Staff & Faculty
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 eleven 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 now lives in the Mankato area, with her husband Carl and their three children, Charlie, Oliver, and Eden.
Pat grew up in Madelia, Minnesota and graduated from Southwest State University with a degree in Speech Communications: Radio and Television. She worked as a reported and weekend anchor at a CBS affiliate news station in southern Minnesota.
After leaving the television industry, Pat spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry as a specialty sales representative for Parke-Davis and GlaxoSmithKiline. 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, Brooke, and Tommy.
After she left the pharmaceutical industry, she stayed home with her kids for a few years coordinating and volunteering for their activities. She started her own business repurposing, repainting and selling vintage furniture. When Brooke graduated from Ashley Ballet Arts Academy, Pat took on the role of administrator for the studio. She is looking forward to being back at the studio and assisting dancers and their families.
Instructor, BAYE Director
Brittany Brown, from Baltimore, Maryland recently completed her second season with Giordano Dance Chicago as a member of Giordano II. While with the organization she had the opportunity to perform works by Joshua Blake Carter, Marinda Davis, Tony Powell, Jon Lehrer, and Ray Leeper. She also enjoyed choreographing in the Giordano Choreography project and being a part of the Giordano’s Jazz Dance/Science and Health program.” In 2020-2021 she was a Movement Artist with SoundXpressed Dance Company where she performed works by Amanda Standard. In 2019 she graduated from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, with a BFA in Contemporary Dance Performance with an emphasis in Composition. While at the Conservatory, she choreographed works on fellow students for multiple showcases. Along with performing works by Margo Sappington, Roderick George, Gregory Dawson, Ron Brown, and Tommie Waheed Evans. Brittany was recently accepted into Jacksonville University’s MFA in Choreography program where she will continue to grow her choreographic voice. In addition, she is certified through the advance level for Nan Giordano Certification Program and holds a Royal Academy of Dance teaching certification for levels primary through intermediate.
Instructor, BAYE Director
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!
Instructor, Assistant Nutcracker Director
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, José Limón, 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!
Instructor, Assistant Nutcracker Director
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 RPM Dance (Revolutionary Principles of Movement) teacher, using the certificate to help grow her teaching repertoire.
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.
Instructor, BAYE Director
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 enjoys bringing her experience and love of dance to ABAA.
Connor Simone is a Twin Cities dancer, performing artist, and instructor. He received training at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, the TU Dance School, and the University of Minnesota. Connor has previously danced with TU Dance and is a current company dancer with James Sewell Ballet. He has performed works by artists such as Marcus Willis, Kjara Wurst, Gregory Dolbashian, Berit Ahlgren, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, Will Couture, Carl Flink, Sidra Bell, Maurya Kerr, and Michael Walters among others. Alongside performing, Connor has worked for several arts organizations across the Twin Cities as a ballet and modern instructor.
Originally from Minnesota, Brooke Wertwijn trained at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy
directed by Ashley Burkland. She graduated from the University of Utah School of
Dance with a B.F.A. in Ballet, Business Minor, and Ballet Studio Teaching Certificate.
While a Trainee at Ballet Idaho, she performed in works by Peter Anastos, George
Balanchine, FLOCK, Nicole Haskins, Anne Mueller, Bruce Wells, and Quinn Wharton.
Brooke also danced with SALT Contemporary Dance’s Pre-Professional Training
Company directed by Courtney Mazeika. She has performed internationally in the
Czech Republic, South Korea, and Italy. Her choreography has been presented at
numerous festivals in Minnesota and Utah. Brooke is an ABT® Certified Teacher, who
has successfully completed the ABT® Teacher Training Intensive in Pre-Primary
through Level 3 of the ABT® National Training Curriculum. She has taught at schools in
Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, and California. This is her first season as a Company Artist with
San Jose Dance Theatre.
Summer Faculty & Front Desk Staff
Olivia Woebke is a dancer, choreographer, and educator originally from Bloomington, MN. She is currently pursuing a BS in Dance and a BA in Anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. She has performed and toured in Michigan with Wayne State’s CompanyOne, as well as in Minnesota with the Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble and Contemporary Collective. She is also currently acting as the artistic director of Company SIX, a collective she founded with Stormy Davis in 2022. Her first choreographic work for the company was recently awarded at the Cecchetti Council of America’s national competition, and will be performed in the Detroit Institute of Art as part of the Detroit Dance City Festival in September 2023. Olivia is so excited to be back at ABAA, and to share her love of dance with all of her students!
Guest Teacher & Performer
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.
Guest Teacher & Choreographer
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 first taught at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy in 2018 and is excited to be back sharing the love of dance with the future generation.
Guest Teacher & Choreographer
Regina Peluso is a The Boston Conservatory of Music with a BFA in Musical Theater & Dance, and founding Artistic Director of Collide Theatrical Dance Company. Her performance credits include Off-Broadway, numerous regional theater productions, and a series regular role on an Emmy-Award winning children's television program.
Peluso has created over 25 original dance theater productions for Collide. Choreography favorites include Skol!, Romeo & Juliet (Cowles Center 2020), Dance 'Til You Drop (co-production with The History Theater), The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, and Dracula. Other regional theater include The Guthrie Theater (A Christmas Carol 2018–2023), The History Theater, and Stages Theater Co, among others. Industrial choreography includes Mall of America, music videos, art gallery commissions among others. Peluso is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Union, certified Giordano Jazz Instructor, and regional representative for the Parents Artist Advocacy League.
Merie Elise Silkey
Front Desk Staff
Merie Elise grew up here in the Twin Cities. She did her undergrad at Gustavus Adolphus College and her graduate work at The University of St. Thomas. Merie Elise currently teaches 5th grade in Shakopee. She lives in Prior Lake with her husband Jeff, and her 3 daughters, Ella, Ava and Camille. Merie Elise and her family have been with ABAA since it’s inaugural year. She loves interacting with students and families here at the studio. Her favorite season is Nutcracker season! She can frequently be found in the car shuttling her children to all of their activities, but would love to connect with you whenever she is at ABAA!
Front Desk Staff
Mckenna is a recent graduate of Edina High School (‘23). She is an inaugural dancer of Ashley Ballet, having danced for its first ten years. She further trained with Ashley Ballet’s Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble. She performed in many roles of Ashley Ballet’s Nutcracker with her last role as the Sugar Plum Fairy in 2021. With her return, she will perform as Rose, Snowflake, and the Arabian. Mckenna began summer training at 13 by attending Boston Ballet (scholarship 2020) for two summers. She then switched coasts to train with the San Francisco Ballet School for an additional two summers. It was during this first summer, she received a full scholarship to train year-round at SFBS with Patrick Armand and Larissa Pomonoerenko for her junior and senior years. Mckenna was also selected as a SFBS Ambassador for the program due to her work ethic and representation of the program. Since the age of 15, Mckenna has been living in SF, attending online college classes, and training with students from across the world. Unfortunately an ankle injury forced Mckenna home to have surgery this spring. She is extremely thankful to return to her home studio of Ashely Ballet to continue healing, training, and rediscovering her passion for dance. Her plan is to regain her strength and audition for professional programs for next year. Until then, she is excited to return to the magic of the Nutcracker!