Rex Tilton - Allison DeBona - Phil Chan - Ashely Bouder

Ballet In Cleveland

Ballet in Cleveland highlights the unique, elegant, and powerful qualities of ballet, thus cultivating its culture in the city of Cleveland, the results of which carry nationwide. Through the presentation of performances by professional ballet companies, ballet master classes and programming with nationally recognized dancers, and ballet-centric events that break boundaries, Ballet in Cleveland is revolutionizing ballet in Cleveland and beyond.

Jessica Wallis, Founding Director

Jessica Wallis is the founding director of Ballet in Cleveland. Since beginning this company in 2012, she has presented world class ballet dancers such as Ashley Bouder, Carlos Lopez, and Allison DeBona. Jessica is a co-producer of The Ashley Bouder Project, and is currently developing curriculum for Cuyahoga Falls High School's Arts Media and Design Den. Ms. Wallis is an honors graduate with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Education from The University of Akron. She is a former third grade teacher in the Solon City Schools, and an adjunct faculty member of both The University of Akron and Kent State University. Jessica has collaborated on programming for The Foundation Center, Great Lakes Theater, and Cleveland Play House, and in 2014 spoke at The City Club of Cleveland. She was selected as one of the Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club's 'Top 25 Under 35' for its Northeast Ohio Movers & Shakers award, and a Cleveland Women's Journal 'Woman to Know' in 2013.

Penny Hainer, Artist in Residence

Although her artistic background includes neither dance nor formal training, Penny Hainer has long enjoyed something of a natural talent for creativity across a broad spectrum of craft forms. Hands-on extensive learning in restoration "arts" was added in the form of a century-old fixer-upper home in Cuyahoga Falls over a span of two decades. In 2001 she launched her own business, "Picturesque", painting both whimsical and realistic wall murals, borders, faux finishes, all-over stenciling, furniture, and lettering in private homes and businesses. Her connection with Ballet in Cleveland has prompted the addition of sign painting, plus tote bag and pointe shoe design to the mix. In her spare time, Penny enjoys training for and running marathons, hiking, reading, and hanging out in coffee shops.

Erin Leslie Haslinger, Graphic Designer

Erin Leslie Haslinger discovered her love of ballet at the age of three when she performed in her first recital. Erin received her bachelor of fine arts from Bowling Green State University, where she was also on the Dance Team. She has been the owner/creative director at Erin Haslinger Design since 2002, serving as a freelance designer, art director and marketing consultant for a variety of healthcare related clients and foundations nationwide. Her career began in health care and pharmaceutical marketing at GSW-Worldwide in Columbus, Ohio and continued with many diverse financial, retail and packaged goods clients. Erin volunteers her services for Good Samaritan Hunger Center's Soup for the City, Life Is Good No Matter What, Ballet In Cleveland, and various other non-profit organizations in Ohio. She enjoys spending her free time with her two sons and keeps busy with their soccer, basketball and dance activities.

Rachel Shehy, Administrative Assistant

Rachel Shehy is passionate, creative, and career-focused. In addition to her role at Ballet in Cleveland, she is building her photography portfolio and studying promotional communications at Cleveland State University. Rachel studied ballet for twelve years, and is passionate about the art form. She is a growing professional who turns 'can nots' into 'I wills' and feels fortunate to be able to use these positive traits to drive her work with Ballet in Cleveland. Rachel uses her skill sets to assist in Photography, Blogging, and administrative tasks.

Stephanie Sassano, Administrative Assistant

Stephanie began dancing beginning at the age of four, continuing through high school. She studied ballet under founding director Jessica Wallis. Although she has enjoyed learning many styles of dance, she has always had a particular affinity for ballet. She completed her Bachelor's degree with honors and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in the field of Social Work at the University of Akron. While Stephanie is not attending to her studies, she enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. She is excited to be a part of Ballet in Cleveland's many endeavors.

Melissa Fitzgerald, Marketing Communications

Melissa designs promotional email campaigns and provides general marketing counsel for Ballet in Cleveland. With more than 15 years of experience in marketing communications, Melissa Fitzgerald offers a variety of freelance marketing services to small businesses and nonprofits. She serves as an external marketing manager for clients, helping them determine the most cost-effective tactics to grow their businesses. Her freelance capabilities include strategic planning, communications management and media relations programs. She provides both content and design for digital and print marketing materials such as newsletters, brochures, websites, ads and email marketing campaigns.

Nichole Spates, Fundrasing Consultant

Nichole Spates has worn many hats as an administrator, fundraiser, teacher of dance and English and a dancer/choreographer. She holds a B.S. Ed. in Dance from the University of Georgia and a M.S. in Dance from the University of Oregon. Nichole's experience in fundraising spans more than twelve years has included positions in the performing arts (dance and music), educational and parks-and recreation non-profit organizations and a major private university. Previously, she worked for four years as a dance educator at an elementary school and a university. More recently, she has worked in Budapest, Hungary, and Al-Khor, Qatar as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Nichole has also presented her choreography in small venues around New York City, and also in Florida, Oregon and South Carolina, and has performed in the work of colleagues. She understands firsthand the financial and administrative pressures facing artists and choreographers in the US today. She currently supports the creative work of several small dance companies and one theater company through freelance grant writing and fundraising consulting. When not working, she enjoys traveling, dancing and taking photographs.

Carlin Michael Dixon, Program Coordinator, Guys Dance Too

Carlin M. Dixon has achieved many accomplishments working with different organizations, including program coordination, the performing arts, and helping others. At Berea Mid Park High School, Carlin was part of the Theater program, Concert Choir, Key Club, program coordinator for the Annual Black History Celebration, and the peer mediation program.

In just his first year of college at Wright State University, Carlin became Vice President of his freshman class for the Black Student Union. He led many events throughout the year including a suicide prevention event. He was part of an award-winning dance group and was voted to be Chaplain for two Christian organizations on campus, one being a Gospel choir. At his home church and many others in Cleveland, Carlin has choreographed and coordinated dance ministries including his own, Team Victory. He is honored to be part of the Guys Dance Too Program with Ballet In Cleveland to continue his work in business, dance, and the performing arts.

Erik Zito, Program Coordinator, Guys Dance Too

Erik Zito has been dancing for seven years and is currently studying at The University of Akron. As a dancer he has performed in many venues and with many groups such as the Indiana Pacers. He originally started dancing as a member of Great Expectations Show Choir in Twinsburg, Ohio and has received many honors such as best performer and best choreography. As a dancer in Akron he has performed in a variety of pieces ranging from modern dance to Hip-Hop. As a dance enthusiast he is the founder and head of choreography for the University of Akron's Hip-Hop club. Erik is the Program Coordinator of Ballet in Cleveland's "Guys Dance Too" Initiative, and helps to recruit and encourage male dancers to enjoy the many benefits of ballet. If you know a guy who should dance too, please contact Erik at

Vicki Lantz, Photographer

Vicki Lantz has 28 years of photography experience. She started as a photographer for Northfield Harness Race Track, and worked for a Commercial Photography Studio in Cleveland. She started her own Photography Business in 1993, located in Historic Highland Square.

Vicki has a degree in Photography from the New York Institute of Photography and is an award-winning Artistic Photographer in charge of planning, developing, and implementing photography, Photo Shop Techniques, Marketing Plans, and Portrait Sales. Vicki is active in the Greater Akron of Chamber of Commerce's Knowledgeable Network of Women (KNOW). She is also the Official Photographer of KNOW. Vicki volunteers her time and skills to several charitable organizations, including Project Ed Bear, Ohio English Setter Rescue, and the March of Dimes.

Rebekah Spurlock, Photographer

A lifelong resident of North Olmsted, Rebekah is a 2014 Honors graduate of North Olmsted High School as well as a second year PSEO Honors student at Cuyahoga Community College. Rebekah will receive her Associate of Applied Business degree in Visual Communication & Design/Photography in December 2014.

Rebekah has danced locally for 14 years-the last eight years at Cleveland Ballet Conservatory in North Royalton. Her most recent roles were Mary Poppins/Bert for CBC's 2014 spring production. Rebekah has spent her last five summers in Jackson Mississippi at Ballet Magnificat's Summer Dance Intensives at Belhaven University; she also helps her family sponsor Ballet Magnificat!'s Alpha and Omega companies in NE Ohio appearances. Rebekah is a charter member of WCLV-104.9 Cleveland's classical radio station, a Broadway series season ticket holder at Playhouse Square and has participated in their master classes for eight years.

Alexis Ziemski, Photographer

Alexis Ziemski is a passionate fine art and conceptual photographer based out of Cleveland, Ohio. The young artist has had her work shown on the American Eagle Time Square Billboard in heart of New York City, as well various galleries in Cleveland, New York, and Miami. She has always had a respect for all art forms, and uses her talent in photography to capture ballet. As a growing artist, her goal is to create new work and to meet new faces along the way. Aside from photography, Alexis is a Visual Communication student at Valley Forge High School who also has skills in graphic design, screen printing, drawing, painting and illustration.

The Balanchine Circle

The following individuals have joined Ballet in Cleveland as Founding Members through a generous donation to support the organization and its commitment to presenting dancers of the New York City Ballet and the choreography of George Balanchine in Cleveland. Without their support, these impressive endeavors would not be possible.

Mr. Thomas Baechle
Mr. Dick Blake and Mrs. Lorraine Blake
Mr. Gregory Hill
Ms. Laurie Humphrey
Ms. Elizabeth Lewis
Mr. Charles Obert
Mr. James Sebastian Sr. and Mrs. Margaret Sebastian
Mr. Robert Simmons

Board of Directors

Board of Directors, Chairman
John R. Crawford, Ed.D.

Dr. John R. Crawford is Dean of the College of the Arts and Professor of Dance at Kent State University where he has taught and administrated for 25 years. He previously served as Associate Dean for Graduate Affairs in the College of the Arts from 2006 to 2009. From 1996-2006 he served as Director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State and Producing Director of Porthouse Theatre, a professional, summer stock theatre located at Blossom Music Center.

John performed professionally as a dancer and actor with the Richmond Ballet, VCU Dance Company, Kings Productions, Busch Entertainment Corporation, Ann Vachon/Dance Conduit, Porthouse Theatre and the Leaven Dance Company. He has choreographed professionally for Porthouse Theatre, Cain Park, the Halle Theatre, the Northeast Ohio Dance Ensemble and Dance & Company in Virginia. He holds a BFA degree in Theatre from Virginia Commonwealth University; a masterís in Dance from James Madison University and a doctorate in Dance and Dance Education from Temple University. Dr. Crawford currently serves as Vice President for the International Council of Fine Arts Deans and also serves on the Nominating Committee for the National Museum of Dance in New York. He previously served on the Board of Directors for Ohio Dance.

Dr. Rita Barrios
Ms. Laurie Humphrey, Esq.
Dr. Mary Kerr
Ms. Elizabeth Lewis
Ms. Gia Ligato
Dr. Isaac Richmond Nettey
Mr. Charles Obert
Ms. Jessica Wallis
Mr. Mark Zuranski

Advisory Board

Mr. Thomas Baechle
Mr. Richard Bennett
Ms. Cari Cisar
Ms. Beth Darmstadter
Ms. Maria Ianiro


Ms. Allie Kudej
Ms. Jasmine McDonough
Ms. Haley McElwee
Ms. Rebecca Muellauer
Ms. Christina Uehlin