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Dance & Theater

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Faculty Bios

 Michelle Knell (Director), Rosemary Suggs, Taylor Bell, Haley Harmon, Haley Stone, Sarah Jo Wright, Haley Green, Becky QuinnSamantha Bland, Sarah Dixon, Emyle Moore, Savannah Dubose

Michelle Knell: Michelle is now in her 13th year at Sonshine Academy. She has studied dance for more than 35 years beginning in Conway as a child and then with Ballet Arkansas, Twin Cities Ballet, The Richmond Ballet, and Dallas Metropolitan Ballet. Michelle has also studied in Texas, Mississippi, Virginia, and New York, under such master teachers as Kirt and Linda Hathaway, Thommie Retter, Bill Martin Viscount, Janice Barringer, Phil Black, Frank Hatchett, Linda Ford Lavender, Keith Clifton, David Howard, Al Gilbert, Ann Etgen, Bill Atkinson, and many more. She has continued her training over the years by attending workshops and conventions to study with the likes of Mandy Moore, Shane Sparks, Seth Zibalese, and the popular husband and wife hip-hop team, Nappy-Tabs, all of which have been recently featured on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance. After spending some time as a teenager in New York City studying at The David Howard School of Ballet, along with Broadway Dance Center, and Steps on Broadway, she danced professionally with several southern ballet companies, including the River City Ballet and Ballet Arkansas. She has performed both principal and corp de ballet roles in The Nutcracker, Graduation Ball, Coppelia, and Cinderella. Later, she went on to stage The Nutcracker for River City Ballet and also choreographed and staged Hansel and Gretel for Dance Etc. in Fort Worth, Texas. Recently Michelle wrote, directed, and choreographed a full length original Christmas production for Sonshine Academy entitled "There is No X in Christmas." In addition to her dancing, Michelle has extensive improvisational theater experience. She spent 3 seasons as a singer/actress in a children's theater group entitled The Story Patch Players which was a member of the Texas Commission for the Arts. As a teacher, Michelle has been instructing students of all ages in ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, modern, contemporary, lyrical, and musical theatre, for more than 24 years in studios all across the southern states. In addition, her students have won many awards at dance competitions and conventions and some have received dance scholarships to prestigious studios on the West Coast or to universities such as OCU and UALR. Others have been seen on Broadway in shows like Wicked and still more have opened their very own studios. In 2005, Michelle founded the "For the Love of Dance" winter workshop, a popular weekend-long dance convention that brings together master teachers from across the country to provide convention style classes to students from all over the state of Arkansas. She served as not only the director of that workshop but as one of its annual instructors as well. In 2009, Ms. Knell was invited to be an adjudicator for Kid's Artistic Revue (a National Dance and Talent Competition) and judged her first KAR competition in Detroit, MI. She was a guest teacher for The New Creation Dance Company and has provided some of the competition choreography for the Conway High School Varsity Dance Team over the last decade. A writer and teacher of teachers, Michelle is also proud to say that she was recently published by Jump Dance Convention in their national newsletter. Since then, her words have been found quoted on hundreds of websites across the dance community, including the business websites or Facebook pages of organizations such as Dance Teacher Summit. She is also a freelance writer and in 2013-2014 had several articles published in a national dance magazine called Dance Studio Life regarding classroom connections, alternative performance opportunities for non competitive dancers, and the positive dance competition experience. She was also a featured dance educator on the popular web based publication The Dance Executive during their 2014 Summer Series, where she was interviewed about her favorite marketing strategies, teaching tools, and her best advice for up and coming teachers. Michelle now proudly serves as director and lead choreographer of the highly awarded competition team, Xtreme Dance Force, and is currently serving as Director of Dance at Sonshine Academy where she teaches many of the advanced company classes, in addition to quite a few pre-company classes. Not only is Michelle professionally qualified but she also has a love of children that is undeniable. She is one of those people who have the ability to teach preschool through professional and do a super job at each level. For questions regarding Sonshine's dance department, you may e-mail the director at michelle@sonshineacademy.com.

Taylor Cunningham: An alumnus of Conway High School, Taylor is a recent graduate of Central Baptist College with a degree in General Studies and a minor in English. She began her dance training at Sonshine Academy 20 years ago and is continuing her education to this day. She has studied ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, musical theater, hip-hop, and pointe and does a beautiful job performing them all. She also has formal voice training. During her competition career, Taylor was a highly awarded dancer, taking home several divisional titles and special awards, such as Talent on Parade TOP STARZ, and Kid's Artistic Revue KAR KIDS, not to mention several 1st place overall awards.  In addition to studying dance under Allison D'auteuil-Whitfield, Barbara Davis, and Michelle Knell, she has recently broadened her training by attending master classes at the For the Love of Dance Winter Workshop and DanceMaker's Inc. These opportuities afforded her the opportunity to study with master choreographers such as Thommie Retter, Daryl Retter, Gina Badone, Tommy Alexander, and Brooke Paulsen. As a choreographer, Taylor has assisted with Conway High School's  musical The Music Man and Back to the 80s, Central Baptist College's You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and Annie, Get Your Gun, Greenbrier High School's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Into the Woods, and the CHS marching band's halftime shows from 2009 to present. As a performer, she held a demi-soloist role in the Sonshine Academy performance of "The Little Match Girl" and also performed with the community dance troupe, Soul Speak. At Sonshine Academy, Taylor seved as the ballet mistress under director Michelle Knell for the original production of "There's No X in Christmas". She has also had the opportunity to work with the highly awarded Xtreme Dance Force competition team as an assistant, and helped develop the new dance based fitness class, Krazy Kardio. Most recently, Taylor was recruited as a technique coach for the Russelville High School Varsity Dance Team, and she also began teaching creative movement classes for Shine Xpress, a nonprofit organization that works to provide extra-curricular activities to underpriviledged chidren in Central Arkansas. Though she mainly teaches preschool through intermediate level Ballet, Tap, Jazz, and Pointe, along with some preschool music classes, she is capable of teaching almost any style and level of dance. In addition to her extensive knowledge of proper technique, her joyful spirit and exuberance for dance have been wonderful assets to the dance faculty. 

 Haley Harmon: Haley is a Junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is a member of the esteemed Donaghey Scholars Program and is currently majoring in Social Work and minoring in Dance Performance and Spanish. She also spent a summer attending the University of Salamanca in Spain, where she studied Spanish grammar, translation, and oral communication. While on full scholarship, Haley is able to enjoy a university dance program which includes classes in Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Tap, Choreography, Theatrical Design, Stage Management, Costume Techniques, and Anatomy for Dancers. She is currently studying with master teachers such as Stephanie Thibeault who performed with Mikahail Barishnikov, Rhythm McCarthy who danced with Martha Graham, and Stephen Stone who performed with Paramount Productions. Haley's dance education began 18 years ago at the age of two. She has danced in studios all across the southern states including Virginia, Texas, and Arkansas. She has also attended over 25 conventions and master classes such as Dupree Dance Expo, LADF, OKLA, DanceMaker's Inc., Tremaine, and the "For the Love of Dance Winter Workshop" where she had the opportunity to study with the likes of Nappy-Tabs, Keith Clifton, Janice Barringer, Tommy Alexander, Gina Badone, Brooke Paulson Zelus, Seth Zibalese, Jo Rowan, Glyn Gray, Darryl Retter, Thommie Retter, Mandy Moore, Lachlan McCarthy, Katie Schaar, and Roland Dupree. While in High School, Haley served as Captain of the Varsity Dance Team and also spent 7 years as a member of the Xtreme Dance Force competition team. She was a highly awarded competitor, having been named a TOP Dance Directive Scholarship Winner, Revolution Power Pak Scholarship Winner, Hall of Fame ALL STAR, and KAR Convention Scholarship Winner. She was also named Ms. Regional Starmaker 2012 and StarSystems Senior Solo Regional Champion 2011 and 2013. She was twice invited to be part of a national production number with OKLA Dance Connection and is a Top NDA All-American Dancer. In the last 4 years, Haley has won 3 scholarships to attend the DanceMaker's National Convention along with one to attend a week's worth of classes at Retter's Academy of Dance in Agora Hills California. She was also accepted into and awarded scholarships for two reputable university dance programs, Oklahoma City University and UALR. In fact, she has been so recognized for her dance abilities that she was named one of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette's 20 to Watch in 2012. Miss Harmon has an extensive teaching and performance history. She was the youngest member on record of the Dance Etc. Performing Company and landed the starring role in a full length ballet called "The Little Match Girl" at the age of 15. She has also danced at several New Life Church events such as Woman, which is attended by thousands of women from the Central Arkansas area. She began her teaching career by assisting other master teachers when she was just 13 years old. In 2011, she received her assistant dance teacher certification from the Ann Lacey School of American Dance Arts and Management at Oklahoma City University. She later became a  licensed Zumba instructor and a member of the ZIN Network. Though she mainly teaches contemporary, musical theater, modern, tap, jazz, turns/leaps/progressions, hip-hop, and competition choreography, Haley is capable of teaching all levels and styles of dance including a dance fitness class called Krazy Kardio, which she helped develop. Her choreography is now being used by numerous Sonshine Academy Xtreme Dance Force soloists with great success. She also provided all of the Conway High School Varsity Dance Team competition choreography from 2011-2013. In 2013, she was awarded the Outstanding Choreography award at a regional AAA Varsity Dance Team Competition. In 2012, all three of Haley's choreographic works took 1st place at a regional competition and her hip-hop choreography has won 1st place regionally for the last 3 years. Haley is currently being recruited by high schools all over the state for her award winning work and often travels to other studios, such as Kicks and Flips in Mountain Home, to provide competition choreography to their All Star Dance Teams. Most recently she has accepted a job as the hip-hop choreographer for the Russelville High School Varsity Dance Team. She has also been asked to provide bridal party choreography for women in the Central Arkansas area and step show choreography for UCA sororities. She is a beautiful dancer, an in demand choreographer, and an excellent technician. Sonshine is excited to see what this young lady does with her talents in the future, and we are thrilled to have her on board. 

 Haley Stone: Haley has been dancing since she was just a little girl, but she is just beginning her third exciting season as an instructor with us. She received most of her studio training at Sonshine Academy, where she took classes in Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Lyrical, Modern and Pointe under the direction of Michelle Knell and Allison D'auteuil Whitfield. Later she expanded her training at numerous conventions such as OCUNYC, Tremaine, OKLA Dance Connection, For the Love of Dance Winter Workshop, and the Thea Foundation Workshop. Those opportunities gave her the chance to study with such stars as Glyn Gray, Thommie Retter, Corbin Blue, and Bill Hastings. For several years Haley was an active member of the award winning competition team Xtreme Dance Force. During that time she traveled regionally and nationally taking home numerous awards. After graduating from Conway High School, where she was a member of the Varsity Dance Team, Haley received a scholarship to Oklahoma City University. She has spent the last four years as a student of the Ann Lacey School of American Dance Arts and Management on the OCU campus. She studied under such master teachers as Jo Rowan, Mary Price Boday, Kari Shaw, and Brian Marcum. In May of 2012, Haley graduated with a bachelor's degree in American Dance Pedagogy. She has been trained to be an organized, passionate, and professional dance teacher and choreographer. She spent two years teaching at a recreational dance studio affiliated with OCU and therefore has ample experience teaching in the classroom setting. While studying at OCU, Haley danced in several performances including "An Evening with Berlin", a Thesis Performance which was directed by a fellow student and also performed in "Dancing Until the World Ends", a student choreography show. She also recently became a licensed Zumba instructor and a member of the Zumba Instructor's Network. Haley's specialty is Ballet, Tap, and Jazz as it pertains to the entertainment industry, however she is also capable of teaching other forms of dance such as creative movement, Krazy Kardio, hip-hop, and lyrical. Miss Stone has valuable experience as a choreographer, choreographer's assistant, photographer, costume mistress, and backstage crew member for the American Spirit Dance Company. She is currently loving teaching creative movement classes for Shine Xpress, a nonprofit organization that works to provide extra-curricular activities to underpriviliedged children in Central Arkansas, along with a host of other classes at Sonshine Academy. She has a lovely and generous spirit and Sonshine is blessed beyond measure to have her sharing her time and talents with us. 

Sarah Jo Wright:  Sarah Jo is an alumnus of Conway Christian School. She has an Associates Degree from Pulaski Technical College and is currently attending the University of Central Arkansas, where she is studying Creative Writing. She is a former member of the New Creation Dance Company and has been dancing at Sonshine Academy since she was a toddler. She has spent the last fifteen years studying dance and has worked with children in many of Sonshine's programs. In addition to being a member of the Platinum Company, Sarah Jo has been keeping up her training by attending For the Love of Dance and DanceMaker's Inc. workshops and recently took some classes at Broadway Dance Center in New York City. She also attended the Ad Deum Summer Dance Intensive at Palm Beach Atlantic University under the direction of Randall Flinn. She is trained in ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, modern, and lyrical. Sarah Jo is a talented young choreographer and has often been asked to help with the choreography of the Conway Christian School musicals. She also wrote several of the musical arrangements. She has also been trained in gymnastics and competitive cheerleading and is a proficient tumbler. Her experience with children and her years of professional dance training make her a vaulable asset to Sonshine's dance faculty.  

Haley Green: Haley began her dance training in elementary school at Irby's Dance Studio. She studied ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, lyrical, and hip hop for over thirteen years. She is a graduate of Conway High School and was a member of the CHS Dance Team throughout her high school career. Haley was also a member of the UCA Honeybears Dance Team for three years and was co-captain one of those years. Haley joined our dance faculty three years ago working with several of our Preschool Dance classes and has been a wonderful asset. We are delighted to have her share her gifts and talents here at Sonshine Academy.

Jessica Wright: Jessica is relatively new to the Sonshine Staff, but is such a welcome addition. She is a sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas and a member of the Honor’s College. She comes to us from New Mexico and has a wealth of dance education. She studied with Mann Dance Academy for 12 years, taking classes in ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical. Later, she taught fundamentals of ballet and hip-hop for Mann Dance Academy and also taught beginning ballet at Farmington Gymnastics Academy. Jessica is a joy to work with, and we expect great things from her in the years to come.



Assistants and Substitutes:                                            

                     

Rosemary Suggs: Rosemary is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas with a Health Science degree and is currently working toward her doctorate in Physical Therapy. She has literally been dancing at Sonshine Academy since she was a toddler and therefore has been the recipient of 20 years of dance training, studying under Allison D'auteuil-Whitfield, Barbara Davis, and Michelle Knell. Rosemary is trained in ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical. She was also a member of the Xtreme Dance Force competition team. In 2005, she attended a summer workshop where she was fortunate enough to study with Ballet Magnificat, one of the premiere Christian Ballet Companies in the USA. Most recently, Rosemary has been keeping up her training by attending For the Love of Dance workshops, DanceMaker's Inc. workshops, and by taking a few classes at Broadway Dance Center in New York City. She has also performed with a small local community dance troupe entitled Soul Speak. In addition to being a member of the Sonshine Academy Dance Faculty for several years, Rosemary is also a Swim instructor and teaches preschool gymnastics. Her experience with children and her years of professional dance training make her a valuable asset to Sonshine’s dance faculty.        

Emyle Moore: Emyle is a long time Sonshine Academy student, a member of the Platinum Company, former Conway High School Varsity Team member, and a former Light Award winner. She is a freshman at UCA and works not only in our dance program but also helps out with birthday parties. She is trained in ballet, tap, jazz, and pointe. Emyle has attended several For the Love of Dance Workshops in order to enhance her training and has appeared in many of Sonshine Academy’s Christmas performances. She began her assistant teaching career last year and continues to do a wonderful job. Emyle has a sweet spirit and is a very mature young lady. We are so proud she chose to join our faculty.

Savannah Dubose: Savannah is a long time Sonshine Academy student, an Xtreme Dance Force competitor, a member of the Platinum Company, and a former Light Award winner. She is trained in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip-hop and pointe. Savannah has attended several For the Love of Dance Workshops in order to enhance her training and has also been studying at DanceMaker’s Inc. in Branson, Mo, where she was recently named 1st runner up Miss Teen Starmaker. Savannah has appeared in many of Sonshine Academy’s Christmas performances. She began her assistant teaching career 2 years ago by helping out with a preschool class and substituting for other assistants when needed. Savannah is a talented and brilliant dancer who has a passion for her work. We love having her on board.

Alyssa Walter: An alumnus of St. Joe High School, Alyssa is a sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas.  She has been dancing for more than 15 years at Sonshine Academy while studying ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, pointe, and hip-hop. She has extended her training by attending “For the Love of Dance” workshops and was an active and highly awarded member of the Xtreme Dance Force competition team for 5 years. Alyssa held demi soloist roles in Sonshine Academy performances of “The Little Match Girl” and “There is No X in Christmas”. A former Light Award Winner, she is an excellent addition to our dance staff, bringing a love for children, a passion for dance, and a joyful spirit that is contagious to all who are blessed enough to have her as a teacher. We are so fortunate to have her working with us.

Hannah Ray: Hannah comes to us from El Dorado, Arkansas and is a nursing student at UCA. She studied dance at Bravo Dance Center and has experience in ballet, jazz, elementary tap, lyrical, and gymnastics. She brings with her a wealth of experience in so many areas including math, childcare, and scheduling, making her a valuable asset to any dance program. Her organizational skills, dance knowledge, love for children, and calming nature make her the assistant teacher we all dream of. Currently she is assisting with numerous elementary classes, subbing when needed, and helping out in the after school care program. We are so blessed by her presence.

These ladies enjoy performing and also love to share their knowledge of dance with other students in a classroom setting. Sonshine is very fortunate to have such a deep pool of talented young ladies who are willing to share their time and talents when the need arises.

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