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.

Read why Ballet in Cleveland is different and sustainable here.

Read Ballet in Cleveland's 2013 Case Statement here.

Jessica Wallace, Founding Director

Jessica Wallis has enjoyed a life in the arts. An original company member of Children's Ballet Theatre (now Ballet Theatre of Ohio) and a scholarship recipient of The Dance Institute of The University of Akron, she was granted a solo role in its premiere production of The Snow Maiden. As a teacher at Martell School of Dance, she taught pre-school though adult level classes and created over forty pieces of original choreography for public performance. She 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. In 2012 Jessica was appointed as co-chair of the Cleveland Young Arts Professionals Network, presented on panels for The Foundation Center and Great Lakes Theater, and began writing dance journalism for DIY Dancer. 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.

Jim Sebastian, Business Manager

When Jim Sebastian is not conducting the business operations of Ballet in Cleveland, he works for Southwest Airlines as a Boeing 737 First Officer. Jim earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Kent State University and currently enjoys the role of Adjunct Professor in the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology.

Additionally, he is a dedicated baseball coach for Cuyahoga Falls High School where he has coached both the Freshmen and Junior Varsity baseball teams. In his spare time, Jim volunteers at Pawsibilities Humane Society of Greater Akron, where he works with abused, neglected and homeless animals during their stay at the shelter. Jim and his wife Lori currently reside in Munroe Falls.

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.

Heidi Kim, Musician in Residence

Born and raised in Detroit, Heidi Kim is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Violin Performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Having played the violin and piano since age six, Kim has made solo appearances on the violin at Carnegie Hall, Detroit Orchestra Hall, and PlayhouseSquare and has performed with dance companies Ballets with a Twist and the North Carolina Dance Theatre. In 2007, she made her international debut at St. John's, Smith Square as part of the London New Year's Day Parade Festival Concert Series. In addition to her musical studies, Kim is pursuing a Dance minor with an emphasis on ballet at Case Western Reserve University and has trained in Tang Soo Do, modern dance, and figure skating. She is the creator of Caffeinated Convos and has a great love for travel, food, fashion, and words.

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.

Christina Dziak, Administrative Assistant

Christina has always had an affinity for the arts, particularly dance and theater, and being exposed to them at a young age helped to shape her passion for the arts. She has a Bachelor's degree in broadcasting and cinema and his currently completing her Master's degree in public relations. When she is not working or volunteering for Ballet in Cleveland and the Pan Ohio Hope Ride, she can be found running local 5Ks, enjoying the local food scene and planning her upcoming wedding.

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.

Marcia Custer, Social Media Consultant

Marcia Custer is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts in Dance with a minor in Art History at Kent State University. As a social media consultant and blogger for Ballet in Cleveland, she is able to combine her love of the dance art form and writing. Not only does she like to think and talk about dance, she is also an active artist. Since 2012, her choreographic works have been performed at The Ohio Dance Festival in Ashland, Ohio, The Transforum Fringe Festival, Standing Rock Cultural Arts, and The E.Z. Blackbox Laboratory Show Series in Kent, Ohio. In 2013, she received the Alpha Psi Omega award for Outstanding Choreographer as well as the School of Theatre and Dance Scholarship Award for excellence in creative work and scholarship.

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

Devin Wallis

Devin Wallis is currently a Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience major at the University of Michigan. She was responsible for the creation of Ballet in Cleveland's logo and continues to do graphic design work for the organization. Over the course of her college career, Devin has involved herself in activities such as volunteering at local juvenile detention centers, participating in political clubs, and mentoring international gifted youth as an intern at Northwestern University. Upon graduation, Devin hopes to do full-time marketing and promotional work for a professional sports organization while maintaining her position with Ballet in Cleveland.

Lori Sebastian

Growing up in New York, Lori started dancing at age six and has always had a passion for ballet. Relying on her Russian ballet training and technique, she pursued Rhythmic Gymnastics while in high school and was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Camp.

Lori is a graduate of Georgia Tech where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering. After graduating, she went on to flight school and began her commercial pilot career in 2001. She is currently a Captain on an Embraer Regional Jet for ExpressJet Airlines. Lori enjoys her role assisting with graphic design projects and fundraising events for Ballet in Cleveland.

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
Ms. Laurie Humphrey
Ms. Elizabeth Lewis
Mr. Charles Obert
Mr. James Sebastian Sr. and Mrs. Margaret Sebastian

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.

Mr. Thomas Baechle
Mr. Greg Hill
Ms. Laurie Humphrey, Esq.
Ms. Elizabeth Lewis
Ms. Gia Ligato
Dr. Isaac Richmond Nettey
Mr. Charles Obert
Mr. Jim Sebastian
Ms. Jessica Wallis
Mr. Mark Zuranski

Advisory Board

Mr. Richard Bennett
Ms. Pamela Dorazio Dean
Mr. Michael Holub
Ms. Maria Ianiro
Mr. James Levin
Ms. Shananne Lewis
Professor Raymond Weber


Ms. Marcia Custer
Ms. Jasmine McDonough
Ms. Daryl Mapson
Ms. Catharine Lewis
Ms. Christina Uehlin