Cindy grew up dancing from a young age, studying all styles of dance, and has never stopped. She has been teaching dance for over 45 years to all ages and abilities, and is now seeing the second generation of her dance students. She has a fondness for working with young dancers, and an educational background in Early Childhood Development. Cindy founded Dance Connection in 1987, and it has grown to become one of the most popular dance schools on the Peninsula. One of the rewards of teaching dance is the relationships that develop over the years with the DC dancers and families. Cindy credits the outstanding faculty here at Dance Connection for the quality training every dancer receives. She and her husband, Mark have three grown children and four grandchildren with one more on the way!
Peter HersheyBallet Artistic Director, Ballet Instructor
Peter Hershey received his early training at the Seiskaya Ballet Academy in St. James, New York. He went on to attend both the School of American Ballet and The Juilliard School, also studying under New York-based teachers Francis Patrelle and Johan Renvall.
As a member of Ballet San Jose, Peter was best known for dancing the role of Johnny in Dennis Nahat’s Blue Suede Shoes. His repertoire also included principal roles in Rodeo and The Nutcracker, along with roles in works by George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Jessica Lang, Donald McKayle, Dennis Nahat, Twyla Tharp, and Stanton Welch. Additionally, as a member of Menlowe Ballet and Company C Contemporary Ballet, Peter was featured in works by Charles Anderson, Val Caniparoli, Maurice Causey, Gregory Dawson, Susan Jaffe, Michael Lowe, Charles Moulton, and Yuri Zhukov.
Peter has been teaching ballet in the Bay Area for over twenty years, and brings a passion for dance to his role as Ballet Director. He has taught for various schools and companies including Ballet San Jose School, Company C, Menlo Park Academy of Dance, Santa Clara Ballet, and Western Ballet, and is on the faculty of the Summer Dance Lab at Whitman College. As a teacher, Peter is regarded for his attention to speed and movement dynamics, along with a unique musical sensibility.
Melissa TannusGuest Tap Choreographer and Instructor
Cited as one of “Tap’s Leading Ladies” by Dance Spirit Magazine, Melissa Tannús is a world renowned professional tap dancer, teacher and choreographer. Born in Brazil, Melissa trained at Studio Uai Q Dança and toured the country as a member of Christiane Matallo’s tap company and the band O Teatro Mágico. Her talent and dedication were quickly noticed by acclaimed teachers who awarded her with scholarships to train in the United States. Eventually, she decided to move to Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a professional tap dancer. Throughout her career, Melissa was lucky enough to integrate world-renowned tap companies such as Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies, Tapestry Dance Company, Sarah Reich’s Tap Music Project, Melinda Sullivan Dance Project, Co.MMIT and Rhythmic Tap Co. Other performance credits include Universal Studios Hollywood, US Open, Democratic National Convention, Staples Center and more.
Melissa’s TV credits include The Late Late Show, America’s Got Talent, So You Think
You Can Dance, Good Day LA and several other local news shows. She was also featured in
articles on the New York Times, LA Times, DanceSpirit Magazine, Dance Magazine and many
other renowned blogs. Furthermore, Melissa was seen on Visa Commercial “What’s Stopping
You From Achieving Your Goals”.
One of her greatest passions is to share her love for tap dance, and she has taught in tap
festivals and studios all around the world including cities like: Sydney, London, Norwich, Santiago, Portland, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and more. She has also choreographed for companies such as Footnotes Tap Ensemble, Reverb Tap Company and Sole Talk Youth. Lastly, Melissa’s credits also includes directing adult dance companies like Tapestry Too and her own company, Tap Com Mel. Melissa continues to travel the world tap dancing and aims to inspire young dancers to go after their dreams, like she did.
Francis TyrellHip Hop Artistic Director, Hip Hop Instructor
As the former SF Bay Area Director and Choreographer of dance companies Academy of Villains and Young Skull Club, Francis was integral in pioneering their shows at Universal Studios Orlando and California’s Great America. His television experience includes Showtime at the Apollo (FOX, contestant), America’s Got Talent (NBC, contestant), and Fake-Off (TruTv, Season 2 champion). He was also an Assistant Choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance (FOX) and has choreographed and performed in television specials featured on NBC Bay Area and CBS Bay Area. Internationally, Francis has traveled the world to teach in countries including Russia, China, Philippines, Costa Rica and more. Locally, Francis is a director and choreographer for Hip Hop Nutcracker (Fox Theater) and is deeply involved in the SF Bay Area community, donating his time and talent to support various causes from breast cancer to food insecurity to orphan and vulnerable children in Mozambique.
Kina SiuJazz, Contemporary, Hip Hop
Kina Siu has been training in all styles of dance and has danced competitively for about 15 years. She competed on seasons 1 and 3 on NBC’s World of Dance with her team, and were featured performers at WOD events. Kina went on to receive two top 10 Radix National Core Performer titles. With her training in different dance styles, Kina has always had a passion for choreographing and began teaching a couple years ago. She enjoys creating contemporary and hip hop pieces or exploring a fusion of both. She pursues her dance endeavors by traveling to LA for freelance work. Kina is excited to work with the Dance Connection faculty and dancers!
Leo MorimuneContemporary, Jazz, Funk Jazz, Hip Hop
Leo Morimune began his extensive training receiving full scholarship to San Francisco Ballet for 8 years. Graduated from the School of the Arts San Francisco, where he trained in Modern, Afro Haitian and Choreography. His professional dance career started at age 10 and transitioned to becoming a industry dancer/choreographer after moving to LA.
He has danced/ choreographed for artists such as Paula Abdul, 50 cent, Carlos Santana, Nick Jonas, Bjork to name a few. Danced with Company’s such as SanFrancisco Ballet & Opera, TV shows such as American idol, brands like Gucci & Nike. He also balanced his career by pursuing stage performance by performing on Off broadway shows (The Children)and most recently Lincoln Center NYC (Pearl the Show).
Some of Leo’s teaching credits include being a faculty at LA’s dance centers such as EDGE Performing Arts Center and Debbie Reynolds. While polishing pre professional dancers for the audition phase, he completed over 10 years of tour on numerous convention circuits (LADM, WCDE, HW Vibe, Dance jamz), guest taught at universities such as LMU, Princeton, and Long Beach University. In the past decade, Leo has been invited to teach/direct internationally in Japan, Costa Rica, Canada, and Mexico.
Jennifer Kulz-SmithBallet, Pointe, Variations
Jennifer received her ballet training in San Francisco with the Academy of Ballet, Dancers' Stage, Lanova Academy, City Ballet School and Boston Ballet School. She has performed with various Bay Area companies including the Peninsula Ballet Theater, San Francisco Dance Theater, and the Santa Clara Ballet. She performed in the San Francisco production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's ``The Phantom of the Opera`` for 4 1/2 years. Jennifer has two beautiful daughters, and has enjoyed teaching and watching students grow at Dance Connection since 2001.
Frankie MendozaHip Hop, Boys, Musical Theater
A Southern California native, Frankie Mendoza was born in the small town of Brawley; where he quickly found a passion for the art of movement at a young age through freestyle. Though from a very small dance community, Mendoza set out to carve his path as an artist and individual in order to build an understanding as movement enthusiast on his own. With his acceptance to San José State University in the Fall of 2010, he began his college experience in the Bay Area, originally playing football. With the right guidance, he began his dance training at the age of eighteen. Later that year, He joined an adult competition team in the Bay Area called Hungrybumz; where he started to broaden his vocabulary by performing at local/international competitions such as World of Dance: Bay Area. During his years at SJSU, he studied under educators such as Fred Matthews, Jill Yager, Heather Cooper and Keith Pinto. Mendoza would go on to graduate from the Dance Program with a Bachelor of Arts in 2015. Upon graduation, he began his mentorship with Keith Pinto as a Teacher’s Assistant in the Hip Hop courses at SJSU. This has kept him currently involved with the Dance Program as a guest choreographer and educator in various classes over the last couple years. The City Lights production of “In The Heights” marks his 2nd debut to the musical theatre stage as a choreographer. Mendoza was last seen on stage April 2018 for the SJSU production of “In The Heights” as a choreographer and cast member, Graffiti Pete. He enjoys using concepts and techniques from all aspects of art to influence his eclectic style of movement in choreography. Aside from the new journey to musical theater, he continues as an artist and educator with his philosophy that dance reflects the art of expression through movement while emphasizing the journey of individual progression. He uses this philosophy to provide students with a new creative look and understanding of dance beyond their technical application as a way to open their minds to new waves of expression.
Kaitlin BrooksJazz, Hip Hop, Contemporary, Cheer, Teen Dance Teams
Kaitlin fell in love with dancing at a young age and it has been a part of her life ever since. She enjoyed the opportunity to perform with the 49er GoldRush and coaches a high school cheer and dance team. Kaitlin earned her degree from San Francisco State University with a double major in Dance and Communications Studies. Kaitlin is technically trained in many styles, including jazz, ballet, hip hop, contemporary/modern, and song pom. She is so excited to be part of the Dance Connection team and share her passion for dance with younger generations of dancers.
Brooke WertwijnBallet, Contemporary, Jazz
Originally from Minnesota, Brooke Wertwijn graduated from the University of Utah School of Dance in 2021 with a B.F.A. in Ballet, Ballet Studio Teaching Certificate, and Business Minor. She is currently a Company Artist with San Jose Dance Theatre. During the 2021-2022 season, she danced as a Trainee at Ballet Idaho and performed in Peter Anastos’ The Nutcracker, George Balanchine’s Serenade, Bruce Wells’ Beauty and the Beast, Anne Mueller’s Peter and the Wolf, and new works by FLOCK, Nicole Haskins, and Quinn Wharton. Brooke was a member of SALT Contemporary Dance’s Pre-Professional Training Company directed by Courtney Mazeika in 2020-2021.
Brooke trained at Ashley Ballet Arts Academy in Golden Valley, MN under the direction of Ashley Burkland and has been on their summer faculty since 2018. She received additional training at LINES Ballet, Boston Ballet, Ballet West, Dutch National Ballet, Salt Dance Fest, International Ballet Summer Intensive (South Korea), SALT’s LINK Festival, and NW Dance Project. Her choreography has been presented at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Cathedral Dance Festival, American College Dance Association’s Northwest Conference, SHAPE Choreography Festival, and the University of Utah Ballet Showcase.
Joan WaltonTap, Theatre, Ballroom
Joan's high-energy teaching style and ability to communicate concepts to all levels of learners have become well known at universities and dance studios across the country. She has deep knowledge of Vintage, Historical and Social Dance, Tap Dance, Musical Theatre Choreography and Theatredance Styles. She has been teaching at Vintage and Historical dance workshops nationally and internationally since 1991. Her work encompasses choreographing for musicals and operas at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, six of them winning 1st place at the National Opera Awards.
At Dance Connection she has taught all levels of Tap Dance, performed as the Queen in “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet, and currently has a lively collection of Ballroom Dance aficionados that she meets for private lessons.
She has performed and choreographed all over the country, and received a Masters degree in Dance Education from Stanford University’s prestigious School of Education in 1999.
Rachel StagiChildren, Jazz, Acrobatics, Funk Jazz/Hip Hop
Rachel has been dancing for nearly 20 years. She has trained in a multitude of styles including jazz, tap, ballet and contemporary, but considers upbeat styles such as jazz funk and sassy jazz to be her favorites. In high school, Rachel was a member of her Dance Team, the Lincoln Convertibles, and then continued her dancing journey at UC Davis as a 4 year member of the UC Davis Dance Team. During her years on the team, Rachel has gained experience with choreographing for her teammates and performed in numerous Big West Tournaments and sporting events, as well as community and on campus affairs. In addition to her love of dance and her continuous training, Rachel is a certified Acrobatic Arts instructor who thrives sharing her passion for dance with our youth.
Alexa DeGraca RodriguezGuest Performing Company Choreographer
Alexa is a passionate dancer, performer, and choreographer. Her 12 years as a competitive dancer drove her interest in joining a professional dance team. She auditioned for the 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders in 2012, and hit the ground running. That year she attended the Super Bowl, countless media events, and received the Rookie of The Year Award. While attending the 2013 Super Bowl, Alexa appeared on the Craig Ferguson Show, Enews, and Good Morning America. She was a captain on the 49ers Gold Rush, and has had the opportunity to help choreograph and set routines for the team. Alexa was selected to represent the San Francisco 49ers as the 2017 Pro Bowl Cheerleader in Orlando Florida. At the 49ers museum in Levis Stadium, Alexa is the host of a virtual reality dance video game. Throughout her five years on the team, she stayed active in the dance community by taking and teaching dance classes. She has set routines for local high school dance and cheer teams. Alexa choreographed for the 2017 Pro Action Dance Prep convention. She has performed with Train, Nico and Vinz, Snoop Dog, E40, and Jordin Sparks. Alexa can be seen in Trains “Mermaid” music video, as well as Clinton Sparks “Gold Rush Girl” video. She made an appearance on the television pilot “Friday Night Impossible” with Jerry Rice on Great American Country Network. She also made an appearance on CSN Bay Area for Sports Net Central. After her time on the 49ers Gold Rush, she signed with the Movement Talent Agency in Los Angeles. During her time in Los Angeles, she trained in many dance styles with some of the industry’s top choreographers and pursued her commercial dance dreams. She landed the lead role in a commercial for JustFab shoes, and also stared in a commercial for a local gym and spa. Alexa directed the 49er GoldRush Cheerleaders until 2022. Alexa was the Artistic Director of our popular DC Performing Company. Under her guidance, our students have earned numerous awards and scholarships. Alexa and her husband are proud to welcome their second child this August!
Ann DragichTap Instructor
Ann has choreographed and performed around New York City, including Symphony Space, FIT, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and Duplex Cabaret Theater, and was on faculty at NJPAC, Alor and the DreamYard Proiect. Ann has performed in Paris Fashion Week as part of the Rick Owens spring 2014 Womens show.
Originally from California, Ann studied at the Eddie Brown Studio for the Arts (THE BEAT) with Gregg Geoffroy, Babs Yohai and Mark Mendonco. Ann holds both Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degrees in Food Science from UC Davis as well as an MFA in Dramatic Art with Choreography focus from UC Davis.
Casey TessierTap Instructor
Casey Tessier is a professional tap dance artist and award-winning percussionist from
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, she has devoted her
life to honoring, sharing, and advancing tap dance as a percussive instrument.
Casey began studying tap in Reno, Nevada at the age of 4 with Jeanette Conkey. She continued
her studies in Albuquerque with Tracy Ritter-Golson and Luke Loffelmacher with additional
training in ballet, jazz, modern, flamenco, and swing dancing. As an adolescent, she performed
for many years as a principal tap dancer with the Alley Kats Tap Company and was a nationally
recognized jazz drummer with performance credits at the Albuquerque Jazz Festival, Stanford
University, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. Casey presently studies with worldrenowned
professionals Sarah Reich, Sam Weber, Max Pollak, and Nico Rubio.
As a member of Sarah Reich’s Tap Music Project Team, she has traveled to numerous cities
throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada assisting and co-producing Sarah Reich’s Tap
Music Project intensives highlighting the musicality of tap dance. In San Francisco, Casey is
contracted as the tap dance understudy for Vanessa Sanchez, the Executive Artistic Director of
La Mezcla: a multi-disciplinary, polyrhythmic ensemble rooted in Chicana, Latinx, and
Indigenous traditions. In Oakland, she serves as an executive board member for LoRee Kenagy’s
non-profit, TapIN Youth Dance Ensemble, driven by equity in arts education and social justice.
Casey holds a B.S. in Pure Mathematics and Latin from the University of New Mexico. Her
unique background continuously infuses the creative direction of her debut company, Accenτap.
Casey has nearly a decade of experience teaching marching percussion, is the founder and
Artistic Director of Forge Independent Percussion, and is the Percussion Caption Head at
Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.
Casey strives to inspire others by offering an alternative perspective in movement, expression,
and performance while communicating her passion for rhythm.
Corie is a Bay Area native who has been teaching recreational, competitive and adaptive dance classes for the past 10 years. Her competitive routines have won top awards at the regional and national levels and several of her students have gone on to dance professionally as both children and adults. Her favorite styles to teach are Jazz, Lyrical and Musical Theatre as well as young children’s Ballet and Tap classes and movement classes for people with developmental and cognitive disabilities. Corie believes that in order to become a great artist, you must also be a great person and she takes pride in training her dancers to be humble, dedicated, confident, and kind. Corie has a wonderful husband and an adventurous one year old son. She is thrilled to be joining the Dance Connection faculty!