• Instructors

  • Lauren Baznick
    Academy Alumni
    Ballet Instructor

    Lauren started dancing at the age of six in hometown of Naperville, IL. She later joined the Academy of Dance Arts at the age of fifteen.  In 2010, after two years of training privately under Sherry Moray, she placed first in the Youth America Grand Prix semi-final in Chicago. Lauren then went to the finals in New York City and made it to the final round of the competition. From there, she received full scholarships to the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany and the Academie de Danse Princesse Grace in Monte Carlo, Monaco. After attending both schools, Lauren graduated from the Academie de Danse Princesse Grace in 2011. She started her professional career after graduation with the Opernhaus Zurich Junior Ballett in Switzerland and was promoted to full company member one year later. While in Zurich, she danced in a variety of roles and creations from the director Christian Spuck as well as Marco Goecke, Martin Schlapfer, Stephan Thoss and Heinz Spoerli. Lauren was also fortunate enough to dance principal roles in the children’s workshops in both Giselle and Swan Lake. In addition to working in Zurich, Lauren danced in galas in Biella, Venice and Genoa Italy. In 2014 she competed in the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria and made it to the final fifteen dancers. After her three seasons with Ballet Zurich, Lauren moved back to America and danced the 2015 season with Charlotte Ballet. She is so happy to be back at the Academy and to be working with all of the inspiring artists. Currently, Lauren is attending culinary school for baking and pastry arts, hoping to one day open her own vegan coffee shop.

  • Samantha DeBenedictis
    Co-Director - Young Children's Program
    Academy Alumni
    Instructor - Ballet/Pointe & Young Children's Dance Program

    Samantha DeBenedictis began her training at The Academy of Dance Arts under the tutelage of Sherry Moray and Irina Starovoitova. She has enjoyed a successful professional career with Ballet Arizona, Alabama Ballet and the Cincinnati Ballet where she was cast in key roles in their productions of Swan Lake, Giselle, Alice in Wonderland, Balanchine’s Nutcracker, Midsummer Night Dream, Sleeping Beauty, Serenade, and Paquita. Samantha was also casted in Speaking In Tongues an original piece choreographed by Devon Carney of Cincinnati Ballet. She was chosen to perform in B Major an original piece choreographed by Roger Van Fleteren of Alabama Ballet. Samantha was a member of Illinois Ballet Theatre and is certified in Cecchetti Method through Level V. Samantha was a top finalist in the Youth America Grand Prix Ballet Competition and has received scholarships to The Washington Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Houston and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Samantha is a gifted performer and is excited to be back at The Academy to share her knowledge, talent, and love of dance with her students.

  • Rachel Kuhr
    Academy Alumni
    Ballet - Co-Director of the Young Children's Program/Master Instructor/Coach/Choreographer

    Rachel Kuhr, as known by her stage name Sabah, is a forever dedicated student, performer, and teacher of dance. Starting at the tender age of 3 years old in Oak Park, IL, Rachel has danced her whole life. Her main mentors in Chicago during her critical training years were award winning instructors and choreographers Sherry Moray and Homer Bryant. Miss Kuhr has attended Summer Intensive Programs for Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, ABT, and on full scholarship with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She began her professional career performing in numerous productions of “The Nutcracker”, working her way to professional roles. Rachel has also danced professionally with The Ruth Page Dance Foundation in association with Ballet Chicago, Chicago Festival Ballet, Momenta, and The Alabama Ballet.   During her years with the Alabama Ballet she began her studies to become a dance instructor by enrolling in the "City Dance" program to help inner city kids with after school dance programs. 

    In 2001, retiring from performing with ballet companies, Miss Kuhr turned over a new leaf returning to the Academy of Dance Arts to join their faculty and share her love of dance. She also continued her education at Columbia College in Chicago receiving her degree in Cultural Studies focusing on Dance. She has also taught children and adult ballet and ethnic styles of dance at Chicago's Multicultural Center, Dance Infusion, World Dance & Fitness Chicago, and Pineapple Dance Studio.

    While obtaining her degree, Miss Kuhr studied abroad at the American University in Cairo and joined their folkloric troupe, which performed locally and in the International Folkloric Festival of France. She also received a license and contract to produce her own show in Egypt on the "Nile Pharaoh". This led to new opportunities including traveling to Iceland for 6 week intervals to be the master instructor of Oriental Dance at Kramhusid Dance House.

    In 2006, Miss Kuhr auditioned and joined the internationally touring dance company "Bellydance Superstars" produced by Miles Copeland and was featured for her unique talent of combining Pointe technique with belly dance. Moving her way up in the company, Rachel, dancing under the stage name Sabah soon became one of the principal dancers of the company and in 2010 became the Director of the company. "Bellydance Superstars" has performed all over the world touring for an average of 2 months at a time. Sabah has visited over 20 different countries, performing to well over a million people in over 800 theater shows. Sabah is featured on various "Bellydance Superstars" performance DVDs, performed on the Kelly and Michael Morning Show, PBS, and various other TV appearances around the world and has her own instructional video entitled "Advance Your Dance with Sabah". She has performed and taught master classes and workshops all over America, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Iceland, Morocco, Egypt, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.

    Miss Kuhr has a strong belief in education and continues her studies in dance and related fields. She is constantly adding new styles of dance to her training and loves share her world experience of dance with her students. She is recently been certified in Fly Yoga TM and Heartsaver CPR and AED.

  • Lindsay Pekny
    Instructor Ballet Program/Jazz/Tap/Alliance Mini Ballet Team/Teen Team Ballet Instructor & Choreographer

    Lindsay Pekny is a native of Houston, Texas, and began her performing career at the age of 4 in the national revival of Jesus Christ Superstar under dance captain Patsy Swayze. At the age of 9 she was accepted for year-round study at the Houston Ballet Academy, under principals Claire Duncan and Rosemary Miles, and was honored to perform in the inaugural run of Ben Stevenson’s Nutcracker.  In addition to her ballet and modern studies at the Academy, she continued to pursue her interest in tap and jazz, attending workshops with Sam Weber and Ben Vereen, and was one of only 6 dancers chosen from that workshop to perform with Mr. Vereen while he was in Houston.

    Lindsay’s family relocated to Los Angeles when she began high school, where her focus shifted to contemporary dance as she attended classes at The Edge. Ballet was still a large part of her training and a particular highlight for her was dancing the role of the Sapphire Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, as staged by Pat Farmer for the Pacific Dance Company and the Pacific Foundation for the Performing Arts. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Southern California and spent 3 years as one of the world-famous USC Song Leaders. During that time, Lindsay choreographed for the squad and performed regularly on national television and around the world, most notably in the Monday Night Football opening theme with Hank Williams, Jr., and dancing at the U.S. Pavilion at Expo ’98 in Lisbon, Portugal.

    Unable to pursue a performing career after suffering knee and foot injuries, Lindsay welcomed the opportunity to hone her teaching and choreographic skills, as well as start a family. Drawing on her collegiate background and previous work in orthopaedic research, she infuses her classes with information about anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and injury prevention/rehabilitation. She enjoys working with dancers of all ages, skill levels and interests, and prides herself on developing each individual to their fullest desired potential. She currently teaches ballet, tap, jazz, poms and stretch and strengthen classes.  Lindsay has been delighted to call The Academy of Dance Arts home since 2009 and considers it a true privilege to work alongside Ms. Sherry Moray and her accomplished faculty. In addition to her work at the Academy, Lindsay is a registered Music Together teacher and Dailey Method instructor.

  • Devon Perry
    Hip Hop Instructor and Choreographer

    Devon is from Toronto and has been dancing since a young age.  Devon has been seen performing on TV and stage with artists such as; Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo and Jason Derulo.  While living in L.A. he also appeared on TV shows such as the VMA’s, Billboard Awards, BET Awards, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol. He has also appeared in music videos for such artists as; Chris Brown, Missy Elliot, Ne-Yo, Timbaland, Snoop Dog, Mark Ballas and many more. His commercial credits include Marshall’s U.S. and Milk Canada.  Devon has also choreographed the Tap scenes in the movies Honey and Save the Last Dance 2.  He currently teaches workshops across Canada and the U.S., while sharing his knowledge with the younger generations of dancers from his experiences.

  • Steven Spanopoulos
    Instructor - Tap Program

    ADA welcomes Steven Spanopoulos! He is a Tapper/Singer/Actor residing in the SW Suburbs of Chicago. His tapping toes have graced the stages of The Drury Lane Theatre (Billy Elliot and Thoroughly Modern Mille), Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), The Paramount Theatre, ( 42nd Street) The Marriott Theatre, ( My One and Only and 42nd Street) Theatre at the Center, Pheasant Run ( Chicago) and The Mercury Theatre.( The Producers Co-Choreographer). His Choreography earned him a Jeff Nomination: Sweet Smell of Success, Theatre Wit. He has been fortunate to have worked for and trained with Rachel Rockwell, Tammy Mader, Bril Barrett, Gary Shull, and Toni Casson.  When not on stage, Steven has lead classes for Roosevelt University, North Central College, Columbia College and several Chicago land studios.  He can also be found subbing at Lou Conte and Loyola University. . He is an adjudicator/workshop instructor for Dance Educators of America. "To the Dancers, Families, and Faculty...thank you from my SOLE to yours!" A dancer is a communicator through movement, so let’s tell that story! See you on the boards!

  • Irina Starovoitova
    Master Instructor - Ballet Program and Character Dance/Coach/Choreographer
    Winner Youth America Grand Prix "Most Outstanding Teacher" 2012

    Irina Starovoitova is a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer with a degree from the State of Belarus College of Choreography, one of a few schools in the world that still treasure and preserve great traditions of Vaganova’s classic dance teaching methodology. As a young dancer, Irina worked directly with world-renowned choreographer Valentin Elizaiev, the head of the ballet troupe of the Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet in Minsk, Belarus. During her years as a soloist of the Belarussian State Dance Ensemble, Irina earned standing ovations from spectators in Spain, Italy, Germany, India, France and the USA. Irina is an experienced and skillful instructor of classical ballet and character dancing. Irina also continues to perform as a soloist of “Zabava” Folk Dance Company. Miss Starovoitova is a Master Instructor that the Academy truly treasures having on staff.

  • Chris Marosi
    Academy Alumni
    Instructor Technique - Alliance Company and Academy Classes/Alliance Teen Team 2 Instructor & Choreographer

    Christopher Marosi began dancing at the age of eight at the Academy of Dance Arts. Although he received training in ballet and jazz, Chris’ passion from a young age was hip-hop. While completing his undergraduate psychology degree in Chicago, Christopher was a member of BOOM CRACK! Dance Company performing in works by Trae Turner, Dee Moore, and Dionna Pridgeon. It was during this time that Chris had the honor of performing at various sporting and cultural events throughout Chicago for companies such as Sears, Beats by Dre, as well as recording artist Kid Sister.

    Upon completing his undergraduate degree Christopher entered Illinois State University to begin coursework on his master’s in Developmental Psychology. Not wanting to end his training Christopher began working with the dance program at ISU, eventually becoming a company member of the Illinois State Dance Theatre. Being cast in works by Sara Semonis, Melinda Myers, Greg Merriman, and Abbey Hanson, Christopher has had the opportunity to perform at the Illinois High School Dance Festival representing Illinois State University (2012) as well as being selected to perform in the American College Dance Festival Gala Concert (Central Region, 2013). Upon graduating from ISU in 2013, Christopher signed on to become a member of Giordano II, part of Giordano Dance Chicago, the original jazz dance company in the United States. With Giordano, Christopher continues his training under the direction of Nan Giordano, Autumn Eckman, and Homer Bryant learning the historic Giordano jazz technique known around the world.

    Christopher is ecstatic to be on staff at the Academy, being able to instill the same passion for movement he received when he was a student at the Academy himself. 

  • Deanna Stetsura
    Ballet Instructor

    Deanna Stetsura trained at Russia’s Perm Ballet School under Professor Ludmila Saharova.  After graduating with honors, she was accepted as a soloist in the Kremlin Ballet Theatre in Moscow where she was coached by the world=class ballerina, Ekaterina Maximova.  Ms. Stetsura was a principal dancer for the Milwaukee Ballet for six years.

    Ms. Stetsura has performed lead roles in productions such as Don Quixote, Carmen, La Sylphide,  Swan lake, The Nutcracker, Allegro Brillante, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadere, Raymonda, Scheherazade, Cinderell, and Le Corsaire among others.  She earned the prestigious Diaghilev Prize at the first international competition in Moldavia.  She also received the highest award in the country of Belarus for the best state debut for her performance of the title role in Giselle.  She also appeared in three films in Belarus, filmed while dancing with the company on Belarusian television.

    Deanna earned a Silver medal at the prestigious ballet competition, “Arabesque” for her contemporary piece, which was created for her by the same choreographer who choreographed all of the dancing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Ms. Stetsura was the lead dancer in Samson et Delila at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  While performing with the Milwaukee Ballet, Ms. Stetsura danced leading roles such as Odette in Michael Pink’s Swan Lake, Marie in The Nutcracker, Gertrude in Hamlet, Dulcinea in Don Quixote, Lilac Fairy, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, and the leads in La Bayadere, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Raymonda and Agon.  She also worked with choreographers, such as Val Caniparoli, Stephen Mills, Bruce Wells, Kathryn Posin, and Margo Sappington, who created a piece for Ms. Stetsura in her world-premiere ballet, Common People, a project started by William Shatner.  She was also three-time participant in the International Gala, “The Evening of Starts”, in Denver, Colorado.

    In addition to her dancing accomplishments, Ms. Stetsura is very proud of having earned her law degree from Kuban State University in Russia.

  • Caroline Lee Pak
    Pilates Instructor

    Caroline Pak, born and raised in the Chicago area, began her figure skating career at the age of 6.  She is the 1988 United States National Novice Ladies Champion, and a Gold Medalist in Figures and Freestyle.  After a successful competitive skating career, Caroline received her B.A. in English Literature from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.   She then went on to receive her M.A. in English Literature from DePaul University. 

    Caroline has coached figure skaters at the Regional, Sectional and National level since 1996.  It was during her graduate studies, while coaching figure skaters, that she discovered Pilates.  Caroline received her Pilates Certification in 1999 through True Pilates—home of Romana’s Pilates Certification.  Romana’s Pilates is widely known as the most pure form of The Pilates Method in the world.  The certification program required Caroline to devote over 600 hours to observation and assistant teaching, as well as oral and written exams in Romana’s New York City studio.  Upon receiving her Pilates Certification, Caroline provided Pilates instruction at a studio in the Western suburbs as well as at the Academy.

    What is Pilates?
    Pilates is a form of exercise, developed by Joseph Pilates, which emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness in order to support efficient, graceful movement.  Figure skaters and Ballet Dancers have successfully incorporated Pilates into their training programs to strengthen their bodies and lengthen their careers.

    Why Pilates?
    The greatest benefit comes from strengthening the core.  Pilates helps to improve body awareness as well as aiding in injury prevention.   It keeps the upper and lower body connected allowing dancers to move through movements and transitions with ease.

    Caroline is available to teach Private Pilates Sessions at the Academy of Dance Arts by appointment.  She can be reached at 630-660-7474 or email to pak.caroline@yahoo.com

  • Arianna Rozen
    Instructor

    Arianna has been dancing since the age of 3 in all styles of dance.  She has been trained in hip-hop, contemporary, ballet, modern, tap, footwork, and also has taught Israeli dancing throughout the Chicagoland area.  She is currently an integral piece of the Puzzle League Dance Company – Midwest’s #1 Hip-Hop Reigning Champions and Chicago Onyx Dance Alliance (CODA).  Arianna has appeared as a dancer in Chance Rapper’s music video “Sunday Candy”, and was given the honor of dancing at the Allstate Area alongside Selena Gomez for We Day, a student empowerment and educational event for over 15,000 audience members.  Additionally, Arianna has choreographed opening numbers for shows including Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifia, Afrojack, and Mac Miller.  She graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign with a Bachelor’s in Community Health and Rehabilitation.  In addition to dancing, Arianna is also a professional emcee at Charizma Interactive Entertainment for special events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Weddings, 5K Races, school events, and corporate events all throughout the country.  We are so excited to welcome Arianna to The Academy family.

  • Carrie Nicastro-Ruiz
    Technique Instructor
    Modern/Alliance Teen Team Instructor - ADA/Coach/Choreographer

    Carrie Nicastro-Ruiz, originally from Northbrook, IL, received her initial training under Cheri Rose, studying the Cecchetti Method of Ballet. Carrie continued her education at the University of Iowa and graduated with honors in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in both Dance and Psychology. After graduation, Carrie moved back to Chicago to accept a Company member position with Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre. While Carrie danced with the company, she was also a guest artist with Hedwig Dances and she continued to further her training on full scholarship at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, home of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Carrie performed and toured Nationally with Same Planet Different World for two seasons and was privileged to perform the works of many talented artists including Paige Cunningham Caldarella, Ashleigh Leite, Molly Shanahan, and Artistic Director Joanna Rosenthal. Carrie also had the honor of performing Shapiro and Smith's 'To Have an to Hold' at Chicago's annual Dance For Life AIDS Benefit. After her time with SPDW, Carrie moved on to train with Thodos Dance Chicago for one season and has enjoyed performing in their 'New Dances Choreography Series' for the past 5 years. Carrie was most recently a member of Giordano II, Giordano Dance Chicago's second company. Carrie now enjoys dancing as a Freelance artist and has worked with many independent choreographers including Autumn Eckman, Becca Lemme, Lizzie Mackenzie, Jessica Miller-Tomlinson and her husband Ricky Ruiz. 

    In addition to performing, one of Carrie's biggest passions is teaching and choreographing for children and young adults. For 5 years, Carrie was a main Coach, Choreographer and Instructor for the competing and performing companies of Trilogy School of Performing Arts in Lake Zurich and On Your Toes Academy of Dance in Buffalo Grove. At Trilogy, Carrie also developed Pom Connection, a competing All-Star Pom program, where she led her team to a Team Dance Illinois State Title and top rankings at UDA Nationals in Disney World. Carrie has been recognized for and has received numerous awards for her choreography, including her work being selected as the 'Judge's Pick' for the 2011 Dance Chicago Dance Slam.

    In 2014, Carrie accepted a position as a Company Director and the Director of the Contemporary/Modern program at Steps Dance Center in Aurora. At ADA, Carrie will continue to teach Modern Technique and develop the ADA Alliance's Teen Team. This is Carrie's fourth year on Faculty at ADA.

    The Academy is fortunate to have this outstanding teacher on staff.

  • Karlo Familara – Instructor

    Karlo is the founder and C-Artistic Director of Design Company Productions, a company re-established in April 2013.  He first began his training with Culture Shock Chicago in 2000.  In 2001, he became a member of Hip Hop ConnXion Elite and remained Artistic Director of the Company from 2001 to 2009.  He has taught nationally and internationally in places such as China, Ireland, England, and throughout the U.S.  His commercial credits include directing a flash mob for the Take the Lead Gala which honored Nigel Lythgoe and Family and The Oprah 24th season Kickoff Party performing alongside the Black Eyed Peas where he was hired as the lead dancer and Assistant Choreographer teaching 2,1000 people, the largest flash mob in history.  Him main focus is his passion to choreograph and teach.  Although he experiments with all genres of movement, his inspiration is mostly pulled from soulful R&B music and the move musicals of the 1930s and 1940s. He continues to travel throughout the world to further his training and knowledge.

  • Clara Morna-Freitas – Instructor

    Clara began Pre-Dance ad the Academy of Dance Arts when she was two years old.  Her instant love of dance inspired her to audition for The Academy Dance Alliance competitive team at five years of age.  As young Clara learned to appreciate the art of dance, Artistic Director Sherry Moray allowed Clara priceless performance opportunities in three ballets with the Illinois Ballet Theatre.  Sharing the state with pre-professional and professional ballet dances inspired Clara to pursue a career in dance.  Clara continues her rigorous training at The Academy, a place she considers to be her second home.  Today, she is now trained in Ballet, Pointe, Jazz, Contemporary, Modern and Tap.  Thanks to the combined efforts of Sherry Moray, Ricky Ruiz and the entire ADA staff, Clara is now dancing at a pre-professional level.  She has attended River North’s summer intensive in Chicago and plans to pursue a dance career in college.