SCHOOL OF NASHVILLE BALLET Leadership & FACULTY
Kate Crews Linsley
Kate Crews Linsley served as the Dance Department Chair at The Waterford School, as well as the Director of the Waterford Dance Academy in Sandy, Utah from 2012-2017. As a dancer, Ms. Linsley was a soloist with Ballet West for 10 seasons, retiring in June of 2010, and a corps de ballet dancer with Kansas City Ballet from 1995-2000. She has also performed with AVA Ballet Theater and SB Dance Company. Ms. Linsley trained at State Ballet of Missouri School under Todd Bolender and The Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Ms. Linsley performed as a guest artist in Salt Lake City with NOW-ID Dance company.
Professionally, Ms. Linsley has been highlighted in works in the following world-renowned dance festivals and tours: Edinburg International Dance Festival in Scotland, Dance Across America in Washington, D.C. and Fall For Dance in New York City. She has been on staff at Creative Arts Academy, Ballet West Academy, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Salt Lake Ballet, AVA Ballet Theater, Utah Regional Ballet and The University of Utah, to name a few.
Beyond her career in dance and dance education, Ms. Linsley was Chairman of the Board for Inbody Outreach after five years as Executive Director for the Utah nonprofit, which supplies qualified yoga instructors to populations in need. She has served on staff in the Utah yoga community at Centered City Yoga, The Yoga Center, University of Utah and Primary Children’s Medical Center. She is certified to teach yoga to veterans through the Yoga Warriors Program and at-risk youth under the Street Yoga training. She is also certified in the Mindful Schools curriculum to implement mindfulness teaching in schools. Ms. Linsley has led mindfulness sessions on trips traveling with Rivers of Recovery.
In her role as Academy Principal at Nashville Ballet, Ms. Linsley oversees the artistic aspects of the School of Nashville Ballet and teaches dancers in the School, Professional Training Division and NB2.
After retiring from a ten-year performance career with Nashville Ballet in 2009, Kate Kastelnik taught and choreographed at Franklin School of Performing Arts, Middle Tennessee State University and Classic Steps in Clarksville, Tenn. before returning to Nashville Ballet as a faculty member in 2015. She received early training with Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where she still frequents as a guest teacher, before pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. Kastelnik studied and performed with Laura Alonso’s Centro Pro Danza in Havana, Cuba in 1996 and joined Nashville Ballet in 1999 after completing her college degree. Throughout her career, Kastelnik was featured as a soloist in many classical and neoclassical roles including notable works by George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton. Additionally, she performed in over two dozen ballets by Nashville Ballet’s Artistic Director Paul Vasterling, many of which Kastelnik was a part of the original choreographic process and cast. As a result, one of her greatest passions is having the privilege to pass on choreography to the next generation preserving it for years to come as a stager and coach for Professional Training Division, NB2 and Nashville’s Nutcracker youth cast performances. Among her favorite memories as a school faculty member, Kastelnik especially enjoyed staging Swan Lake Act II for NB2’s Future Artist Showcase in 2017. She grew up in a family of musicians, so her love of and connection to music serve as a driving force in her career, too. As a certified Pilates instructor, Kastelnik also incorporates this practice into her ballet teaching. She encourages students to learn and grow each day, and enjoys the challenge of finding creative ways to help each student reach their goals and potential.
Nicole Koenig danced professionally with Nashville Ballet for over a decade, performing numerous soloist and principal roles in ballets by Balanchine, Petipa, Choo San Goh, Lynne Taylor-Corbett and original roles by Paul Vasterling. A passionate teacher, Ms. Koenig received her Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies from the prestigious Royal Academy of Dance in London in 2007 and attended the teacher’s seminar of Canada’s National Ballet School in 2008. Emphasizing anatomical correctness, musicality and artistry, Ms. Koenig’s philosophy fosters longevity and artistic success in her students’ careers. She has received an outstanding teacher award from the Tennessee Governor’s School as well as the Outstanding Dance Educator award from the Tennessee Association of Dance. She has coached dancers for Youth American Grand Prix, Boston International Ballet Competition and the Jackson International Ballet Competition. She has also coached principal couples in Nashville Ballet’s productions of Sleeping Beauty and Nashville’s Nutcracker.
Shabaz Ujima first studied dance at Nashville School of the Arts (1995-1996) and Nashville Ballet (1996-1999). He continued his training at New World School of the Arts (1999-2001) in Miami, Fla. and went on to dance in Nashville Ballet’s Second Company (2002-2003) before enjoying a successful career in contemporary dance with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble (2003-2007) and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (2008-2014) under his stage name, Hershel Deondre Horner III. Mr. Ujima has performed works by choreographers such as Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Milton Myers, Matt Maddox, Susanna Linke, Jose Limon and Christopher Huggins. Upon his professional dance retirement in 2014, Mr. Ujima returned to Nashville Ballet. He is currently a full-time faculty member in modern and contemporary dance at School of Nashville Ballet. Mr. Ujima is also a teaching artist for Nashville Ballet’s Community Engagement Program, which introduces the art of dance to 40,000 community members each year through visits to schools, libraries and more. Outside of his work at Nashville Ballet, he teaches mindfulness and yoga to local youth and in the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center.
Children's Program Coordinator
Aven Weikert is a native of Crossville, Tennessee and began her early training at the Cumberland County Playhouse with Eldar Valiev and Lilia Valieva. Mrs. Weikert graduated Magna Cum Laude from Belmont University in May 2013 with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Dance. While at Belmont, she also studied at the School of Nashville Ballet and Vanderbilt University's dance program. She attended the prestigious American Dance Festival at Duke University in 2012, 2015, and 2016. Most recently, Mrs. Weikert was the founding owner and principal instructor for ABC Dance Academy in Crossville. Her studio was named the 2017 Best Dance Studio in Crossville. She strives to make dance class a positive experience for all children leaving them feeling empowered, encouraged, and loved.
Musical Theatre, Jazz
Samantha Blake is a professional actor, singer, and dancer. Samantha has spent the past few years earning her BFA degree in Musical Theatre from Belmont University. Previously, Samantha trained as a ballet dancer at the Atlanta Ballet. She attended summer intensives at the Orlando Ballet, The Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C., Rochester City Ballet’s Draper Center, The Georgia Ballet, and Fiona Fairrie Ballet Intensive. She also studied voice and musical theatre dance styles at Broadway Artists Alliance in NYC.
Samantha currently performs regularly in regional theatre in Nashville, Tennessee. She has had the opportunity to perform with Studio Tenn and partner with TPAC’s Broadway Series and the Nashville Symphony. Samantha has performed on the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space in New York City, TPAC’s Jackson Hall, The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, The Fox Theater ATL, The Alliance Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, Mississippi, the home of the International Ballet Competition, The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, and Place des Arts in Montreal, Canada.
Her credits include: Featured Dancer, Newsies (Chaffins Barn), Dance Captain/Dancer, Beauty and the Beast (Studio Tenn), Cat, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Studio Tenn) Ensemble, SPAMALOT (Studio Tenn), Dance Ensemble, EVITA (Studio Tenn/TPAC), Francisca, West Side Story (Studio Tenn at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center), Tzeitel, Fiddler on the Roof (Belmont University), Dance Captain/Ensemble, On The Town (Belmont University), Dancer, 9 to 5 (Belmont University), Ensemble, Parade (Belmont University), The Nutcracker (Atlanta Ballet), Featured Ensemble, Les Miserables directed by Dave Clemmons (The Performer's Warehouse).
Samantha is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her love and passion for musical theatre and dance at Nashville Ballet, and is sincerely thankful to all who have made this possible.
Cordia quickly advanced to become an apprentice with Nashville Ballet in 2011, and then joined the full company in 2012. Since joining the company, she has performed as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella in Paul Vasterling's Cinderella, Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in Vasterling's Nashville's Nutcracker, Flora in Vasterling's Carmina Burana and was featured in Christopher Bruce's Sergeant Early's Dream. In 2018, Cordia performed in Jiří Kylián’s Sechs Tanze, as a soloist in Christopher Wheeldon's Ghosts and first movement principal in George Balanchine's Western Symphony. She has also performed works by Banning Bouldin, Gina Patterson, Christopher Stuart and Salvatore Aiello.
Before joining NB2, Cordia trained with Maniya Barredo at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre. She also trained with Christina Hampton, Roscoe Sales, Orlando Molina and John Magnus, and continues to take classes with Willy Burmann in New York City on her time off. When she's not dancing, Cordia loves teaching in Nashville Ballet's Academy and Young Men's Scholarship Program. She is studying to earn her bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership from Waldorf University.
Krissy Johnson Dodge has spent the last decade of her life as a professional ballet dancer with the Nashville Ballet. She began dancing 23 years ago and has been practicing yoga for the past eight years. She was first introduced to yoga as a recovery method after sustaining an injury while dancing. After falling in love with the practice and discovering the numerous benefits of yoga, Mrs. Dodge decided to further her dedication by becoming a licensed instructor.
She has studied with Leah Lillios King, Liz Workman Mead and Rachelle Martinez and received her certification from the Kali Yuga Yoga Teacher Training Program. Mrs. Dodge has a 13 year teaching career in classical ballet and contemporary dance with students ranging from the age of three to mature adult.
Julia Eisen started her dance training at The Ballet School of Chapel Hill, N.C. where she studied ballet, modern and jazz. She was also a member of the internationally recognized North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble. Her extensive preparation to become a professional dancer led her to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C. After graduating, Ms. Eisen went on to become a trainee with the Richmond Ballet in Virginia, and was invited to perform with Terpsicorps Theater of Dance in Asheville, North Carolina.
In 2010, Ms. Eisen moved to Nashville to become a member of Nashville Ballet’s second company, NB2. She was promoted to Apprentice in 2012 and became a full Company Member in the spring of 2013. She has performed in memorable works such as Paul Vasterling’s Carmina Burana, Jirí Kylián's Petite Mort, Christopher Bruce's Moonshine, Salvatore Aiello's Afternoon of a Faun and Gina Patterson’s …but the flowers have yet to come.
Eric Harris started teaching dance at a very young age. When he was 15 years old he converted his mother’s garage into a dance studio where he taught clogging to neighborhood children. A year later he took his tape deck and tap shoes on the road to teach clogging in small towns throughout northern Utah and southern Idaho.
Like all cloggers at that time, it was Mr. Harris's goal to travel to Nashville to compete in the National Clogging Championship. His dreams for a national clogging title never came to pass however, due to a newfound love for the art of ballet. After a short period of taking ballet classes for adult beginners, he made the decision to leave home to study ballet at the North Carolina School of The Arts. It was there that Mr. Harris trained under Duncan Noble and Melissa Hayden among other illustrious instructors.
He returned to northern Utah where he finished his training under the legendary dance pioneer Willum Christensen. In an odd twist of fate, Mr. Harris found himself in Nashville, the place of his childhood dreams, where he spent more than a decade performing with Nashville Ballet. During his time in Nashville Ballet, he performed many roles and found his specialty in dramatic character roles including Carabosse the Wicked Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet and, most notably, Uncle Drosselmeyer in Nashville's Nutcracker.
Eventually Mr. Harris returned to his teaching roots and has spent the past three years on the faculty of the School of the Nashville Ballet where he teaches other adult students who have discovered their love for the art of ballet.
Verónica Henson, a native Costa Rican, has 30 years of teaching experience in the school setting as well as in her own dance academy. She taught Pre-K and Kindergarten in private schools in Costa Rica. Simultaneously, she ran her own dance academy where she also trained students in modeling and etiquette. Verónica has multiple degrees including a Bachelors in Marketing and Journalism, a Bachelors in Pre-School Education and a Licentiate Degree in Pre-School Administration.
Verónica started dancing at the age of 4 and, at the age of 17, opened and operated her own dance academy. Mrs. Henson taught all ages and various styles of dance including ballet, modern, flamenco, Latino, belly, etc. Her academy was well known for large productions where she was a “jack of all trades”. Veronica did the choreography, makeup/fantasy makeup, costume design, set design, music/video production as well as perform.
Verónica is married to John Henson and has two children Daniel and Maria.
Julia Mitchell joined Nashville Ballet as a member of the second company, NB2, after training for 14 years with various ballets schools. Her exceptional performance skills earned her a position as an apprentice one year later, and she was promoted to full company member in the spring of 2013.
Mitchell trained with Boston Ballet for 12 years, where she performed several works by Balanchine, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Serenade and Walpurgisnacht. While at Boston Ballet, she also performed in Boston Ballet School’s performance of Bourneville’s Le Conservatoriette and Jorma Elo’s One Concerto. While training at Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell, Mitchell also had the opportunity to perform at The Kennedy Center.
During her time with Nashville Ballet, Mitchell has proven her artistry in a variety of ballets including American Dreams, which was choreographed by fellow company dancer Christopher Stuart for Nashville Ballet’s Emergence, The Sleeping Beauty as Sapphire in Anniversary Fairies, Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling’s Carmina Burana and The Ben Folds Project, Serenade (staged by Vicky Simon) as a Russian Girl, Vasterling's Dracula as Lucy, Vasterling's Nashville's Nutcracker as Dew Drop Fairy and Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián.
Mollie Sansone began her ballet training with Melissa Hale-Coyle, Claudia Folts, Lisa Leone, Rebecca and Daniel Wiley, and Maniya Barredo. She also studied at the Joffrey Midwest Workshop, the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, and Atlanta Ballet.
When Ms. Sansone first joined Nashville Ballet's second company, she performed with the main company in several series. Since joining the main company in 2006, she has performed works by renowned choreographers such as Jirí Kylián, Christopher Bruce, Brian Enos, Salvatore Aiello, Paul Vasterling, Gina Patterson, and Christopher Stuart. Some of Ms. Sansone’s feature roles include Juliet in Vasterling’s Romeo & Juliet, Lady Macbeth in Vasterling’s Macbeth, The Chosen One in Aiello’s Right of Spring, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Vasterling’s Nashville’s Nutcracker.
Ms. Sansone has danced in residency with MOTION Dance Theater for several summers, where she has performed works choreographed by Nick Kepley, Gabrielle Lamb, and James Gregg.
Jon Upleger began training seriously in 1997 under the direction of Petrus Bosman and David Keener at the Virginia School of the Arts. Upon graduation, he received the school's prestigious Dean's Award and then joined Nashville Ballet as an Apprentice in 2000.
During his time at Nashville Ballet, Mr. Upleger has performed roles from such varied repertoire as Romeo in Paul Vasterling's Romeo & Juliet, the Sugar Plum Cavalier in Nashville’s Nutcracker, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake and Albrecht in Giselle. Other leading roles include Salvatore Aiello's Satto, Sarah Slipper's Ploughing the Dark, Vasterling's Awaiting Redemption, the Protagonist in Vasterling’s Firebird, Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite, Vasterling’s Cinderella, Carmina Burana, Peter Pan, and The Ben Folds Project. In addition to performing with Nashville Ballet’s company, Mr. Upleger has also performed with Configurations Dance Theater in New York, Missouri Ballet Theater and Terpsicorps Theater of Dance in Asheville, N.C. Mr. Upleger was appointed Ballet Master at Nashville Ballet in 2018.
Judson Veach trained for 11 years with Columbus Dance Theatre (CDT) where he studied under his father and Artistic Director, Tim Veach, as well as teachers Anne Adair, Kennet Oberly, Roberta Taylor, Scott Brown and other CDT faculty. After completing two years as an apprentice at CDT, he went on to a year of study on full scholarship at the School of American Ballet. While there, he danced the principal role in Atonement by Canadian choreographer Josh Bemish as part of the New York City Ballet's Choreographic Workshop.
Mr. Veach attended The Julliard School Summer Dance Intensive in 2007. In the summer of 2008 he attended the Chautauqua Summer Dance Institute where he was awarded the Chautauqua Dance Circle Scholarship. In 2009 he received a full scholarship to the summer and year round programs at the School of American Ballet studying under Peter Martins, Jock Soto, Andrej Kramarevsky, Sean Lavery, Johnathan Stafford and Peter Frame.
After attending the summer intensive program at Nashville Ballet in 2010, he joined the company as an apprentice the same year. He was promoted to full company member in 2011 and danced professionally with Nashville Ballet until his retirement in 2018. His credits at Nashville Ballet included dancing Sugar Plum Cavalier and Snow king in Paul Vasterling’s Nashville’s Nutcracker, Dracula in Vasterling’s Dracula, Mercutio in Vasterling’s Romeo & Juliet, Dark Angel in George Balanchine’s Serenade, and Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, as well as appearing as a soloist in the world premiere of Vasterling’s The Ben Folds Project. Mr. Veach also performed in works choreographed by Christopher Bruce, Gina Patterson, Brian Enos and Christopher Stuart.
Gerald Watson began his formal dance training at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School and the Academy of Ballet Arts in St. Petersburg, Fla. Upon graduating high school, he continued his studies at the Boston Conservatory and graduated in 2012 with a BFA in Contemporary Dance. While at the Conservatory, Mr. Watson performed works by Jose Limon, Ohad Naharin, David Lichine, Kathy Posin, Parren Ballard, and Danielle Agami. He has also been a guest artist with Commonwealth Ballet Company, BalletRox Urban Nutcracker, and The Diva Day Foundation, as well as creating his own works for the Juventas Music Group and Berklee College of Music.
Mr. Watson also attended multiple summer programs on scholarship, including Boston Conservatory Summer Dance, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, BalletMet Columbus, Nashville Ballet, Bates Dance Festival, and the Academy of Ballet Arts.
In 2012, Mr. Watson joined Nashville Ballet’s second company, NB2, and has performed works by Paul Vasterling, Banning Bouldin, Christopher Stuart and Bat Abbit. Mr. Watson became a Nashville Ballet Apprentice in 2014 and was promoted to Company Member in 2016. He is currently on faculty with School of Nashville Ballet's Children's Program.