Ashley Ballet Arts Academy - Meet the Faculty - Golden Valley, MN


Ashley Burkland - Owner/Director/Instructor
A native of Prairie du Sac, WI, Ashley has been dancing since she could walk.  Her early training was 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 near six 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. Ms. Burkland lives in Plymouth, MN with her husband Carl and two sons, Charlie (3) & Oliver (1).

Jacqueline McDaniel - Assistant Artistic Director and Instructor

Jacqueline began her training in Des Moines, IA, under the direction of Konstantin and Irina Uralsky. While attending a summer intensive at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., she was invited to attend the pre-professional program under Ludmila Morkovina, a graduate and professor of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.  Upon graduation, Jacqueline danced with Omaha Theater Ballet and as a guest performer for Central Dance Theater and Iowa Dance Theater. Jacqueline then put her dancing career on hold to attend college. She relocated to Chicago where she received a degree in Marketing with an Art minor from Roosevelt University. While attending college, Jacqueline was on faculty at several dance studios, including Salt Creek Ballet and the Beverly Arts Center.  After graduation she returned to dancing and has since danced with several companies: Schaumburg Dance Ensemble, Ballet of Maryland, Saint Paul City Ballet, Metropolitan Ballet and Cities Classical Dance Ensemble. She enjoys teaching because it is an opportunity to encourage individual growth artistically and personally.

Julie Marie Muskat - Mind/Body Program Director, Assistant Rehearsal Director, Resident Choreographer, and Instructor

Julie Marie Muskat has moved 15 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 United States, Israel, and Italy, and her choreography has been set and performed nationally and internationally. She is currently based in Minnesota, dancing with Threads Dance Project, Dance and Other Behaviors, Vox Medusa, and as a freelance solo artist.  She has danced with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel, Compagnia AiEP in Italy, Revolution Dance Theatre (OH), 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.  In 2014, she was the guest choreographer for the Summit Invitational program (MN), and in 2015 she was selected by national panel to be a guest choreographer for Threads Dance Project (MN).  She was a master teacher and performer at the 2016 Cathedral Dance Festival (MN), and was invited as a gala soloist and guest faculty for the 2016 and 2017 Southern Vermont Dance Festivals.

Lauren Baker - Instructor

Lauren Baker is from St. Louis Park, MN and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Minnesota. In 2009, she performed José Limón’s masterwork Missa Brevis with the Limón Dance Company at the Northrop Theater. Lauren is currently a company member with Black Label Movement and Shapiro & Smith Dance, and with Zenon Dance Company. As a teacher and choreographer, Lauren has enjoyed sharing her expertise with students throughout the Midwest for 8 years. Her choreography has won several judges' choice awards, most notably a "Best Choreography" award in 2017. In addition to her professional dance career, Lauren is a talented professional portrait and wedding photographer ( Lauren is excited to join the ABAA family!

Liisa Conway - Instructor

Liisa began her classical ballet training in the Cecchetti method in South-Central Michigan under 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 Vaganova-based ballet technique and forming a love for contemporary ballet and choreography in Wendi's original works. Liisa danced with YDT from age 8 until high school graduation, and completed YDT’s Pre-Professional Division teacher training program under Wendi’s tutelage. While in middle and high school, Liisa also attended numerous summer programs (The Rock School, BalletMet Columbus, Cecchetti Council of America, The Kansas City Ballet School). She was a founding member and Principal Dancer with the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet, teaching at the affiliated Gasper’s School of Dance and Performing Arts, and took over Founding Director and Ballet Mistress Kathy Gasper’s duties with her promotion to Ballet Mistress in 2012. Liisa earned her Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics and Physics at North Dakota State University while dancing and teaching full-time, and also counts costuming among her diverse interests. Liisa is thrilled to continue teaching and creating choreography on the wonderful students at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy, whose love for the art form, enthusiasm, and gracious attitude make working with them a true joy.

Renee Guittar - Instructor

Renee Guittar is a professional dancer, choreographer, and dance educator based in Minneapolis 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 (The Music Man), The Ordway (A Chorus Line), and The Old Log Theater (The Wedding Singer). Renee has worked as a producer, choreographer, and performer with nationally touring illusionist Jared Sherlock. Renee has presented choreography with Young Artists Initiative, the Zenon Dance Zone, North St. Paul High School, Highland Park Senior High School, Ramsey Middle School and at venues such as Patrick's Cabaret, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Theatre in the Round, and The Ritz Theater. Renee teaches at numerous dance schools including Zenon Dance School and is so excited and thankful to join ABAA!

Brittany Fridenstine Keefe - Instructor

Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe was most recently a company member with the James Sewell Ballet, and is now a freelance dancer and teacher in the Twin Cities. As a teacher she served as an adjunct faculty professor at Northern Illinois University and as the school coordinator of the Rockford Dance Company. Brittany has danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet Memphis, Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Terpsicorps Dance Theater, Terra Firma Dance Company, Chamber Dance Project, at the National Choreographers' Initiative, and with Morphoses. 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 proud wife of Matthew Keefe, with whom she now spends many sleepless nights raising their daughter, Olive.

Matthew Keefe - Instructor

Matthew Keefe has served the dance field in diverse capacities for over 20 years, building a very unique skill set; a dancer, teacher, choreographer, administrator, company manager, production stage manager, non-profit consultant, board member, and artistic director. In addition to 20 years of professional performing experience, he holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Iowa, a certificate in nonprofit management from Rutgers University’s Center for Continuing Professional Development and a lot of roll-up-your-sleeves experience.

In July 2014, Matthew returned with his wife and daughter to Minneapolis, MN from Rockford, IL where he served for two and a half years as the Artistic and School Director of Rockford Dance Company. As the principal choreographer for RDC, Matthew produced over 10 innovative new ballets with the semi-professional company, including interpretations of Cinderella, Rite of Spring, Carnival of the Animals, Appalachian Spring and the very successful original productions for children, Wolf Tales and Which Witch is Which?

As a dancer, Matthew performed nationally and internationally, dancing with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lynda Martha Dance Company, Fort Wayne Ballet, Charleston Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet II, Louisville Ballet, Ohio Ballet, BalletMet Columbus, the move, Minnesota Opera, the James Sewell Ballet, as well as numerous appearances as a guest artist.

Matthew began his dance training at age nineteen while a student at the University of New Mexico and he continued in Chicago and New York.  He counts among his mentors many notable ballet modern and contemporary teachers and choreographers in the dance world, including Tim Wengerd, Larry Long, David Howard, Susan Toumine, Bonnie Mathis, Francoise Martinet, Alonzo King and Donald Byrd.

An accomplished teacher of ballet, modern, partnering, composition, and jazz techniques, a creator of numerous community outreach projects, Matthew has served on the faculty of the University of Iowa Dance Department, The University of Louisville Dance Academy, the Louisville Ballet Academy, Minnetonka Dance Theater, the Princeton Ballet School, the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and Northern Illinois University. 

On the administrative side of the dance world, Matthew served American Repertory Ballet as a Company Manager, Production Stage Manager and Operations Manager, the last two years alongside duties as a Choreographer and Ballet Master. Prior to that he worked for the George Street Playhouse as a Development Associate in charge of event planning. Matthew served for six years terms on the Board of Trustees of Dance/USA in 2012. He served his last two years as a Vice Chair and Officer, chairing the Trustee Committee and serving on the Executive Committee. He continues to serve on the Trustee Committee.  


Jennifer Pray - Instructor

Jennifer is a Twin Cities based dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Her choreography has been featured regionally at festivals, galleries and museums, and she has taught and performed across the United States, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean. Jennifer has performed as a company member with Ballet Minnesota, Threads Dance Project, and Kinetic Evolutions, and as a professional guest artist with James Sewell Ballet, Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble, and Iowa Dance Theater. Principal roles include Andrew Rist's Cinderella and The Rite of Spring, Swanhilda in Coppélia, Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Jennifer has experience as a company member with Threads Dance Project, directed by Karen Charles, and is currently an independent choreographer.


Guest Faculty

Meghan McDermott - Guest Faculty

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.

Jennifer Mack - Guest Instructor and Substitute

Jennifer originally trained at Rochester Ballet School and Janet Lang Dance Studio of Rochester, MN and spent summers at: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Alvin Ailey, the Cunningham School, Steps and Broadway Dance Center. Her professional performing career includes: 6 seasons with Continental Ballet and 4 seasons with St. Paul City Ballet and Alternative Motion Project in several notable Principal and Soloist roles. This also includes work as a guest artist with: Cities Classical Dance Ensemble, Dance & Other Behaviors, Debra Jinza-Thayer's Movement Architecture, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, James Sewell Ballet, Jagged Edges Ensemble, Kari Jensen's Moving Arts Ensemble, Kim Robbards Dance Company, Offleash Area, Rainy Day Cabaret, Ray Terrill & Dancers, Rosy Simas Dance Project, Spandrel, Szeged National Ballet, Vox Medusa Dance Company and other numerous independent choreographers including commercial work for Aveda, Best Buy, Cost Cutters, and Sherwin Williams Paint. Her choreography has been performed in Hungary, MN, NYC, and WI and normally includes live accompaniment/ collaboration with local bands, musicians & composers. Such works were selected for 'Harvest Contemporary Dance Festival' in Chicago in 2013,  several 'Rhythmically Speaking' and 'Renovate' Choreographer's Evenings in Minneapolis, MN and awarded a Cultural Arts Grant through Eau Claire, WI in 2012, which she used to co-produce 'Movement Arts Day 2012' with fellow choreographer, Cheri Dostal. Jennifer graduated Magma Cum Laude with a B.A. in Dance Performance and a B.S. in Arts Management & International Business from UW-Stevens Point. She is currently a member of Christopher Watson Dance Company, Curio Dance and continues working as a freelance/independent dancer. She is also still an active teacher and master class instructor to children, teenagers and adults in all forms of dance all over the state and country. She also has had the pleasure of serving as a judge for Midwest Starz Dance Competition. She resides in North Minneapolis, MN with life partner, Matt Marka and their newest addition, Zuzu, who is inspiring new work and giving her more insight into the younger mover!
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