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 Orchesis at Lockport Township High School, and winning a dance team State Championship as an athlete she realized her passion for dance would last a lifetime. As a high school dancer she was awarded a Best Choreographer at Joel Hall where she also received a scholarship. 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. In 2018, she accomplished a lifelong goal of winning IHSA State as the coach of the York Dance team! 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. She is ready to provide technical dancers a place to train that makes them feel challenged, yet at home.
NICOLE ESMAIL has 23 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 Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. She is also currently pursuing her Masters in History from Northern Illinois University. Natalie is excited to be back on Meraki for season three as a full cast member and to carry on her joy for dance.
MIRANDA GENTILE has been dancing for over 20 years. Miranda has experience in Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Modern, Tap, and Contemporary; emphasis in Modern, and Contemporary. Miranda started taking recreational dance classes at Gotta Dance Studio at a young age and has a decade of experience in competitive dance. The first studio Miranda competed for was Midwest Dance Authority, winning medals and awards at Starpower, Showbiz, Hall of Fame, Showstoppers...etc. In Mirandas High school career, she competed for Deforest Dance Academy, winning awards for solos, and group dances. Miranda attended Columbia College in Chicago for 1-year majoring in dance and taking ballet, modern, and dance history classes. Miranda has been attending College of DuPage for her AFA while dancing with the College of DuPage dance department, she will be getting her associates in Fine Art, emphasis in Dance. In 2019, In 2016 Miranda obtained her 200 hr Yoga Teaching Certification, and was accepted to be on the Kate Jablonski Statement, based in Lyons. Miranda is so thrilled and grateful to be welcomed to Meraki Dance Company with open arms. Miranda is mostly excited for working with other talented dancers, and sharing it with the dance community.
STEPHANIE GERMANN has been a dancer for 18 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.
LAURA SUE JENSEN was born and raised in Schaumburg, IL. From the age of 3, Laura has always had a passion for dance. She danced with the Schaumburg School of Dance and Rise Dance Center, under the direction of Noel Stanton, Jan Powers and Christine Costello. Growing up, she participated in multiple productions with Schaumburg's Dance Ensemble, including; The Nutcracker, Hansel and Gretel, and Beauty in the Beast. In June of 2017, she graduated from North Central College with her degree in Organizational Communications. While attending college, she dance on the 3X National qualifying Dance Team and Cardinal Dance Company. Since graduating, Laura works full time at 25N Coworking, teaches, and directs the Hoffman Stars Dance Company. She is more than thrilled to be dancing with Meraki for her first season!
AMY JESIONOWSKI was born and raised in La Grange, IL but recently relocated to Chicago 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 choreographed for Grayslake Central High School's annual musical and single-handedly organized and ran the Grayslake Central Orchesis Dance Company, which was comprised of 41 aspiring dancers. Now, she teaches at a Chicago charter school as well as Chicago Dance Academy. 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 third year in a row. Her work was performed at the previous two showcases at Madison Street Theatre and the SEA conference, and she recently
choreographed for DePaul's dance company. Amy is a full cast dancer, choreographer and Assistant Director for Meraki.
OLIVIA LINK is from Lisle, IL, and has danced all her life in various capacities. As a child she took park district classes and by high school was a member of both the dance team (Poms/Starlettes) and the dance club (Orchesis). In college, she was a 3-time member and choreographer on the EIU Dancers Company where she lead the company as president her junior year. She was unable to dance her senior year due to the time demands of an honors thesis. Olivia graduated Summa Cum Laude in May 2016 with a double major in Psychology and Foreign Languages (Spanish) and a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduating college, Olivia found her way back to dance and into Meraki this season. She is currently earning her Master’s in Clinical Psychology at Benedictine University and works for Northwestern Medicine. As a first year member of Meraki Dance Company, Olivia feels blessed to be a part of this creative, passionate group and is thankful to be dancing once more.
KIMMY MATAS is from Tinley Park, IL and has been dancing since the age of three, mostly with Creative Dance Center, IL. In high school, she was on the varsity dance team where she competed at state, as well as UDA Nationals in Florida each year. As a high school dancer, she received the Most Improved and Sportsmanship award from her dance team, and most proudly was awarded as All Conference her senior year. After high school, Kimmy attended North Central College and was a member of the Cardinal Dance Company where she performed and choreographed for their showcase each year. During her time in the company, she received the Best in Show Dancer and Best Choreographer award. As a junior, Kimmy was nominated to the dance company’s executive board, and as a senior led the company as President. Kimmy graduated Cum Laude from North Central in 2017, and currently works as an elementary school teacher in Woodridge. She has five years of experience as a coach, and has recently returned to Creative Dance Center as an instructor for the studio she grew up in. Kimmy is honored to be dancing with Meraki for her first season!
ROSE MULVEY is originally from Springfield, IL. She started dancing at the age of six in ballet, tap, jazz, and tumbling. Rose received her BFA (emphasis: Dance Performance) from Northern Illinois University. After graduation, Rose danced with various Chicago based companies: Aerial Dance Chicago 2nd Company, Alliance Dance Company, and Matter Dance Company. During her time in Chicago, she trained extensively in aerial dance, specifically, Aerial Silks. In 2013, she became a founding member of Glenwood Dance Studio, a non-profit, all-adult studio located in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Rose works for HNTB Corporation as a consultant for IDOT in Schaumburg. Rose is also known as "Naomi's Mom," her favorite role to date. This is Rose's 1st season dancing with Meraki Dance Company and feels honored to work and dance with such a great group of strong, beautiful women.
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 third season.
AMANDA SCHIERER has been dancing since the age of 3 and joined a competition team at the age of 5. Amanda has been dancing competitively for 15 years. She has competed with teams such as Powerhouse Dance Company, Steppin Out Dance Company, and Aspire Dance Company. Her dance training includes Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Lyrical, Musical Theater, and Hip Hop. Amanda was also on her high school dance team at Glenbard North High School. During her years in high school, she was a 4-time state qualifier, 2-time state winner, and an All-American. As an All-American, she traveled to London to perform in the London New Year’s Day Parade. Amanda will be attending Northern Illinois University (NIU) in the fall as a Dance Major. She is very passionate about dance and is excited to continue growing as a dancer and performer.
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 with Meraki as a full company cast member for her second season.
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.
NICOLE VARVAREZOS is from Mundelein, Illinois, and a first year dancer on Meraki. Nicole first began dancing at age 6, but really committed her freshman year of high school when she joined the Mundelein Dance Team. At Eastern Illinois University she was a member and choreographer for the EIU Dancers and continues to guest choreograph for their annual show. While working towards her Bachelor’s of Science in psychology and Master of Social Work degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, she also danced with Legend Dance Company, as a member, choreographer, and co-director. Most recently, she danced with Movement Revolution Dance Crew, a hip hop team based out of Chicago. Now, Nicole is a Licensed Social Worker and therapist in an adolescent behavioral health program. She loves to find ways to incorporate her passion for mental health into her love for dance, and is thankful to have found a company that appreciates the art of story telling. She is excited for the opportunity to learn from and dance with such amazing artists and is grateful to share a stage with them.
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.