and pre-school classrooms, and an instructor at Dance to Evolve teaching ballet/tap combination classes for 2 to 5yr olds. This is Alisha’s 3rd year working with Design Dance teaching ballet, jazz, and creative movement classes. Alisha hopes to start her own dance organization one day and continue to pursue her passion of dance and love for children.

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Jasmine Llenas grew up in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines with an endless passion for dance. Immediately after completing her degree in Marine Biology, she continued to dance professionally and train with the Ballet Manila company for 5 years. She has performed in numerous repertoires which include classical ballets such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, La Bayadere, and Don Quixote. Through the years, she discovered a love for teaching dance. In her hometown, she (together with other members) formed a group named Turning Pointe Dance Project which aims to promote arts and dance education by providing workshops, classes and performances in the community. Currently, she teaches creative movement and ballet for Jan’s Studio of Dance and is an assistant teacher at Kiddieland ECE in Chicago. She is also a member of the National Dance Education Organization and is working towards a certificate in dance education. 

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Mary Chase Pierson earned her BFA in Dance with foci in Performance and Pedagogy from The Ohio State University. While at OSU, she performed in many faculty and student works, including a performance tour throughout Bahia, Brazil, and a collection of Merce Cunningham works that was performed in the Wexner Center for the Arts. Her research in ‘Continuing Dance in College’ has been presented at multiple dance studios, as well as at the Denman Research Forum at Ohio State. She is originally from Brentwood, Tennessee, where she was trained at the Ann Carroll School of Dance in a variety of styles. Now, she works at Steps Dance Center in Aurora, where she is both a Studio Manager, and a teacher of many styles. When she’s not dancing, you can find her at the Jeni’s on Southport. Mary Chase is so excited to be working with Design Dance this year.

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Rachel Benzing, a native of Chicago, began her dance training at Copeland Dance Academy studying the Cecchetti School of Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Hip Hop, and Modern. She established herself as a teacher and choreographer at Copeland Dance Academy and Ambition Dance & Performing Arts while also a member of Xtreme Dance Force, Hip Hop and Jazz companies. She has attended numerous Tap Festivals including the Chicago Human Rhythm Project where she won the Summer World Tap Competition, the American Dance Festival Winter and Summer programs, Ledges and Bones Summer Workshop, and BODYTRAFFIC workshops. Rachel has vigorously trained under the instruction of dance artists in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and London, England and has been privileged to perform works choreographed by Barak Marshall, Jessica Harper, J.T. Horenstein, Kevin Williamson, Tony Czar, Paige Porter, Denise Leitner, Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, Jesse Zarrit, and Lillian Barbeito, ranging in various styles.  Rachel attended Loyola Marymount University (May 2014) where she earned both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dance and a second Bachelor of Arts degree in History.  Rachel is a recent graduate of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (December 2016) with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Dance: Creative Practice.  Rachel currently lives in Chicago, where she teaches dance throughout the Chicagoland area, and continues to pursue her own artistic process and creation of work.