Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus

Performing Arts Staff

JCC Performing Arts Director

Esther Katz was trained at The Professional Children’s School in Philadelphia, PA. She has also studied at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Koresh Dance, University of the Arts, and Temple University where she was on a dance scholarship. Her ballet training includes both the Cecchetti & Vagonova methods. Her modern dance background is in Graham, Anthony, & Horton. Esther was a member of many independent dance companies in Philadelphia including New LEJA Dance Underground Dance works. She demonstrated for Philadanco company classes under Pat Thomas and taught ballet and modern dance at The Professional Children’s School for 7 years before moving to Omaha. She previously danced with UNO’s The Moving Company and was a founding member of tbd. Dance Collective. Esther taught in the OPS Special Ed. Program before starting as the Dance Director at the J in 2006, although she had been teaching ballet at the J since 2004. In 2018 she was the recipient of the Jody and Neal Malashock Award for Professional Excellence.  When she’s not dancing, Esther loves to play with her kids, garden, and bake!

Performing Arts Dance Assistant Director

Lauren Wichert holds a BA in English and a minor in Dance from Creighton University.  She has been teaching various styles of dance around the metro since 2014 and is a current and founding member of tbd. Dance Collective. Lauren began teaching at the JCC in 2018 and assumed the role of Performing Arts Dance Associate in 2021.  When she’s not dancing, Lauren loves to knit, read, and practice aerial arts.

Theater & Piano Associate

Sophie Knauss is an instructor, actor, scenic designer, and visual artist based in Omaha. Receiving a BA in Theatre at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, she has experience in performance, design, directing, and stage managing. When she is not teaching, she is working as a freelance designer and listening to as many show tunes as possible. She has grown a passion for teaching and sharing the importance of performing arts for our next generation.

Dance Instructors

Haruna Asanuma

Haruna's Bio

Haruna first started dancing at the Omaha Academy of Ballet in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2010, she studied abroad in London to study at Laban Conservatoire of Contemporary Dance, where she trained in Release, Limon, and Cunningham techniques and classical ballet. She later went on to graduate with her BA (Hons) Degree in Contemporary Dance from the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance.

Haruna has performed with Atelier Teatro Danza in Italy and toured Scotland with the SSCD graduate company, while in college. After graduation, she has performed in Omaha with Maya Taylor Dance Company, TBD Dance Collective, Moving Company, as well as the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen with Ever After Productions. She later moved to Minneapolis and danced with Metropolitan Ballet, Minneapolis Ballet Dancers and Yuki Tokuda Ballet, where she danced both contemporary and classical works. Some of her favorite roles include Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker, Cygnets in Swan Lake and Friends in Romeo and Juliet. Since 2012, she has taught at several dance studios all over the Twin Cities and Omaha

Nora Carr

Nora's Bio

Nora started dancing in Saratoga Springs, NY at the age of three. She studied at Ballet Regent, Saratoga City Ballet and Myers Ballet School until moving to Carlisle, PA to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet under Marcia Dale Weary. While training, she also attended summer intensives at American Ballet Theater, Miami City Ballet, New York State Summer School of the Arts, CPYB and Saratoga and Vail Summer Dance Intensives. After receiving her Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati, she danced with Akjun Ballet Theater in NYC. Nora then joined American Midwest Ballet in Omaha in 2016 and is currently a company dancer. Nora began teaching at the J in 2020 and is excited to share her love of dancing with all of her students.  When she’s not dancing, Nora loves to sit in the sun and read a good book.

Leigh Chaves

Leigh's Bio

Leigh began dancing at the age of 5 and has danced with Beth Gaynes Dance Studio, Truman State University, at multiple conventions and Rugged Soles.  She holds her BA in Communication-Journalism from Truman State University and a Master’s Degree in Arts Education from University of Central Missouri.  Leigh has also choreographed for community theater, show choirs, high school dance teams and charity events.  Leigh began teaching at the J in 2015.  When she’s not dancing, Leigh love to read, bike and spend time with family!

Alyssa Donley (Grimsley)

Alyssa's Bio

Alyssa, an Arkansas native, graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BFA in Ballet Performance summa cum laude. She has been dancing with American Midwest Ballet since 2014.  Alyssa began teaching at the J in 2018.  When she’s not dancing, Alyssa loves to try new recipes and spend time with her husband and miniature schnauzer.

Colleen Halpin

Colleen's Bio

Colleen, an Omaha native, grew up dancing at the JCC, and was a founding member of the JCC Dance Training Company.  She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2018 with degrees in Mathematics and Theology. Colleen currently teaches Theology at Skutt Catholic High School. When she’s not dancing, she loves spending time with her family, drinking coffee with friends, reading, singing and playing piano!  Colleen resumed teaching at the J in 2021.

Stephanie Huettner

Stephanie's Bio

Stephanie Huettner is an Omaha based dancer and choreographer. She has studied and performed various dance styles for over 40 years and is currently the co-director of tbd. dance collective. The creation of the group came out of an organic desire to grow dance in the Omaha community. Since the inception of the collective, Huettner has performed and choreographed with the group in a wide variety of styles in many disparate venues. Her favorite collaborations include work with local musicians, filmmaker Nik Fackler, and the Movement Series at the KANEKO art gallery. Huettner spends her days saving the world as the Assistant General Curator, Curator of Birds, and sustainability coordinator at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

Wendy Larson-Cooper

Wendy's Bio

Nora started dancing in Saratoga Springs, NY at the age of three. She studied at Ballet Regent, Saratoga City Ballet and Myers Ballet School until moving to Carlisle, PA to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet under Marcia Dale Weary. While training, she also attended summer intensives at American Ballet Theater, Miami City Ballet, New York State Summer School of the Arts, CPYB and Saratoga and Vail Summer Dance Intensives. After receiving her Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati, she danced with Akjun Ballet Theater in NYC. Nora then joined American Midwest Ballet in Omaha in 2016 and is currently a company dancer. Nora began teaching at the J in 2020 and is excited to share her love of dancing with all of her students.  When she’s not dancing, Nora loves to sit in the sun and read a good book.

Penny Michonski

Penny's Bio

Originally from Minnesota, Penny Michonski came to Omaha to attend Creighton University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Music. While at Creighton she received her dance pedagogy from Valerie Roche and was asked to teach at Omaha Academy of Ballet upon graduation. Now a ballet instructor with over twenty years of teaching and arts administration experience, Penny specializes in the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) syllabus to dancers ages three through adult and beginning to advanced ability. Penny is thrilled to be back teaching at the JCC after a brief stint teaching here over fourteen years ago! In her spare time Penny loves spending time with her husband, Dan, two children, Caroline and Joe, and dog, Daisy.

Lynne Nevin

Lynne's Bio

Lynne holds an Associate Diploma through the ISTD Professional Teaching Examinations and has studied the Alexander Technique, she also has a BA in Art History from UNL. Lynne was a company member of Omaha Ballet. She resumed teaching at the J in 2009. When she’s not dancing, Lynne loves to spend time with her friends.

Deidre Ochsner

Deidre's Bio

Deidre starting dancing at the age of 3 and has danced with Pat Carlson, Mildred Collins School of Dance and the Drake Dance Team. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology from Dana College. Her family has been dancing with the JCC Dance program since 2013 and Deidre began teaching at the J in 2019. When she’s not dancing, Deidre loves to cook and read.

Jonnie Robinson

Jonnie's Bio

Lauren Simpson

Lauren's Bio

Lauren, a Chicago native, has danced for choreographers Liz Lerman and Risa Jaroslow. She received her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography from the University of Colorado-Boulder, Ed.M. from Harvard University, and B.A. from Carleton College. She taught dance at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Harvard College, and the University of San Francisco.

A recent transplant from San Francisco, Lauren maintains close ties with the Bay Area performance community. She is one of ODC’s Artists in Residence for 2018-2021. In 2014 Lauren co-founded Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations, a San Francisco-based performance company, with Jenny Stulberg. Together they were nominated for two Izzie Awards in 2016. They have been artists in residence at CounterPulse Theater, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s CHIME Program. Her most recent evening length work, DANCE EXHIBIT, was the first dance residency at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, May 2019. Her recent Omaha-based work has been featured in the Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America and supported by Omaha’s Amplify Arts.

Lauren began teaching at the J in 2021. When she’s not dancing she is working on building her marketing business, playing tennis, and dancing to country music with her two daughters.

Rebecca Smedlund

Rebecca's Bio

Rebecca began dancing at the age of 2 in Omaha, NE.  She trained under Julie Dall, Mandy Talmadge, Patrick Roddy, Bridget Agriopoulos and Diana McHale.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Geology from the University of Kansas and a Master’s degree in Wellness and Health Promotion and Management from Nebraska Methodist College.  Currently, Rebecca dances with the Rugged Soles Tap Troop.  When she’s not dancing, she loves to be in nature and practice yoga.  Rebecca began teaching at the J in 2019.

Whitney Walsh

Whitney's Bio

Whitney grew up in Westlake Village, CA training at the California Dance Theater in Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, and Lyrical.  She spent summers training at ABT NYC, The Joffrey Ballet, Houston Ballet, and the Kirov Academy of Washington D.C. Whitney went on to became a trainee with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago for two years before moving to Omaha to join the region’s professional ballet company, American Midwest Ballet in 2014. Whitney began teaching at the J in 2020.  When she’s not dancing, Whitney loves cook, workout, and play with her cat Rosie!

Lindsay Willis

Lindsay's Bio

Lindsay began dancing at the age of 6 and grew up dancing with Cherrie Anderson Dance Company on their competition team.  Lindsay graduated from UNO in December of 2020 with a degree in Psychology and a concentration in Child Development. She is now attending Doane University getting her Master’s degree in School Counseling. Lindsay was also a member of UNO’s Dance Team from 2017-2018. Lindsay has been teaching dance across the Omaha Metro area since about 2015 and began teaching at the J in 2020 and loves being a part of this dance community. When she’s not dancing, Lindsay loves to read and spend time with her family!

Jessica Westerlin

Jessica's Bio

Jessica received early dance training in Seattle. She continued with Ballet Omaha, the Omaha Theater Ballet School of Dance and JCC Omaha. Jessica has a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from St. Olaf College. She has performed with the St. Olaf modern dance company, Companydance, the St. Olaf liturgical dance troupe, Leap of Faith, Omaha Dance Project, and the Omaha Theater Ballet’s The Nutcracker. She previously danced with UNO’s The Moving Company, was a founding member of tbd. Dance Collective and has also actively participated in Dance Chance Omaha. Jessica began teaching at the J in 2009 and was the Assistant Performing Arts Director from 2013-2021.  When she’s not dancing, Jessica loves to travel, crochet, watch movies and live theater, and spend time with her family.

Pianists & Music Instructors

Christine Bendorf (Vocal Music Instructor)

Christine's Bio

Christine graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance in 2017. Highlights of her music experiences at UNO include singing with the Chamber Choir at Carnegie Hall, participating in NATS student auditions, playing piano in the big band Jazz II organization, and acting as a judge at Central High School’s Celebrate Singing Festival. In the Omaha community, she has sung with NExus Vocal Jazz and various church choirs and performed voice and piano at open mic nights around the city. She has taught at various Omaha studios while continuing a private teaching practice since 2015. 

Christine adores being an influence for her students, no matter their age or experience levels. It is amazing the impact that music can have on people no matter what they want to do with what they learn!  Each student will have personalized lessons based on their needs and what they would like to achieve. She wants her students to know she cares about their success inside and outside of the studio.  Christine would love to help you achieve your own goals and explore your creativity through music!

Susan Bertino (Piano & Music Instructor)

Susan's Bio

Susan is a mother of two, Pianist and Artist. Born and raised on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, she began piano lessons at age 2 and quickly learned to read music with the help of her two older sisters.  By age 4 she started private piano lessons and was entertaining her family and friends with mini piano recitals.   She came from a family of Artists and Musicians who frequently went to Classical, Broadway, Pops, and Jazz concerts in NYC.  This gave her a broad appreciation of the Arts at a very young age which has enriched her life.  Going to the Met, the Guggenheim Museum, etc. was a normal part of life for Susan.

At the age of 16 she started performing and teaching piano and organ lessons on Long Island.  She also performed Bb, Eb, and Bass Clarinets with a Baroque Quartet.

She possesses a B.S. in Textiles & Business from Arizona State University and a B.M. in Theory & Composition/Piano from the University of Nebraska.  Her studies were further expanded in Music when she attended the Aspen School of Music, studying piano with Mary Norris.  Later, she studied Music Composition at the Conservatoire Americain de Fontainebleau in France with Gilbert Amy.  Studying with Phillip Manoury at I.R.C.A.M. in Paris France also enhanced her appreciation of contemporary studies in acoustics and music theory.

Susan has been a Piano Teacher, Performer, Composer/Arranger and a member of the National Music Teachers Association for many years in Omaha, Nebraska.  Her experience teaching has passed on a legacy of music appreciation and piano performance to countless students.  In addition, Susan is an accomplished Textile/Bead Artist and Interior Designer.  When she is not playing or teaching, Susan loves to go on long walks.

Terri Jo Jenkins (Piano & Guitar Instructor)

Terri's Bio

Terri Jo is a professional teacher, recording artist, and performing musician in the jazz, folk, and singer songwriter communities of Omaha. She recently relocated back to her home state of Nebraska from Colorado. She is working as a teacher and performer in jazz, folk, and a singer songwriter. Terri Jo studied music (piano, vocal, flute) with focus on teaching, at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. She studied guitar at Northeastern College in Sterling, Colorado and later opened music studios in both Lincoln and Denver. She has worked as a music director at churches leading vocal and bell choirs along performing during services.
Although she has had many memorable concerts and recording experiences, it is her long teaching career, seeing students grow musically, that brings her the greatest joy.
“My mission is to help each student to grow in aesthetic understanding and appreciation through learning to play music sensitively and joyfully.”

Emmanuel Chaves (Piano Instructor)

Emmanuel's Bio

Emmanuel grew up with a passion for music, and fell in love with the piano at a young age. The works of Chopin, Beethoven and even Hans Zimmer inspired him to make music more than just a hobby. He studied music at Creighton University, and has now been teaching piano for over 6 years. His hope is to inspire the same passion for music in younger generations.

Margaret Currie (Pianist)

Margaret's Bio

Margaret has accompanied dance classes at the JCC from 1991-1995 and resumed in 2012. She has also accompanied at the Omaha Academy of Ballet School of Ballet Omaha, Daniel J. Gross High School and Brownell-Talbot. She holds a B.S. degree in Bible/Music from Faith Baptist Bible College and was a private piano teacher for 24 years.  When she’s not playing for classes, Margaret loves to have shop, take road trips, read, write, personally meditate and have a coffee and talk with good friends.

Joan Prenosil (Pianist)

Joan's Bio

Joan received her degrees in Music Education, Piano, and Voice at Minnesota State University, and has been teaching piano to children and adults for over 40 years. Early in her career, she taught music in the public schools. Later she started her own music studio and added Kindermusik in Omaha & Elkhorn in 1991, which served scores of children in the Metro area before she passed it on to her head educator in 2019. Joan is also a performing musician in voice and piano, and has sung/played for numerous church services in the area, as well as weddings/funerals/ occasions.  She is a member of several professional music organizations, including MTNA (national), NMTA (state) and Omaha Music Teachers Association. Joan has been a guest artist for the Junior League of Omaha’s Very Special Arts Program, Methodist Hospital’s Cancer through the Arts Series, and for Children’s Hospital in Omaha. She frequently assisted with the Instrumental Petting Zoo at the Omaha Symphony’s Family Concert Series. She loves teaching music, and it shows! Joan looks forward to working with the children and adults that the JCC of Omaha serves.

Cathy A. Pacholski (Pianist and Piano Instructor)

Cathy's Bio

Cathy Pacholski began playing the piano when she was eight years old, taking lessons for about four years.  Thanks to support and encouragement from a school music teacher, she continues to play to this day – at weddings, for high school choirs, and in church and senior living communities. Cathy graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and minors in music, communication, and sociology. She began accompanying dance classes and teaching piano at the J in 2020.

Anna Yuz-Mosenkis (Pianist)

Anna's Bio

Anna began to play piano and take ballet classes at 6 years old in the Kiev, Ukraine.  At 12, she was unable to continue with both ballet and piano after her father passed away, so she had to make the tough choice and only continue with one – piano. Anna always loved to be in the ballet/dance environment and as soon as she could, Anna started accompanying for ballet classes.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Music from Kiev and while there, she also directed and taught piano in a music school.  She also performed and traveled the country with music and dance groups.  Anna is also a licensed Skin Care Specialist/ Esthetician by education and a long experience.  Since arriving in the United States in 1991, Anna has been glad to implement both professions into her daily life and hopes to continue because she loves what she does.   Anna has played for the J since the Fall of 1991 and has taught piano lessons for many years and just began teaching Piano here at the J in 2018. When she’s not playing piano, Anna loves to travel, be with her kids, walk, knit, read, swim, and be with friends.

Theater Staff

Jeff Garst

Jeff's Bio

Jeff Garst is a local director, actor, scenic designer, and teacher. He teaches English and directs the theatre program at Elkhorn High School and has particularly enjoyed working on The Addams Family, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Nevermore!. As a performer, Jeff has been seen in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Mitch Mahoney), Kinky Boots (Ensemble), and Plaza Suite (Waiter). When not working on some sort of theatrical endeavor, Jeff enjoys movies, embroidery, and trying to convince his cats that they have plenty of food in their bowl.

Benjamin Saul

Benjamin's Bio

Benjamin Saul is a music teacher with a passion for educating and inspiring students of all ages. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Doane University and has over 6 years of experience teaching voice and piano. He is in his second year of teaching within Gretna Public Schools where he has directed four plays and two musicals. As an active performer and ensemble member, Benjamin has most recently played piano for Papillion La-Vista Souths “Mamma Mia”. He is passionate about sharing his love of music with others is extremely excited to contribute to the music making and performing arts department of the JCC!

Courtney Stein Cairncross

Courtney's Bio

Courtney is an Omaha native who has found her way home after living and studying abroad in both Japan and England. Courtney holds a Masters in Dance Anthropology from the University of Roehampton in London. She has worked extensively in the Omaha area as a professional teaching artist, movement director, and choreographer for over 15 years, with organizations such as the Omaha Community Playhouse, Nebraska Shakespeare, Nebraska Theatre Caravan, Opera Omaha, Circle Theatre, Blue Barn Theatre, WhyArts Inc., SNAP Productions, Shelterbelt Theatre, Chanticleer Theatre, and, of course, the Jewish Community Center! Courtney is a strong advocate of inclusive theatre and believes in creating art for the heart.