Michele Zehner


Ms Zehner began her studies with Edmund and Nina Novak and then continued with John White and Margarita De Saa. She has also studied with Pennsylvania Ballet and Boston Ballet with Violette Verdi, as well as in New York with Madame Darvash, David Howard and Robert Denver. She received a full scholarship to Harkness Ballet and an apprenticeship with Hartford Ballet. Michele was a dancer with The San Antonio Ballet and Ballet Klos.

Ms Zehner has over 20 years of professional teaching experience and has studied pedagogy with recognized teaching greats such Gilbert Mayer, Ruth Petronovic and John White. She is ABT certified through level 7 and Partnering and is certified in Progressing Ballet Technique. As an instructor, Michele has taught at West Chester Ballet Theater, Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet and The Rock School. She has been the owner as well as an instructor of the Pennsylvania Centre for Ballet and founder and artistic director of Delaware County Ballet. Some of Michele’s students have gone on to dance with Washington Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Pacific Northwest, Colorado Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and on Broadway.

Ms Zehner is an Artist in Residence at Dreyfoos School for the Arts and sat on the board of the Florida Dance Association. She continues to teach guest classes nationally when time permits. Ms Zehner is thrilled to see a dream realized in Florida School for Dance Education.

Maria Konrad

Assistant Director

Ms Konrad graduated from the Alexander W. Dreyfoos High School of Performing Arts, and then earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in performing arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. As a faculty member at Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), Ms. Konrad helped create an early-dance-education curriculum. She is a guest teacher throughout the country at professional training programs, universities and festivals including University of the Arts, Florida Dance Festival, Ballet Mississippi, University of South Florida, The Academy of Colorado Ballet, Blake Performing Arts High School and Youth America Grand Prix. Both her students and choreography has been recognized by Youngarts and YAGP. Her work has been featured throughout the southeast from South Miami Dade Cultural Center to Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. After returning to Florida, Ms. Konrad founded REACH—A Dance Theater Collective, South Florida’s first modern-jazz workshop. She has served on the faculty and has been a guest choreographer at The Harid Conservatory and A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. In addition to being on faculty at The Patel Conservatory (Tampa), she is director of the Contemporary Program at Florida School for Dance Education. She is thrilled to be joining the faculty of the International Ballet Competition (IBC)
in Jackson 2018.

Brenda Lougheed

Business Director

Ms Lougheed graduated from the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in New York City where she was enrolled in the music program and played the violin. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, specializing in Taxation from Pace University in New York City. Her career started in banking, where she became the Tax Administrator and Special Projects Accountant for Banque Paribas, known today as BNP, before starting her own Accounting and Tax Consulting business. Brenda has a strong background in business, accounting and taxation, providing services to individuals and small businesses from New York to Florida. She has always had a passion for the arts and business.

Gena Costello

Children’s Division Director

Miss Gena, as she is known throughout South Florida, has been teaching young children for 20 years. Her dance experience started at a young age with a family owned dance studio. She later continued her study of dance at Southwest Texas State University. Once moving to Florida, Gena became involved with many Preschool and Early Childhood Development Programs as well as receiving her Childhood Development Associate. Gena spent the two several years studying under Master teachers such as Holly Humphrey’s and Eugenia Smith and started her own “Dancing with Mommy” program for Mom’s and their young dancers. Gena is also a member of the professional Dance Teachers Association.

Danielle Armstrong

Pilates, Modern

Ms Armstrong was an honors graduate from the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, She has taught at Peridance Center where her choreography was chosen to debut the Perichild Youth Ensemble. In addition to working with many freelance choreographers, such as Robert Battle (formally of Parsons Dance Company and Battleworks), she founded her own dance group performing at venues all over New York City. She became a certified Pilates instructor under the tutelage of Joseph Pilates protégé, Romana Kyrzanoska and subsequently completed over 600 hours of teacher training. Danielle has taught Pilates in New York, Connecticut, Charleston, SC and now brings over 10 years of experience to the Palm Beach area. She is the managing director, dancer and choreographer for REACH. In addition to managing the Pilates studio at FSDE, she teaches ballet and modern dance. She is also on staff at The HARID Conservatory in Boca Raton.

Jerry Opdenaker


Mr Opdenaker is a graduate from the University of the Arts. During his 22-year dancing career, he worked as a principal dancer for ballet companies such as Pennsylvania Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Ballet Florida. During the years spent in these companies, he worked with some of the world’s greatest choreographers working in the field of dance. At Ballet Florida he was instrumental in the development, creativity and educational components of STEP Ahead, Ballet Florida’s choreographic workshop. Serving as the Director, he propelled the program into the eyes of the National Endowment for the Arts, which awarded the Access to Artistic Excellence, twice and was declared a “Jewel of the Palm Beaches” in 2004. Jerry had the incredible privilege to participate in the Ballet builders 2003, New York City Ballet’s 2005 Choreographic Institute and the National Choreographic Initiative 2007, in California. He has also choreographed for the McKnight Foundation in Minnesota, Seanik Arts in Miami and the Florida Grand Opera’s production of Lakme. He has also developed a new company in Palm Beach County called O Dance, which will had its inaugural first performance in February 2010.

Gillian Safran


Ms Safran began her love of dance at the age of three. Finding her passion at an early age she pursued training intensives with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, Canada and the Marinsky Theatre, Russia. Receiving her diploma in Dance Theatre, under full scholarship from the London Studio Centre, England. Mrs. Safran brings a classical training background from both the Cecchetti and Royal Academy syllabus, and a strong contemporary background in Limon and Graham techniques. During her performing career she danced as a Principal for the Anna Wyman Youth Performing Company, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and ten years as a Production Dancer for Carnival Corporation. As she advanced she captained cast changes, and re-blocking of production shows. Mrs. Safran is very excited to bring her love for dance and performance to FSDE.

Leslie Justi


Leslie Justi was a scholarship student at Joffrey & Hartford Ballet and also trained with Boston, Palm Beach and South Florida Ballet Academy. Leslie began her professional career with Hartford Ballet, then on to Memphis Ballet and Bay Ballet Theater. In 1997, Leslie joined Colorado Ballet, where she performed soloist roles in classical and contemporary ballets. She was the principal teacher for Denver Academy of Ballet and been on the faculty of Colorado Ballet Academy.

Carol Pakri

Ballet, Children’s Division

Carol Pakri received a BFA in Ballet Performance at the University of Oklahoma, graduating
with honors. She danced with Oklahoma Festival Ballet, David Taylor Dance Theatre and Colorado Ballet. Mrs. Pakri 20 years teaching experience includes Director for the Youth Ballet Company at Spotlight Performing Arts and School Principal & Principal Teacher at the Academy of Colorado Ballet South, as well as on staff at The Royal Ballet School in London graduating from The Royal Ballet School Professional Dancers Teachers Course with Distinction and on the staff at Houston Ballet Academy.

Kristina Lopez

Children’s Division, Jazz

Kristina Lopez had the honor of captaining and performing in the cast of ‘WICKED’ for almost 8 years, as well as ‘IN THE HEIGHTS’. Kristina was also Dance Supervisor for the National and International tours of ‘FOSSE’. Kristina is honored to have worked closely with the legendary Ann Reinking (FOSSE), and Tony Award winner, Andy Blankenbuehler (IN THE HEIGHTS). In New York, she performed as a featured dancer with DRE Dance company, directed by Taye Diggs and Andrew Palermo. She attended Florida State University as a BFA Musical Theatre major.

Samantha Wilhelm


Samantha was born and raised in New Jersey and began dancing at the age of 3.  For the past 13 years Samantha has been performing at Radio City Music Hall as a dancer and for the last 7 years she has taken on the role of assistant choreographer to Linda Haberman and Julie Branum.  This role has her working with both the Rockettes and the ensemble, while acting as a swing, dance captain and overseeing the production.  Samantha has also assisted on Radio City’s Heart and Lights, as well as performing in the New York Spring Spectacular.  She also had the privilege to be an assistant choreographer for the Rockettes and Pitbull for Americas Got Talent.  Before her career at Radio City she performed on and was rehearsal director for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.  Samantha has taught and choreographed at numerous studios throughout the country and was on staff at the King Centre for the Performing Arts.  Samantha brings energy, fire, and passion into the studio and can’t wait to share her experiences with the students.

Marcus Donnelly


Marcus Donnelly, from Galway, Ireland, first began dancing at the age of ten, in second-hand dance shoes his father bought for him while in Dublin. Marcus went on to compete at the World Irish Dance Championships and became a full-time professional dancer at the age of sixteen. He toured internationally with shows such as Ragús, Rhythm of the Dance, Celtic Legends, Celtic Crossroads, amongst others, as a lead dancer. Marcus has had the opportunity to study Tap at Steps on Broadway and work with some of the world’s most renowned performers. When not touring or in the USA, Marcus works with his own dance company, Furious Feet, in Galway, Ireland.

Toni Lipscher

Jazz, Cirque/Acro

Ms Lipscher began her dance education in Homestead, Florida. While a student there she participated in Miss Dance of Florida finishing in the top 10. From there she attended Florida State University where she danced for the Golden Girls and was voted Captain by her peers. In 1988, she was selected by College Dance Championship board to perform in the Opening Number. After college, she danced with the Miami Heat Dancers (captain, 1 year), the Eagles Cheerleaders (chosen to be in the video, NFL’s Hottest Cheerleaders, and the New Jersey Nets. She has also danced with Xanadu Dance Company. Toni has taught Hip Hop and Jazz at Atlantic Arts and is proud to be a current member of REACH Dance Company and thrilled to be a teacher at Florida School for Dance Education.

Maria Hernandez

Hip Hop

Maria Hernandez began her dance training in 2010 at the age of sixteen in West Palm Beach, Florida at Sean’s Dance Factory under the direction and training of Sean Green. In 2012 she became a Hip Hop instructor at Spotlight of Wellington, and shortly after became an instructor at Sean’s Dance Factory. Her training and dance experience have led her to come up with her own distinctive style of Hip Hop, believing that dance is an art form of expression and a lifestyle. She has performed on productions at the Broward Performing Arts Center, the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, and was featured her own piece at the choreographer’s showcase in Miami. You might have seen her as a backup dancer for James Cove, and dancing on stage with Sugarhill Gang. She remains a continuous student training with some of the top choreographers in the Hip Hop community such as Dondraico ‘Draico’ Johnson, Ellen Kim, Jillian Meyers, Marty Kudelka, Dexter Carr, Chris Grant, Chuck Maldonado, Aisha Francis, Kevin Maher, Nick DeMoura, and many more. Her training has allowed her not only to perform but also to train and direct her students onto the World of Dance competition, never forgetting the main elements of Hip Hop to be the base of their elaborate pieces of competition and performance. Maria believes that her love for dance can be spread and can help dancers of all ages grow and develop their craft with strong self-confidence, allowing them to build their passion and follow their dreams.

Svetlana Spivak


Svetlana Spivak holds both Bachelor and Master Degrees from the prestigious Ukrainian State Music Conservatory. Before coming to the USA, Svetlana performed solo and chamber music concerts and as an accompanist with the Ballet Theater in Odessa, Ukraine. In New York City, Svetlana had worked as an accompanist in the Julliard School, ABT, Ballet Conservatory of New York, and was principal pianist in Joffrey Ballet Company of NY.