Faculty & Staff

Ashley Burkland received her early training with the Kehl School of Dance, under Susan Marsden, Shannon Gallagher, and Jo Ann Janus. She was a member of the youth ballet company Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, under the direction of Jo Jean Retrum. With this company, Ashley danced roles in The Nutcracker, Coppélia, La Fille Mal Gardée, and Peter Rabbit Ballet. She also worked with choreographers Frank Chavez, Julie Janus, Tyler Walters, and Greg Begley. Ashley received a scholarship to study dance at the University of Arizona, training with Susan Quinn, Michael Williams, Sam Watson, Jory Hancock, Melissa Lowe, and James Clouser. While there, she performed in numerous Dance Department Showcases and ballets including Paquita, Gershwin Medley, and Carmina Burana. She also danced with the U of A Pomline. Ashley completed her degree at the University of Minnesota, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Dance in 2004.

Ashley has danced professionally with Kanopy Dance Company, Jazzworks Dance Company, Madison Contemporary Vision Dance Company, Continental Ballet Company, and Cities Classical Dance Ensemble. In her professional career she has had the honor of working with choreographers such as Randy Duncan, Sherry Zunker, Ron Tice, Lisa Thurell, and Robert Cleary.

While Ashley loves to perform, her true passion for dance is teaching. She has over 20 years of teaching experience at various studios in Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities area. It is a dream come true for her to own a dance studio and she feels blessed for the success of Ashley Ballet Arts Academy. In ABAA’s nine years of business, Ashley has enjoyed watching the studio grow and the students thrive, and inspiring a love for the ART and JOY of dance in the Twin Cities community. Ashley lives in Plymouth, with her husband Carl & three children, Charlie, Oliver, and Eden.

Liisa Conway (Locker) began her classical ballet training in the Cecchetti method in South-Central Michigan under Susan Buck, Laura McCarthy, Nancy Giles, and the late Marjorie Randazzo. She went on to study with Wendi DuBois, Artistic Director of the Youth Dance Theatre of Michigan (now Ballet Chelsea), gaining a background in Vagonova-based ballet technique and forming a love for contemporary and neoclassical ballet and choreography through Wendi's original works. Liisa danced with the Youth Dance Theatre of Michigan from age 8 through high school graduation, and completed YDT's Pre-Professional Division teacher training program under Wendi's tutelage.

Liisa was a founding member and Principal Dancer with the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet from 2006-2013, teaching at the affiliated Gasper's School of Dance and Performing Arts under the mentorship of Founding Artistic Director Kathy Gasper. With the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet, Liisa performed original choreography by Eddie Gasper (choreographer of Tony-nominated musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling), Kathy Gasper, and Matthew Gasper. With her promotion to Ballet Mistress in 2012, Liisa took over Founding Director and Ballet Mistress Kathy Gasper's duties. Liisa also attended North Dakota State University while dancing and teaching full time, earning her Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics and Physics, with a minor in French.

Liisa moved to Minneapolis and started teaching at ABAA in 2013, and she is thrilled to continue working with the wonderful students here, whose love for the art form, enthusiasm, and gracious attitude make it a true joy. Liisa resides in North Minneapolis with her husband Joe, an architect, their daughter, and their two English Cocker Spaniels.

Renee is a professional dancer, choreographer, and dance educator based in St. Paul and originally from Lincoln, Nebraska. Renee received a B.A. in Dance with Honors from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2012. Renee has performed with Collide Theatrical Dance Company since 2013 and has worked for professional theaters such as The Guthrie (Music Man), The Ordway (In The Heights, A Chorus Line), Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (Beauty And The Beast, Camelot, Grease, Newsies, Holiday Inn, Mamma Mia!) and The Old Log Theater (The Wedding Singer). Renee has presented choreography with nationally touring illusionist Jared Sherlock, Young Artists Initiative, Zenon Dance Zone, Gustavus Adolphus College, Patrick's Cabaret, and at numerous high schools and middle schools in the Twin Cities area. Renee is a teaching artist with the Cowles Center and has taught at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy since 2016. Renee absolutely loves being a part of this nurturing and professional ABAA family!

Bio coming soon!

Heather Haugen is a movement educator, artist and performer based in Minneapolis, MN. She began dancing at 4, and moved into the world of competitive gymnastics where she went on to compete at a national level until she was 12. She began dancing again her senior year of high school, and went on to study Dance and Literature where she received her BFA from Pomona College in 2000. She has performed works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon, Frederick Ashton, Denishawn, Andre Paradis, Nicholas Leichter, John Pennington, Jesse Zarrit and many other talented choreographers. While attending American Dance Festival, she was introduced to Pilates, and went on to earn her certification at Long Beach Dance Conditioning Academy(2001). In 2002, she stumbled into the world of Aerial Arts, found her niche, and began performing locally and internationally while teaching Pilates, GYROTONIC®, GYROKINESIS® and all aerial apparatus. She has performed alongside rock bands, Opera singers, musical theater companies, dance companies, and so many wonderful circus and aerial performers at venues small and large. She holds certifications in Pilates, GYROTONIC® (Level1, Level2, and all specialized equipment) GYROKINESIS® and has developed certified training programs for aerial teachers on the Aerial Silks and Aerial Hammock. Heather owns and operates an at home studio in Eden Prairie, MN where she teaches part time and operates her family’s schedule. She loves mind/body work and credits it to helping raise a happy, healthy family as well as allowing her to feel freedom in her body so that she may continue to play and create!

Eden Heille started dancing at the age of eight at Reign Dance Theater but spent the past seven years at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy. Her favorite style of dance will always be ballet, but she has trained in modern, contemporary, and jazz as well. Eden has spent various summers at the schools of: Boston Ballet, Ballet West, San Francisco Ballet, and Tulsa Ballet where she trained under the direction of Peter Stark, Larissa Ponomarenko, Patrick Armand, Christopher Hird, and Sofiane Sylve. She has had the opportunity to perform roles in ballets such as: Nutcracker, La Fille Mal Gardee, Le Corsaire, Dracula, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Little Humpbacked Horse, Sylvia, Cinderella, Paquita, and Raymonda. Along with those ballets, Eden has also performed as a student with several other companies including performances at the Cowles Center and Minnesota Fringe Festival.

During the 2019-2020 season, Eden danced and trained with Tulsa Ballet as a member of their Trainee program and performed alongside the company in Giselle, Peter and the Wolf, and Dorothy and the Prince of Oz.

Eden taught at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy in 2018 and is so excited to be back again sharing the love of dance with the future generation.

Jayson Douglas is from Paterson, NJ where he began his training at Dance World Academy. He went on to further his training in NYC, NY at Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center, The Ailey School, and at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Jayson has danced for several renowned ballet companies including Company C Contemporary Ballet, named top 25 companies by Dance Magazine, where he was featured in Twyla Tharp’s “Surfer in the Styx.” He has resided as the resident choreographer for Mid-State Ballet and is a master teacher around the world. In April 2014 he toured Paris, France as a principal dancer with Sarah Berges Dance. Jayson relocated to Minnesota to dance with James Sewell Ballet where he had the privilege to tour to Cannes, France to perform in the Cannes International Dance Festival.

Jayson currently resides in the Twin Cities, where he is vibrantly active in the dance community as a performing artist, instructor, and choreographer.

Elayna Leonard started dancing at the age of three. She trained at Fergus Falls School of Dance all the way through high school taking ballet, pointe, tap, jazz and modern classes before attending St. Olaf College. At St. Olaf she earned her B.A. with majors in dance and a course of studies through St. Olaf’s College of Integrated Studies called Body/Mind: Wholeness Through Movement. She also earned a concentration in Women’s Studies. In college she was a member of CompanyDance, performing works by professors, guest artists, and students. Her choreography was also shown throughout her time at school.

Since graduating, Elayna has been teaching dance in the Twin Cities. She also received her instructor’s certificate for Mat Pilates through Balanced Body, and enjoys digging deeper into the cross training Pilates brings to dancers. Elayna is also a certified RMP (Revolutionary Principles of Movement) teacher, using the certificate to help grow her teaching repertoire, and recently received her Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) Teacher's Certification.

Elayna has always wanted to use her love of dance to help others live fuller lives. Teaching dance is the perfect way to do that. Elayna focuses on correct alignment and technique in her classes, as well as building confidence and community with her dancers.

Bio coming soon!

Michelle Ludwig graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of St. Thomas with B.A's in K-12 Education and Spanish, as well as a dance minor from Macalester College. She began her training under the direction of Juli Mickelson and the Dance Endeavors team, studying a variety of styles including jazz, tap, hip hop, modern/contemporary, and classical ballet. Other training includes summer intensives with Joffrey New York, Magnus Midwest Ballet, and Milwaukee Ballet. Michelle began her professional dance career in Minnesota with St. Paul Ballet and Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota where she had the opportunity to perform many soloist and principal roles including: Clara (Clara's Dream), The Can Can Doll (Enchanted Toyshop), 1st Shade Variation (La Bayadere), Beauty in Twin Cities Ballet's original production of Beauty and the Beast, and many more. Michelle has also danced in Denver with Colorado Ballet's Studio Company and learned a variety of repertoire such as: Christopher Wheeldon's A Midsummer's Night Dream, Michael Pink's Dracula, and George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco. This season Michelle will be returning to Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota under the direction of Rick and Denise Vogt. Michelle has over 10 years of teaching experience for all ages and looks forward to bringing her experience and love of dance to ABAA.

Matthew Keefe has served the dance field for over 20 years as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, administrator, production & stage manager, non-profit consultant, board member, and artistic director. He earned an MFA in Dance from the University of Iowa and a non-profit management certificate from Rutgers University. Matthew has danced in the companies of James Sewell Ballet, Louisville Ballet, BalletMet Columbus, Charleston Ballet Theatre and has appeared as a guest artist for dozens of performances across the US and abroad. He has taught at studios, summer programs and universities around the country and has choreographed over 50 ballets for professional and student ensembles. Matthew served on the board of Dance/USA for six years, serving on the Executive Committee and chairing the Trustee Committee. A stage manager for the 2010 and 2016 Youth America Grand Prix, Matthew appears (very briefly) in the documentary, “First Position.” Matthew choreographed and directed the original productions of The Mermaid (2016), The Jungle Book (2017), Cinderella (2018), Chocolate Factory (2019) for Children’s Dance Theatre in Rochester, MN. In 2016 with his wife Brittany, he co-founded DanceCo (DanceCoMN.com) in 2016 as a professional dance company producing original work for young audiences and their families. Matthew currently serves as the dance teacher at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul and is thrilled to be back at ABAA!

Jarod Boltjes is a Minnesota native from Adrian, MN. He obtained his BA Degree in Dance Performance and Art from Saint Mary’s University of Winona, Minnesota. His formal dance training began at the age of 18 in college where he had the opportunity to train and perform internationally with Rose Bruford College in the U.K. and The Gaiety School of Acting in Ireland. During his training he attended The American Dance Festival summer program where he worked with artists Gerri Houlihan, Richard Chen-See, Sara Procopio, and “Lil C’” from So You Think You Can Dance. Upon arrival to the Twin Cities, Jarod has performed with several local companies: Contempo Physical Dance, Twin Cities Ballet, and St. Paul Ballet, and is a current company member with James Sewell Ballet and Collide Theatrical. Outside of dance, you can find him teaching classes as a certified barre and yoga instructor, cross training circus performers at Circus Juventas, and embracing the Minnesota seasons being outside with his two dogs Thomas and Luna.

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