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Academy Staff

Meet the Otto M. Budig Academy staff

Cincinnati Ballet’s Academy Staff works to ensure the professional and artistic growth of Otto M. Budig Academy students.

Otto M. Budig Academy Staff

Vice President of Academy + Education: Ginger Johnson 513-562-1125
Academy Director: Sarah Hairston 513-562-1119
Academy Principal: Zack Grubbs 513-562-1105
Assistant Academy Principal: Dawn Kelly 513-562-2005
Student Services Manager: Maura Korn 513-562-1120
Youth Programs Manager: Kara Jones Louis 513-562-1101
Academy Registrar: Elizabeth Metz 513-562-1133

Sarah Hairston
Academy Director

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Ms. Hairston began her early ballet training at Charleston Ballet Theatre. At the age of 9, she continued her training in Columbia, South Carolina under the direction of Ann Brodie at the Calvert Brodie School of Dance and later went on to graduate from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

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Zack Grubbs
Academy Principal

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Zack Grubbs began his dance training at Tuzer Ballet to supplement his education as a competitive gymnast. He continued his ballet training at the University of Utah under Attila Ficzere and trained with companies across the country including Boston Ballet, where he was a company dancer for four years. Grubbs came to Cincinnati Ballet in 2002, was promoted to Soloist in 2005 and Senior Soloist in 2008.

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Dawn Kelly
Assistant Academy Principal

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Dawn Kelly received the majority of her training at The Boston Ballet School where she studied under famed teacher and coach Tatiana Legat and her daughter Elena Solovieva.

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Otto M. Budig Academy Faculty

Donna Anderle

Donna Anderle is an accomplished dancer, teacher and choreographer. She has been with the Otto M. Budig Academy since 2002 and teaches Children’s and Main Division classes as well as Ballet Basics for adults. She has also taught with Cincinnati Ballet’s outreach and CincyDance! programs. Donna has a BFA in Fine Arts from Drake University, where she majored in Theatre. From 1989-2004 Donna was the Director of Dance at the Summit Country Day School, where she directed and choreographed numerous musicals, liturgies and theatrical events. She operated her own dance studio in Anderson Township for many years and has been on the dance faculty of Northern Kentucky University and Ballet Theatre Midwest. She is nationally known as a liturgical dancer, artfully weaving together elements of Scripture, ritual and liturgical movement. For the last 20 years, Donna has performed, choreographed and given workshops for national and regional liturgical conferences including the LA Congress, the National Middle School Convention, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, National Catholic Education Association, the National Catholic Youth Conference, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the East Coast Conference. Her work is compiled in four choreography books and videos, which are published with Oregon Catholic Press, and she is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy. Donna is the co-founder of The Good News Company, a touring performance troupe whose presentations are based on self-esteem and values building for children.

Rosa Compostella

Rosa Compostella was born in Verona, Italy, and graduated as a ballet teacher from the Accademia Nazionale di Danza (National Dance Academy) of Rome. She taught in different ballet schools in the Verona area before moving to the United States with her family. Rosa has taught at Ballet Tech Ohio for eleven years, primarily to young students age 6 to 14 and to adults. She joined the faculty of the Otto M. Budig Academy in 2009. Rosa believes in preparing students with a solid and correct technique from the early stages of learning ballet and enjoys providing such foundations for future learning.

Gema Díaz

Gema Díaz was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, and raised in Havana, and has been dancing since the age of three. She trained with the National Ballet School in Havana and the Vocational Ballet School in Santa Clara, dancing with Ballet Nacional de Cuba for three years. Gema won a silver medal in the International Ballet Competition of Cuba in 1999 and has toured all over the world. She danced with Cincinnati Ballet for 10 years, retiring in 2015, and has taught at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Ballet Tech of Ohio, Broadway Bound Dance Academy, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, TU Dance, AVO Ballet, Harmony Healing Arts, and others.

Isabele Elefson

Isabele Elefson was born in Brazil and began her ballet training in the Royal Academy of Dance system, then continued her studies with Halina Biernacka. Isabele danced with The Classical Ballet of São Paulo, Cisne Negro Cia de Dança, Ballet Theatre of Chicago, and the Civic Ballet of Chicago. She has danced lead roles in Giselle, Coppélia, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Les Sylphides, Paquita, La Fille Mal Gardée, and Cinderella, among others. Isabele has over 15 years of teaching experience, currently teaching at Cincinnati Ballet and the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. She is also a co-director for Dance Academy of Libertyville, IL, and Ballet Theatre of Illinois. Isabele holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from FAAP University in São Paulo, Brazil.

Donna Grisez

Donna Grisez began her professional career as a principal dancer with the Tulsa Ballet before joining Cincinnati Ballet in 1977. As Principal Dancer under the direction of David McClain and Frederic Franklin, she danced classical and contemporary works by choreographers Frederic Franklin, George Balanchine, Ruth Page, James Truitte and Lester Horton. Donna has been teaching dance for over 30 years. Her teaching credits include the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Northern Kentucky University, Contemporary Dance Theater, The School for Creative and Performing Arts, and the Otto M. Budig Academy. Donna is co-creator of Ballet Moves, a partnership between Cincinnati Ballet and the Physical Therapy Department of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She was instrumental in establishing CincyDance!, Cincinnati Ballet’s outreach program that has brought dance classes to children from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds for over 20 years. She graduated with a BFA and MA from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Sasha Hart

Sasha Hart received her classical ballet training from the Joffrey School in New York City and the School of American Ballet. As a young dancer, George Balanchine cast her as Clara in the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. She attended the Pennsylvania Ballet’s scholarship apprentice program and received her degree in dance performance from Indiana University. There, under the direction of John Kriza and Marina Svetlova, she performed leading roles in Graduation Ball, Giselle and The Nutcracker. At the Bavarian State Theatre in Munich, Germany, she danced in ballets including Coppélia, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Cinderella, Abraxas, and Undine, as well as many operas and operettas. Sasha received a dance pedagogy degree from the Munich Conservatory and became a certified dance instructor for children and adults. She headed the dance department at the Country School in Los Angeles and choreographed a variety of shows for schools as well as professional dance events for American Eagle Productions. She owned her own ballet school in Cincinnati for 27 years and is currently an instructor at the Otto M. Budig Academy, Uptown Arts, and Xavier University.

Courtney Hellebuyck

Courtney Hellebuyck began her serious dance training at San Francisco Ballet School as part of the inaugural year of its Trainee Program. She danced professionally with Pennsylvania Ballet, Smuin Ballet, and Cincinnati Ballet, including performing in Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake at the International Dance Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Courtney taught at several ballet schools in the Denver area and with the Joffrey South Summer Intensive before joining the Otto M. Budig Academy in 2017. She is certified to teach Group Fitness from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and has taught Barre Fitness for several years. Courtney’s Choreography won Double Platinum in the BravO! National Dance Competition for her “Fleeting Youth” collaboration with singer-songwriter John Runnels of Morning Bear. She most recently choreographed a contemporary solo for Youth America Grand Prix. Courtney teaches at all levels in the Academy, including Children’s Division, Main Division, Adult Division, and in Cincinnati Ballet’s Summer Intensives. She is thrilled to be teaching the next generation of dancers and helping them grow to their full potential.

Karen Kurelis

Karen Williamson Kurelis received her BFA from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music at the time when CCM was the official school for Cincinnati Ballet, studying with David McLain, David Blackburn and Oleg Sabline. She learned the Horton modern technique from James Truitte, who was considered the authoritative figure in Horton, which led to work with Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. Ohio and with Joyce Trisler Danscompany in New York, under direction of Milton Myers. Karen has taught the Horton Technique at Alvin Ailey in New York (working closely with Ana Marie Forsythe) and in Taiwan as part of a teacher collaboration. Karen received her MFA in performance from George Mason University. She has taught as adjunct at George Mason and as a full-time Associate Professor of Dance at Northern Illinois University.

Ka-Ron Lehman

Ka-Ron B. Lehman is a choreographer, teacher, and former professional dancer. Raised in Los Angeles, she trained under such teachers as Carolyn Skyers, Erglis Smaltzoff, George Zurich, Tanquil LaClercq, and James Truitte. She gained a rich legacy of credits as a featured dancer on concert stages, TV variety series and award specials, music videos, Broadway, theatre, film, and commercials, and has worked with such well-known choreographers as Joseph Richard, Claude Thompson, and Donald McKayle. A dedicated educator of 54 years, Ka-Ron has taught at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Miami Valley Ballet Theatre, Just Off Broadway, Ballet Tech of Ohio, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Northern Kentucky University, and the Otto M. Budig Academy. She has choreographed numerous works, including for the Contemporary Dance Theater’s Area Choreographers Festival and Cincinnati Ballet’s New Works Series. Ka-Ron is a Board and Founding member of the Greater Cincinnati Dance Alliance (GCDA) and is Co-Director for GCDA’s Dance & Musical Theater College Fair. Her awards include a Distinguished Teacher Award by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, the American Choreography 2004 Educator Award, a Disney Teacher of the Year nomination, several NAACP Awards for Choreography, a Drama-Logue Critics Award for her performance in Jon Hendricks’s Evolution of the Blues musical, and the 2018 Cincinnati Overture Educator Award.

Lizzy Moeller

Lizzy Moeller is a Northern Kentucky University graduate with a BFA in Theatre and Dance and a BA in Communication Studies. Moeller has been dancing for the past 17 years and has been teaching dance for 11. Moeller has taught pre-ballet, ballet, pointe, jazz, hip-hop, tap, contemporary, salsa, waltz, West Coast Swing, and Pilates. She has trained with Thomas Bell, Tracey Bonner, Heather Britt, Jay Goodlett, Jacqui Haas, Julie Keeney, Ka-Ron Lehman, and Renee McCafferty. Moeller fell in love with dancing at a young age but discovered that her true passion lies with sharing her love of dance with others. Alongside her teaching at the Otto M. Budig Academy, Lizzy teaches at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Prestige Dance Center, and in her hometown of Batesville, IN.

Patty Pille

Patty Pille is a native of Cincinnati where she was trained in classical ballet, jazz, tap, modern and hip hop. After a knee injury sidelined her professional path, she opened her own dance studio in 1993. During Patty’s 20+ years at her studio, she won multiple awards for choreography and has helped develop many students to be successful in a professional dance career. Patty has been a teacher at Cincinnati Ballet for over 15 years and has enjoyed teaching ballet and jazz classes with the Otto M. Budig Academy, as well as teaching during the Summer Intensive programs.

Kate Stark

Kate Stark is a professional freelance dancer, actor, singer, and choreographer, who works regionally with companies like Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the Carnegie, Pones Inc., Cincinnati Landmark Productions, and Madcap Puppets. She has studied a wide range of dance styles from ballet to ballroom to rhythm tap and loves the variety that musical theatre encompasses. A few of her favorite roles to date are Jean MacLaren in Brigadoon, Judy Turner in A Chorus Line, and Texas in Cabaret. In addition to her work at Cincinnati Ballet, Kate teaches dance classes for Persons with Parkinson’s disease and is the resident choreographer at Notre Dame Academy in Covington. She is a 2017 Legacy Next Generation Leader Award recipient.

Melissa Wood

Melissa Wood (also known as Misse Allen) joined Cincinnati Ballet’s Company at the young age of 16 and rose to the rank of Soloist. She later danced with Tulsa Ballet and The National Broadway tour of The Phantom of the Opera. Melissa has been a featured dancer with Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Pops and Knoxville Opera. She is a graduate of Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts and trained on full scholarship during the summers at the School of American Ballet. Along with teaching at the Otto M. Budig Academy, Melissa is also the Director of Dance at Dance Etc. in Milford and teaches a dance enrichment program at Cincinnati Country Day School.

Claire Wyatt

Claire Wyatt has studied Ballet, modern, Yoga, and Pilates. She danced with the Otto M. Budig Academy through high school, then studied elementary education at Northern Kentucky University. She currently teaches Kindergarten in Kentucky and is finishing her master’s degree at Georgetown College in working with students who speak English as a second language. This is her sixth year teaching Children’s Division classes with the Academy.

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