Alumni

We love and are so proud of our alumni!

Since 1974 we have had thousands of students perform with us! Calling all former Betty Johnson School of Dance, Bender Performing Arts and DanceMotion dancers we would love to hear from you and add you to our alumni page.  Tell us some of your favorite memories and what you are up to today.  Whether you kept dancing and performing or not we want to hear from you all.  Dance and the arts teaches life lessons so we would love to hear your stories.  Just fill out the questionnaire and we will start adding you to our page, thank you.

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Our Alumni

Danielle Williams– I graduated from BPA in May 2014. My favorite memory was doing the energy circle after big company show rehearsals and before the show. Those were the best days of my life. I am currently studying dance at the University of Arizona and I could not be happier. Being in DanceMotion helped me grow not only as a dancer but as a person. They care so much about giving back to the community through dance and that was always really special and those are the memories that I will never forget.

Shari Lopatin-I started at the studio when it was still Betty Johnson’s School of Dance. I was 3 years old, so it was probably around 1985 . I made Dance Motion Performing Company when I was 9 years old. My best memories were performing on stage at the company shows. I loved growing up on stage: the music, the adrenaline, the natural “high” of feeding off the audience as they feed off you. I miss that today. Dance brought a sense of identity and self-confidence to my life, as well as a creative outlet of expression. It became my sense of pride, to call myself a dancer. I was somewhat ADHD as a child, and dance allowed me to channel that energy while remaining true to my creative nature. To this day, I identify with dancers and feel a sense of home at any dance studio.

Carol Graziano– I started when I was five at the original studio around 1980. Small studio then grew pretty fast. I won’t forget all the times I had to listen to Madonna in Kevin’s jazz classes and of course Michael Jackson. Many fun times and great company performances. I currently work in hospital as therapist and also practice/teach yoga. I did some flamenco performing, I guess the dancer never leaves us.

Sarah Wilson-I started dancing at Betty Johnson’s in 1987, when I was just three years old. My first ballet class was Miss. Judy and jazz with Meri. I loved every minute and everything about dance and looked forward to going every week. I was one of the first to join pee wee company, and still have my Dance Motion jacket over 20 years later. Dancing with Dance Motion was a family affair. We attended Kevin and Meri’s wedding, my dad and Russ Snyder made scenery, took adult tap, danced in the family numbers, and my mom helped with costumes. The cast parties were amazingly fun, we always wished we could dance on the giant wedding cake, and the stage crew would hide a rubber chicken on stage for closing night. Dance shaped my life forever giving me discipline, perseverance to never give up (Miss. Donna’s glow in the dark tap dance number), grace, respect for myself and others, as well as knowing the joy and passion dance brings into one’s life. I am currently an attorney in New Orleans, LA. Last year I choreographed for a local dance troupe and danced in various Mardi Gras parades. I still love to dance to this day and do so every chance I get!!! Cheers to 40 years!!!

Katherine (Katie) Shelton-I came to the studio when I was in the second grade, in the fall of 1999. The following year, I joined DMPC. A favorite memory of mine was when I moved away during the 8th grade and surprised everyone in my group by coming back for the company show that year–Meri pulled a few miracles and got me into a couple dances. Dance truly impacted who I am and kept me sane through moves around the world as a kid and across the country for college. Dancing is an incredibly emotional release that I have found is my most positive and rewarding outlet for whatever I’m feeling. Whether I’m actually enrolled in a class, going out dancing on a weekend, or just grooving to some jams with my students, I can never seem to stop moving. It is a part of me. I currently live in Fresno, CA, working as a HealthCorps Coordinator at a local high school. HealthCorps is a national organization founded by Dr. Oz that brings knowledge about nutrition, fitness, and mental wellness to under-resourced high schools across the country. I absolutely love my job and incorporate dance as a form of physical and mental wellness as often as I can. I’ve also been a certified Zumba instructor for almost four years now, teaching both in college and within my current job.

Christy Stewart– I started at Betty Johnson’s in 1982! I joined the company in ’87 as an original senior company member. Too many favorite memories to name just one. I did absolutely LOVE my first few years at the studio and the recital experience. I had such an amazing time bonding with my classmates and watching everyone else dance. Such fun! I am so happy to say that I am still in touch with almost all of the girls I danced with so long ago. Dance truly is an amazing experience and I was so happy to have found Betty’s (now Bender). I taught for the studio for about 15 years off and on. About ten years ago I finally pursued my love for all that is hair and got my cosmetology license. I now have my own salon studio suite and count myself lucky to have found a second passion in life!

Karie Cowden– What dance taught me…Accountability, Organization, Community, Relationships, Kindness, and the list goes on. One of my favorite memories was an extra tap class that I took so I could get into company. Donna taught the wedding dance and I am still in touch with both Cindy’s that played the main brides. Each time I hear a song that I learned a dance to I can still remember portions of the choreography. I have two daughters that both dance at BPA. I have the honor of working with Kevin and Meri in a different capacity and still get to be part of this awesome tribe. I own Connect the Dots Promotions here in the Valley. My daughter Emma is now experiencing DanceMotion and I’m pretty sure when the time comes my other daughter Averie will audition for the company as well.

Samantha DiBaise– I started dancing at Bender Performing Arts in 2006 and in 2009 I became a member of DanceMotion. I graduated in 2011 and have come to take class whenever I am home from college. Dance has meant so much to me throughout my life. It has been my release and has given me some of my best friends and memories. One of my favorite memories was from my senior year when our competition team traveled to Seattle. It was a great bonding experience. I am about to graduate from the University of Arizona with three degrees in Physiology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Spanish with a Portuguese emphasis. I plan on attending medical school to become a physician in the future.

Erin (Jennings) Hinch– I took at Betty Johnson School of Dance from 1980-1993 and had the privilege to teach at Bender Performing Arts from 1992-1999. My favorite memories include rehearsals for company shows, company sleepovers at the old studio, and sharing my love of dance through teaching. I still use dance today, and my passion is taking an educational lesson plan from elementary teachers and turning it into a dance lesson in the classroom. Dance can be applied to math, science, social studies and language arts to promote creative movement, balance, and kinesthetic learning. The fun these kids have when they realize dance can be more than just lessons, is heartwarming! I am married and currently living in Houston, TX. I am a full time mom to two girls, ages 10 and 12 who love to have “dance parties” in the kitchen with me, but currently train in soccer and tennis.

Amber Ussery- I started teaching with Betty Johnson School of Dance in the small studio; moved to 32nd Street and Bell and moved again with Bender. Was with the studio for 23 years and loved every moment and every dancer I had the opportunity to teach. I miss you all! Working at a new firm, Gallagher & Kennedy and loving it. I currently have 3 grandchildren whom I love and adore (Bryson, Corbin & Nova).

Sarah (Krouse) Chaney– I started at the studio in 1985 and stayed through High School. I can’t come close to picking a favorite memory because there were so many.   I literally grew up at the studio with my sisters, and most memories I have of my childhood and teen years are with my dance family. Growing up as a dancer has added so many benefits to my life. In ways of learning discipline, dedication, hard work, team work, confidence, ability and so many more. It gave me many advantages as a young adult, and even now. I continue to dance and teach technique to young students, and it feels so good to be able to have a chance to influence a child the way that I was influenced by the teachers I had. It’s a huge blessing in which my identity laid almost solely in, for most of my life. Thank you for the opportunity! I’m also doing music full time, I sing for two corporate entertainment companies in L.A, have my own band playing private gigs and local shows as well as leading worship at my church in Manhattan Beach. I also teach voice lessons, to my dance and theater students, as well as operate a Shaklee business with my husband, providing health programs and supplementation regimens to those who need to become healthier or want to maintain their current health. Lastly, this last November I won Los Angeles Music Award’s female vocalist of the year! Pretty amazing to have recognition for something you love so much! My first single “Hollywood” off my new album should be out and available on iTunes by end of May this year.

Heather Messinger –I was at the studio from 2000 to 2004. My favorite memory was becoming a member of DMPC. The welcoming atmosphere and family attitude made a studio transition during adolescent years the highlight of my dance career. I am a Sr. Operations Analyst with JPMorgan Chase. I currently travel all over the states of Arizona, Nevada, and Southern Utah auditing specific Chase Retail Banking locations. I still dance with Applause Productions & Entertainment when I am in the Phoenix area.

Brandy (Ecklund) Rowe-I was a part of the studio and Dance Motion Performing Company from 1989-1997. It is hard to pick just one favorite moment because my childhood and teen years are filled with memories from dancing there. The friendships I have made are lifelong and I consider them family. In my adult years I look back at what I learned at the studio and I can honestly say that everything I need to know about life I learned here. Things like how to take direction, how to work as a team, persistence, perseverance, responsibility, organization, hard work, dedication, self-confidence, respect for others and respect for myself were all lessons I learned that have made me successful. In school you learn academia. At Bender’s you learn life! After graduating high school, I became a professional dancer! I’ve had an amazing career and still continue to dance today. I started teaching dance a few years ago and enjoy the fact that I can “pay it forward”. I just finished choreographing my first full-length musical for a private school here in Los Angeles.

Alena Gerst– I wanted to start dance classes when I was 3 years old in 1978. At that time (as I’m told), that was a little young for Betty. So my mom agreed to act as the “teacher assistant,” making her present in class so that I could take dance lessons. My dance training has influenced just about every area of my life since, from discipline and work ethic to a strong love and respect for the movement arts and artists. Foremost, I’m grateful to be a mom. I retired from musical theater performance after a 10 year career in New York City in 2009 and went back to school. I have since become a mind/body focused psychotherapist working in NYC hospitals and private practice, specializing in performing artists. In 2014, I published A Wellness Handbook for the Performing Artist: The Performers Essential Guide to Staying Healthy in Body, Mind, and Spirit. I am currently working on my second book about bringing fun back into health.

Sara (Whaley) Gold– I danced at Betty Johnson School of Dance starting at age 4, in 1983. In ’87 when I was in 3rd grade I was lucky enough to begin dancing with DanceMotion. My favorite dance memories are the Company Show rehearsals and performances. It was so fun to observe and perform in the in studio rehearsals and watch the older dancers and see how the Show would all come to life. I think dance has shaped and helped me as an adult find routine and order. I feel like learning choreography and connecting with music and counting the music has helped me organize my thoughts and helped in all my general learning. I went to ASU and was part of the Dance Line there for two years. I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education. I got married in 2000 and taught in the Paradise Valley School District until we had our first baby in 2003. Since then I have been at home with our children. We have a son and two daughters. And of course our girls dance at Bender Performing Arts.

Nicole (Leyton) Garber– I began dancing at Betty’s when I was around 6 years old and joined DanceMotion in its first year when I was 8. This was about 30 years ago! When I look back on my childhood, dance was a huge and important part of my life. It gave me some of my best friends, exposed me to exciting adventures like competitions and introduced me to a love of performing, which carried me through musical theater in high school. When I think about my years dancing, I have so many wonderful memories that I will cherish forever! After graduating from the University of Michigan, I worked in New York City at the National Basketball Association. A few years later, I went back to school to get my Masters in Education and, after teaching in NYC for 6 years I moved back to Arizona where I currently teach 2nd grade. I am married to a sports producer and we have two boys, Ethan (6) and Matthew (2).

Nicole (Turner) Flesner– 1987-2001 as a Betty Johnson/Bender and Dance Motion Performing Company dancer,2000-2013 as an Instructor at Betty Johnson/Bender Performing Arts.  Most of my childhood memories revolve around my second home, which was dance and the dance studio. It was the best years of my life, and without the structure, discipline, dedication, and life lessons, I would not have led such a positive and life full of achievement at such a young age. The long summer days at the dance studio playing cards, going to get a strawberries cream at the bean cafe place down the way, waiting for your schedule in the mail to see what ‘level or group’ you were going to be in, performer of the day, the energy circle, getting a special hand written card from Kevin & Meri before company show, getting picked for that one special part or group number or a ‘lyrical’ number, the black light numbers and finally being able to be in one, Elaine’s cookies at recital, watching the finale of Seinfeld slumber party style at the studio, Dancer University, and everything else that shook down in the historic room “C” I will forever cherish. The list of memories just goes on. Being at the dance studio almost every day and spending my time with my friends, classmates and teachers/mentors sometimes even more than my family, taught me more than any text book could teach me. Some say that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I spent my childhood and teenage and years at the studio with the most awesome people and attribute my success and achievement in life to my years learning how to positively expresses myself in a positive environment with positive people. My husband and I have a 1.5 year old son who keeps us constantly going. I work as a Dental Hygienist and in 2014 became the Local Executive Director of the Miss North Phoenix & Miss Glendale Scholarship Pageant with the Miss America Organization. After serving as Miss Arizona in 2007 and seeing how the Miss America Organization paid for my college education and shaped my life in my post high school life, I felt it was my time to give back. I stopped teaching at Bender after 13 years after I had my son and miss it so much. Once life calms down, I hope to be back teaching since it is a passion of mine and can’t wait to have my little guy in a class and on the Bender stage!

Monica (Larriva) Osslaer– I was an original DMPC member till 1990, currently I am a Mom to three boys and full time volunteer to several organizations.

Taylor Marques– What can I say about dance? Dance changed my life! More specifically, Benders changed my life! I was a part of the studio since I was two years old and I went there until I graduated high school. Dance was everything to me! It was where I met my best friends that I could call family forever. It was an outlet to express my true passion and creativity. I have too many memories to count, but one that is at the top of my head is, when it was my last year we had a sleepover at the studio and we all made up a routine to the song “Endangered Species”. It was absolutely ridiculous and I still have it on tape to make me laugh every once in a while. Dance is my true love and always will be. Life now is much different. I have recently graduated from Arizona State University with bachelor in Fine Art Painting. (I still kept my creativity, it is just through a different outlet.) As of right now, I work at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and at a school called Cesar Chavez Leadership Academy. I love to keep myself still involved with the arts as well as working with children. I still take dance classes here and there, but it will always be a part of me. And you better believe I dance my heart out alone in my bedroom!

Sarah Sheade– I started attending the studio all the way back in 1992 when it was still the Betty Johnson School of Dance! I started with the combo classes at age 2, and continued my dance education with Bender throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I have so many positive memories that it’s hard to pick just one…some of my favorites would have to be traveling to Las Vegas & New York for Nationals, and a very special moment was performing at my last company show senior year. My favorite ballet I danced in was the 12 Dancing Princesses where we got to paint our pointe shoes beautiful colors! Being part of a dance community as strong as Bender growing up has helped me in more ways than I ever realized as a child. It teaches you discipline and respect, and helps you to understand the value of setting goals for yourself. After I completed high school, I moved to California to attend Chapman University on a dance scholarship. I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2012 with a BA in Dance and minors in Broadcast Journalism & Integrated Educational Studies. Most recently, I have been dancing for a Professional NBA Dance Team and I am also represented by a dance agency. When I’m not dancing, you can find me working as the Emerging Media Campaign Manager for a digital advertising agency.

Amanda (Snyder) Dahl– I started at Betty Johnson’s when the studio was on 32nd St. south of Bell. I’m thinking it was around 1986. Soon after, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the original Junior Company. I loved dance, the studio, and especially DanceMotion! We kept quite a busy schedule, but I didn’t care. For me, each Company Show was such a highlight and I have so many amazing memories surrounding them. My room was even covered in show posters and all things turquoise and black. I learned so many amazing things throughout my Betty Johnson/DanceMotion years. I have such an appreciation for arts such as music, dance, and theater. I was exposed to music and dance styles that never would have crossed my path. I learned what it means to be part of a team, I feel dance is both an individual and team sport, depending on the situation. I developed organizational skills, not only for keeping track of my things and learning how to successfully do a “quick change” in the wings, but also skills that helped me stay an A student all throughout school.   Above all, I would say dancing gave me a healthy confidence. Anywhere there was music or dancing (a school dance, wedding, party, etc.), I felt confident to get out there and enjoy myself. I danced in the Company until my junior year, when I made the change to my high school Pom Line. And I do credit my ability to make the squad to my high quality dance training.

Angela (Bans) Roa– I cannot remember the exact years….but I think it would be from about 1987-1994?? The Ritz was my first year in DanceMotion. I made lifelong friends and still take an adult tap class every week! I am currently living in Temecula, California with my husband Ryan and our two boys Carter (7) and Zachary (5).

Preston Dalton– Every company show there was the memorable energy circle and performer of the day. Adventures in Birdland I was lucky enough to be selected. After graduating from U of A I have been dancing in several companies and most recently performed with the Arizona Opera at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Sarah Shobe– I am an original DanceMotion member. There are just way too many memories to pick a favorite. I do remember all the fun we had at the recitals, competitions, and the dance conventions. My favorite dance convention was the Tremaine Dance Conventions we attended every year in Las Vegas. My favorite dance of all time was a tap dance called “Moses Supposes”. I loved that routine and I still remember the entire dance! Actually, I remember a TON of routines and can still do them, (although, probably not as gracefully). My first dance teacher was Betty Johnson herself. She was my next-door neighbor and she always treated me as if I were her own daughter. She was a second mother to me when I was growing up. Dancing at Benders gave me self-confidence and self-worth. It helped me to see that if I worked hard enough, I could do anything I set my mind to. Kevin use to tell us to never say, “I can’t”. He would tell us to say, “I can’t yet”.   I use this same phrase today. He motivated all of us girls and I cherish the memories I made growing up at the studio. I currently work as a registered nurse for the mentally disabled and psychiatric population. I am still in school and am currently working on my doctorate in nursing practice. I have 6 children and 4 grandchildren. My daughter Te’a dances at the studio and is in the company.

Cheryl Davis-I was a Betty Johnson student in the 70’s and 80’s! My favorite memory was being the Queen of the Mardi Gras Ballet! Also the “1980 “Headin’ South” Recital “Bayou Escapades” where 4 of us where chained together tap dancing. It was a great dance! The best memory is being a Kay Keller dancer and the group winning the Victor Drew competition! So many fond memories and wonderful, amazing experiences! I am a mother of 4 now and 5 grandchildren. I am now dancing again here at Benders Performing Arts and a member of the Hip Hop fitness group! Looking forward to more amazing and exciting memories!

Amanda Corn Malek-Ahmadi– I danced at the studio from 1990-1999.   My first teacher was Tara and I still remember some of the choreography to the dance SHOUT!   I also remember begging Miss Tara to show the parents leaps across the floor during the Holiday Parties.   I have so many fond memories dancing at the studio from my first year to the way we said goodbye to Miss Donna and Cindy on stage.   Also the amazing experience I had being an assistant my junior and senior year. Then there were the summers I taught and teaching 2010-2012.   Performing in the Faculty Dance was a dream come true.   I never thought I’d be a dance teacher but being asked to be an assistant lead to it and I will always be grateful.   Also thanks to taking classes like the mock audition classes I was prepared for the times I went to auditions and while living in Florida was a Special Events Dancer for Busch Gardens. I now have three boys that keep me very busy. I still keep dance in my life though. I teach at the studio Amy Standifier co-owned and I dance with Center Dance 2. I also love to find my way back “home” to the studio to take classes on occasion.

Melissa Benson Korey– I started dancing at Betty Johnson’s in 4th grade (1987) and joined Dance motion the following year. I have so many amazing memories from growing up in Dance Motion so it’s hard to pick one – dance camp, sleepovers, traveling for competitions, spending countless hours at the studio dancing every day after school…dance has been such a special part of my life and I have formed lifelong friends from it! I currently live in Scottsdale. I have my master’s degree in Physical therapy but have been able to stay home to be a mom for the past 7 years. I have a son, Reece (6) who wants to take his first hip hop class at Bender next year and a daughter, Scarlett (4) who is in her 2nd year at Bender and loves to dance!!

Courtney Leger Moolenaar-I started dancing at the studio in 1988/89 and was a member of DanceMotion from 1991-1996. Dance has always been my first true love. The memories, the lifelong friendships and life lessons have shaped the person I am today. Even after all these years, when I hear a song we did a dance to, I can’t help but do the dance! After graduating from Northern Arizona University, I pursued a marketing career in the A/E/C industry. I currently live in Scottsdale with my husband and two children Emerson and Bennett. Emerson will be performing in her second recital at BPA this year and looking forward to more dance next year!

Andrea Curry– I started dancing at Betty Johnson’s School of Dance/Bender in 1995 and continued taking classes through 2010. I have so many favorite memories of performing, having fun in class, and making friends (some of whom are still my closest friends today). My best memory was getting the chance to teach my own classes at BPA and getting the opportunity to have my little sister, Sara, be my teacher aide. It was a special experience. This year I am graduating ASU with my BS in Exercise and Wellness and will begin my journey into applying for my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I think growing up with dance helped influence me to go into this field and learn more about the body and how it moves. I am still dancing today for Applause Productions and love that I can keep doing something that makes me so happy.

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Phoenix, Arizona 85050 | 602.971.9170