KRISTEN BARON Artistic Director of Meraki Dance Company, has been dancing since the age of four. After training with Miss Evon at Studio B in Orland Park and Lou Conte ,choreographing many pieces for her school orchesis at Lockport Township High School, and winning a dance team State Championship as an athlete she soon realized her passion for dance would last a lifetime. As a high school dancer she was awarded a Best Choreographer award at Joel Hall and later went on to obtain a scholarship at Joel Hall. Kristen started at University of Iowa as a dance major under the direction of Armando Duarte and the late David Berkey. She later obtained her BA in Dance at Northern IL University under the direction of Randall Newson. This is where her love of Horton Modern began! After graduating from NIU, she worked as a personal trainer, nutrition coach and metabolic specialist before obtaining her MA in Educational Leadership and MS in Physical Education. She has been a high school teacher for 8 years teaching dance, yoga and physical education. Kristen currently teaches at York HS and coaches the York varsity dance team who won state in 2018! She has performed with Northern Dance Theatre and was a choreographer and dancer for the NIU showcase Art of Life and Dance Chicago. After dancing on three professional companies, she became inspired to blaze her own path in the dance industry. Kristen is now ready to lead Meraki with the intent to provide technical dancers a place to train that makes them feel challenged, yet at home.
AIYANA CERVANTEZ is from Solon, Iowa, and has been dancing since she was five years old. She attended Kate Carol & Dance Company, in Iowa City, growing up. As a junior in high school she was accepted to the Giordano Dance Summer Intensive, where she studied under Fury Gold, Nicole Belanger, Eddy Ocampo, Laura Thurston, Natalie Tursi, Lizzie Mackenzie, Jeff Hancock, and others. She is now a third year dance major at Northern Illinois University, and has received several scholarships for collegiate dance. She has studied with professors such as Judith Chitwood, Autumn Eckman, Paula Frasz, Rich Grund, Blair Burkhalter, and Jenny Showalter. She has been cast for several pieces in each of NIU’s dance concerts. One of these was the auditioned piece choreographed by Bill T. Jones, "Spent Days Out Yonder", where she worked with the rehearsal director for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Catherine Cabeen. She has also enjoyed the opportunity to choreograph her own piece each semester for the student showcases. Aiyana has extensive training in ballet, modern, jazz, tap, pointe, and other styles of dance. She is thrilled to be accepted to the Meraki Dance Company for the 2016-2017 season. Aiyana hopes to continue performing and sharing the gift of dance with others for many years to come.
NICOLE ESMAIL has 22 years of dance experience. She grew up dancing at various studios around the Naperville area, she was classically trained in a variety of styles of dance which include; Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Tap & Hip Hop. She began dancing competitively at the age of 12 as a member of the School of Performing Arts' Dance Ensemble. She progressed on to dance with Inside Out Dance Company of DanceWest Ballet. While she was at DanceWest, she also participated in their annual Nutcracker Production for several years. At the age of 16 she began training and competing with Xtreme Dance Force. During her time with the company, XDF managed to achieved three National Titles. In 2013, Nicole graduated from Northern Illinois University, where she obtained a Bachelors Degree in Finance. While attending college, she furthered her dance education and performed with The Northern Dance Theater. Last year she trained with Outlet Dance Company and had the chance to participate in their annual show. As a first year member of Meraki Dance Company, Nicole is thrilled to have the opportunity to further develop her technique and to continue her love for dance.
NATALIE FISHER began dancing and performing at the age of three and has been on stage ever since. She attended the American Dance Center in Orland Park where she trained in ballet/pointe, tap, jazz, modern, lyrical, and musical theatre. Natalie graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in History with a minor in Secondary Education and Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. While at Illinois, she danced and choreographed for the Illini-N-Motion and performed in numerous Illini Union Board musicals, including Chicago, Singin’ in the Rain, and Cinderella. Natalie applies her love for both history and dance as a high school teacher, dance team coach, and choreographer. She is blessed to be able to have turned her passions into a career. Natalie enjoys teaching her dancers more than just technique and instills life skills -- team work, responsibility, and confidence. Along with dancing as a Meraki company member, Natalie continues to perform in local musical productions in the area, including Spamalot and Legally Blonde. She is excited to be back on Meraki for season two as a full cast member and to carry on her joy for dance.
STEPHANIE GERMANN has been a dancer for 17 years, with strengths in Jazz and Hip-Hop, but has a love for all styles. She danced throughout high school and continued onto dance at Illinois State University as a member of the Competitive Dance Team. She was a member for four years, and was elected to be captain on her fourth year. She was asked to come back the following year to be their coach while she student taught her fifth year at ISU. Also during that year, she assistant coached the varsity dance team at University High School in Normal, IL. At ISU, she majored in Physical and Health Education. She now teaches PE and Health at two elementary schools in Plainfield Il, as well as coaches the JV Dance Team at Plainfield South High School.
AMY JESIONOWSKI was born and raised in La Grange, IL but recently relocated north for her teaching career. She has been dancing in studio and competitive settings for over 20 years. In 2013, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and Dance Education from Illinois State University where she served as the vice president of Illinois State Dance Theatre. There, she had the opportunity to dance under the instruction of several renowned choreographers, including Randy Duncan, Keith Elliott, Joanna Rosenthal, Julie Tice and Kim Nofsinger. In 2010, she was cast as the yellow woman in a recreation of Martha Graham's masterpiece Diversion of Angels under the direction of Graham dancers Sandra Kaufman and Denise Vale. Her own choreography was chosen to perform in 2012 at Dance Chicago. She currently choreographs for Grayslake Central High School's annual musical and single-handedly organizes and runs the Grayslake Central Orchesis Dance Company, which is comprised of 41 aspiring dancers. She is thrilled to be performing again and is excited to have been given the opportunity to be a Meraki full cast dancer and choreographer for the second year in a row. Last season her work was performed at the Love is Alive showcase at Madison Street Theatre and the SEA conference. Amy is a full cast dancer, choreographer and Assistant Director for Meraki.
MARY READ trained in gymnastics from age 3 until age 16, and then transitioned into studying dance. She has trained in a variety of styles including ballet, pointe, modern, jazz, hip-hop, Latin and improv. She loves the thrill of dancing onstage, but also enjoys choreographing and teaching. In May 2013, Mary earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in dance performance from Northern Illinois University (NIU). Upon graduation, she received the Dean's Award for the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts; an award that reflects academic excellence, leadership and artistic versatility. In November 2013, she was voted "Best Modern Contemporary Dancer" by NIU students. In recent years, she has participated in summer intensives with Thodos Dance Chicago and Aerial Dance Chicago. Currently, Mary is excited to have a full-cast position with the Meraki Dance Company, and honored to be performing with them for her second season.
ELIZABETH STEPIEN is originally from Wilmington, IL. She received her early training from the Major School of Dance where she later started her teaching career. She also trained at the Von Heideke School of Ballet where she performed in the Chicago Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker. While studying theater, dance and Costume Design at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Elizabeth danced with The Robert Ivey Ballet and performed with the Footlight Players. After returning to IL, Elizabeth finished her dance degree with a concentration in teaching at Columbia College Chicago. She studied with Liz Burrit, Peter Carpenter, Margi Cole, Johanna Rosenthal as well as attended workshops with Same Planet Different World, The Joe Goode Performance Group, and Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan to name a few. Since graduating in 2011, her main focus has been taking care of her family, as well as sharing her love of dance while teaching at Elite Dance academy, Southwest Synergy Dance, Dance FX, and Forte Arts Center. She is also an affiliate of the American Academy of ballet and teaches workshops in Progressive Ballet Technique. She is also a wife and mother of two, who are her biggest supporters as well as the center of her life. Elizabeth is excited to be joining Meraki as a full company cast member this year.
KAITLYN VEGA is originally from western Massachusetts, she has has extensive training in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap, acro and gymnastics. She was awarded a performing arts scholarship to Dean College School of Dance where she majored in Dance and was a member of the Break the Silence Dance Team. Kaitlyn has been a full time dance teacher and choreographer in the Chicagoland area for the last 7 years. Her work has been recognized from Chicago to Boston to Los Angeles for its versatility, strength and technical excellence. In 2012 Kaitlyn was nominated for Chicago's favorite dance teacher and each year her choreography can be seen on the Dance Chicago stage. Most recently Kaitlyn was seen dancing alongside Richard Branson in the Virgin Hotel grand opening Parade. Currently, Kaitlyn is a full time cast member, choreographer and assistant director with Meraki Dance Company.
MONICA WELLER graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2011 with her Bachelor Fine Arts Degree with an emphasis in Dance Performance. Her most noteable performances including Le Histoire du Soldat as the Princess, Bhaava by Autumn Eckman and several Ballets including Le Corsaire and The Nutcracker as Snow Queen. In 2011 Monica performed with Dansz Loop Chicago in a show entitled The Escapes. where she worked Paula Frasz and Paul Christiano and in 2012 Monica was casted in his Immediate Gratification. Dance in the Parks directed by Katie McCann (2012+2014), Chicago Dance Crash on the production of The Cotton Mouth Club, and “Tron, End of Line” at were all works she has been a part of.
For the 2015 season Monica danced as a company member with Chicago Dance Crash. Performances included a repertoire show at Dance Center Columbia, Arts Midwest in St. Louis and “New Alaska” at The Storefront Theatre in Chicago IL. In 2015 Monica also danced for an original dance film entitled “This Way Comes” which premiered June 17, 2016. Monica had the privilege of performing in the 25th anniversary of Dance for Life in August 2016.