Academy Instructors

Before David Huffmire became a Soloist with Ballet West, he spent several years at the Ballet West Academy. Originally, he intended to become a classically-trained pianist, having started at age five, but during a summer intensive program with Ballet West Academy at age 14, the art form just clicked and Huffmire shifted his focus to ballet.

Huffmire credits his journey to becoming a professional ballet dancer to the Ballet West Academy and instruction he received from Jeff Rogers, Director of Academy Men’s Program and former Ballet West Principal Dancer. “Jeff helped make my goal less of a dream and more of a reality,” said Huffmire. “He saw that I wanted to work hard and adapted to my needs. Having instructors that danced professionally were able to demonstrate what company life is like and how to get to that point.”

Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy Director Evelyn Cisneros-Legate | Photo by Beau Pearson

Ballet West Academy Director Evelyn Cisneros-Legate credits the Academy’s uniqueness to having faculty members and instructors with professional dancing background with large-scale dance companies.

“They have that world-class experience to be able to then pour into our students, something that a professional dancer at a high level of experience can’t get any other way,” said Cisneros-Legate, who was Prima-Ballerina of The San Francisco Ballet for many years beginning under Michael Smuin, Co-Artistic Director with Lew Christensen, brother of Ballet West Founder Willam Christensen.

“Instructors at that highest level are able to share the real life of a dancer, such as the importance of paying attention all the time, of learning quickly, being adaptable, of being positive and ready to jump in at any moment,” she adds.

The other Academy instructors include a vast professional ballet experience – including Catherine Batcheller, former dancer from San Francisco Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet; Stacey Mahan, former dancer from New York City Opera Ballet, Ballet Repertory and Ballet Ambassadors; Courtney Hellebuyck, who danced with Pennsylvania Ballet and Smuin Ballet; and James Payne, who danced with both Ballet West and the Houston Ballet.

Ballet West Academy Utah County Campus Principal Heather Thackeray | Photo by Beau Pearson

The Academy’s Principals represent a depth of professional experience including Thanksgiving Point Principal, Heather Thackeray, a long-tenured dancer with Ballet West who just celebrated 30 years with the organization; Park City Principal, Allison DeBona, First Soloist from Ballet West, who retired from a 15-year career at Ballet West in the spring of 2022; Salt Lake Principal Katherine Lawrence, Principal Dancer for Ballet West, who ended a 17-year performing career with the company in summer 2021; and Stephen Legate, former National Ballet of Canada Soloist and San Francisco Ballet Principal. As a result of such rich instructional backgrounds, 75 percent of the current Ballet West Company trained with the Ballet West Academy.  

“If you were going to have glass work done in your house, would you go to someone who had been instructed by masters in their profession, or would you go to somebody who was doing it as a hobby or had only done on an academic level?” said Rogers. “People who have had a practical application through their lives, their pedagogy as a teacher, and where they came from, all those things are interconnected. The academy has a list of instructors that have all had successful and substantial careers, and now as successful teachers.”

The Ballet West Academy is also setting out to change the student experience with ballet training. “We have a reputation for having a very high-quality teaching faculty and with a teaching style that is very positive and empowering to students,” said Cisneros-Legate. “The framework of the academy is built to really empower the student. I grew up in the professional dancer world where negative reinforcement and criticism was thought to get the best result out of dancers. I don’t agree. I firmly believe and have made it my goal to set a new standard.”

Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy Ballet Centre and Trolley Corners Campus Principal Katherine Lawrence | Photo by Beau Pearson

When academy students are ready to find a place within professional dancing company, if there isn’t a place for them at Ballet West, the academy helps connect them to opportunities with other companies. Many well-known artists trained at Ballet West, including Olympic Champion, Nathan Chen, Megan Fairchild with the New York City Ballet, and recently student graduates who have signed on with Royal Ballet Academy, Western Australia Ballet, Prague Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Vienna State Opera.