Faculty & Staff

Artistic and Administrative Staff

Ashley Burkland

Owner,
Director,
Instructor

ashley@ashleyballetarts.com

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 seven 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.

Julie Marie Muskat

Mind/Body Program Director,
Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble Director,
Instructor

julie@ashleyballetarts.com

Julie Marie Muskat has moved 16 times, but is originally from San Antonio, TX.  She is a summa cum laude graduate of the inaugural class of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet BFA Program in San Francisco, CA, and of Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Alongside dance, Julie Marie is a published writer and a violinist.  She has taught dance for all ages across the US, Israel, and Italy, and her choreography has been set and performed nationally and internationally. She currently dances with Threads Dance Project, Vox Medusa, faux pas (a collaborative duo with Betsy Schaefer Roob), and as a freelance solo artist.  She has danced with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (Israel), Compagnia AiEP (Italy), Revolution Dance Theatre (OH), Dance and Other Behaviors (MN), and as a guest for James Sewell Ballet (MN), Cities Classical Dance Ensemble (MN), St. Paul Ballet (MN), Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble (MN), and Central California Ballet.  She is certified in Pilates and PBT, and is extremely passionate about the work she does at ABAA through dance instruction, BAYE, and the Mind/Body Program.

Pat Wertwijn

Office Manager,
Costumes Administrator

admin@ashleyballetarts.com

Pat grew up in Madelia, Minnesota and graduated from Southwest State University with a degree in Speech Communications: Radio and Television. She interned with WCCO TV and was a reporter and weekend anchor with KEYC TV in Mankato, Minnesota.

After leaving the television industry, Pat spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry as a specialty sales representative for Parke-Davis and GlaxoSmithKiline. She called on hospitals, clinics and pharmacies selling products for several disease states and launched several first-in-class treatments for patients. During this time, Pat also sat on the board for the Epilepsy Student Program with the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation and was a School Board Member for Our Lady of Grace School in Edina.

Pat is married to Marc and they have three children: Caitlin (22), Brooke (19), Tommy (17), and one fluffy dog, Pumpkin (11). After she left the pharmaceutical industry, she stayed home with her kids for a few years coordinating and volunteering for their activities.

Two years ago, Pat started her own business repurposing and repainting vintage furniture. She would hunt for furniture at estate sales, thrift stores, garage sales and curbs with “free” signs to discover great pieces that needed a make-over. She sold these items along with some newly created pieces at Mama’s Happy Store in St. Louis Park.

When Brooke started dancing, Pat became an official “dance mom.” She volunteered for all of ABAA’s productions when Brooke started her training here.

Liisa Conway

Website Administrator,
Instructor

liisa@ashleyballetarts.com

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 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. 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, and earned her Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics and Physics, with a minor in French, in 2010.

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

Mia Miller

Office Staff,
Costumes Administrator

mia@ashleyballetarts.com

Mia is a creative/collaborative artist, with focuses in performance, stage management, costume, and integrative body/mind studies. Mia was raised in Fargo, ND, and has spent the last several years living in Boston, MA. In Fargo, Mia trained under Miss Liisa Conway at Gasper’s School of Dance and Performing Arts. Mia appeared on stage with FM Ballet Company in productions such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Nutcracker, and Alice in Wonderland. Mia served as the wardrobe/costume head for Act Up Theatre Company’s Next to Normal and American Idiot.

Mia received a BFA in Acting and minor in dance from Emerson College in Boston, MA. On stage, Mia appeared as Olivia in Twelfth Night, which earned her an EVVY Award for Best Supporting Female Actor. She workshopped and performed in new plays such as Brazen and Tiny Houses. While in Boston, Mia branched off from her formal dance training. She regularly attended Boston Contact Improvisation jams, practiced yoga, and choreographed with beHeard.world. She worked as a professional art model for MassArt, Boston University, and many other private studios.

30 days after receiving her diploma, Mia began to ride her bicycle across the country. Biking about 3,000 miles in 10 weeks, her journey took her from Martha’s Vineyard, MA, to Minneapolis, MN, with many scenic detours along the way. Mia moved to Minneapolis with only what she could carry on her bike and an excitement to dive into the community. Mia is currently studying at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in their 230-hour yoga teacher training and hopes to bring yoga and its ethical practices to folks of all walks of life. She is excited to be joining the driven and talented team at ABAA.

Instructors

Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe

Instructor

brittany@ashleyballetarts.com

Brittany Keefe is a freelance dancer and teacher in the Twin Cities. As a teacher she served as an adjunct faculty professor at Northern Illinois University, as the school coordinator of the Rockford Dance Company, and as a master teacher at studios across the country. Brittany has danced with Collide Theatrical Dance Company, James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Dance Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet Memphis, American Repertory Ballet, Terpsicorps Dance Theater, Terra Firma Dance Company, Chamber Dance Project, at the National Choreographers' Initiative, with Morphoses and with numerous independent choreographers. She performed in a solo improvisation show in Germany and Italy under the direction of Luca Veggetti, and was selected to be an American ambassador at the international dance festival in Cali, Columbia. Brittany is certified in the GYROTONIC® exercise system and has served as the chair of the dancer council for Dance/USA. Brittany is the co-Artistic Director of DanceCo, a dance theater company that creates original narratives for young audiences and their families.

Renee Guittar

Instructor

renee@ashleyballetarts.com

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!

Matthew Keefe

Instructor

matthew@ashleyballetarts.com

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!

Michelle Ludwig

Instructor

michelle@ashleyballetarts.com

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 dancing and working as the Outreach Manager for Ballet Co.Laboratory under the direction of Zoé Emile Henrot. Michelle has over 10 years of teaching experience for all ages and looks forward to bringing her experience and love of dance to Ashley Ballet Arts.

Jennifer Pray

Instructor

jenniferp@ashleyballetarts.com

Originally from central Iowa, Jennifer Pray is a 2012 Summa Cum Laude graduate from the University of Iowa, where she earned a BA in Dance & International Studies. Since moving to the Twin Cities, Jenn has had the honor to work with many choreographers and companies, including Threads Dance Project, STRONGmovement, Live Action Set, Ballet Minnesota, and Penny Freeh. She is currently a performer with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, where she takes her passions for performing and teaching on tour throughout the US. As a choreographer, she has presented her work in festivals and galleries around the Midwest, as well as in Munich and Amsterdam. Jenn has been teaching at ABAA since 2013 and loves encouraging her students to connect to their bodies and move expressively. jenniferpray.com.

Kyle Gerhart Klaas

Pilates Instructor, Substitute

kyle@ashleyballetarts.com

Kyle Gerhart Klaas grew up in a small town in northeastern Nebraska. She started dancing at the age of 6 at a small studio in a nearby town where she studied tap, jazz, ballet and lyrical dance. Kyle graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a degree in education with a focus on dance. She has been teaching for 20 years.

Kyle studied in New York City at the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s summer intensive under Banu Ogden and at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s summer intensive under Ann Marie Forsythe. She has also danced locally for Kairos Dance Theatre and taken many local summer intensives. She has choreographed many pieces at dance studios,  for YAGP, for professional performances and in college.

She has trained dancers who have gone on to dance professionally & in college with companies in Chicago, New York City and Missouri.

Kyle completed her comprehensive Balanced Body Pilates certification in 2014. She loves helping dancers get stronger and find better awareness within their bodies to improve their dancing. She is very excited to be at Ashley Ballet Arts sharing her passion for dance.

Guest Faculty and Substitutes

Meghan McDermott

Guest Choreographer,
Guest Instructor

Meghan began her dance training in Madison, WI. She decided to further her dance education by attending Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2001, she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in dance, with an emphasis in jazz dance. After college Meghan was awarded a scholarship to study at the Giordano Dance Center, from there she became company member with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. She also had the honor of being on the cover of the August 2007 issue of Dance Magazine. Meghan completed her final season with GJDC in 2009. She now teaches dance at North Shore School of Dance, where she is the head of the jazz department and director of the North Shore Repertory Dance Ensemble. She also works as a Master Teacher and Guest Choreographer in the Chicago area and across the United States.

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