Rishell O’Brien, BSc, AAC
Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, Tap, Acro, Studio Director, Artistic Director
After 23 years of teaching dance throughout the lower mainland, Rishell is ecstatic to continue to watch Defy Gravity Dance Company flourish. Her team of instructors train students to be well-rounded individuals who appreciate the art of dance. Rishell has been dancing since the age of 6 and trained in ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop for 15 years. She began teaching in order to share her love of dance with her students. Rishell holds a Bachelor of Science degree from UBC. Her years of study in anatomy, physiology and biomechanics compliment her knowledge of the body and its capabilities. Her love for children combined with many years of sociology and psychology classes allow her to connect with each student and find ways to assist them with their individual learning styles. Rishell continues to update her education as an instructor with certification as an Acrobatic Arts Acro Instructor, Collaborative Teaching Workshops with renowned Dance Educator Deborah Vogel and various other mentorship programs to best lead the DG Team. She looks forward to bringing innovative ideas in Dance Health to the studio through her collaborations with other like-minded healthcare professionals.
As the Studio Director of Defy Gravity, Rishell oversees the training of each dancer and strives to ensure that each student meets their physical, artistic, social & emotional potential. She is a member in good standing of Healthy Dancer Canada and BC Dance Educators Association as well as Acrobatic Arts Canada. Rishell was a member of the Board of Directors for the Richmond Arts Coalition for many years where she worked to increase awareness of the importance of Art in our everyday lives and has been voted Top 3 Best Dance Teacher (Richmond Review “Best of Richmond” contest) every year since 2006. In addition to her volunteer work in the community, Miss Rishell also served on the Richmond Arts Strategy Steering Committee helping to develop an Arts Strategy Plan currently being implemented in the City of Richmond and was appointed to the Gateway Theatre Endowment Committee in 2014 where she adjudicated funding for artistic ventures in Richmond. Miss Rishell served as the President of the Board of Directors of Renew Humanity where she helped raise funds to send deserving students in Uganda to school and adjudicated applications for funding.
Miss Rishell’s students are consistently awarded High Mark trophies, Diamond, Platinum and High Gold medals in Regional and Provincial competitions, multiple prestigious Judges Awards as well as earning the honour of students qualifying for and attending the BC Provincial Festival of the Arts! Miss Rishell has received numerous Choreography Awards and continues to coach her dancers to excel in both dance technique, performance and important life skills.
Christine Wu, AISTD, Dip RWB TTP
Christine started her training at the Coquitlam School of Ballet where she trained in the Cecchetti syllabus. She was accepted into the half day program at Vancouver’s Goh Ballet and trained there throughout high school where she trained under Yao Ping Zhu, Lynette Kelly, Jian Rong Sheng, Lin Yee Goh, and James Amar in Bournaville, Vaganova, and RAD. During her time at Goh Ballet she toured China and had the opportunity to perform in full length ballets such as Giselle and Nutcracker and excerpts from Paquita and Don Quixote.
After high school, she trained and graduated from The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Teacher Training Program where she trained under Johanne Gingras, Arlene Minkhorst, and Marijka Stanowych. She was the 2011 recipient of the Kally Kennedy Schlorship for most promising teacher. While at the school she assisted their all boys program, subbed and taught in their Recreational Division and Satellite program during the year. She taught Professional Division Level II and III classes during Summer Session. She graduated in 2013, upon graduation she received her Advanced II and Associate Teacher Qualification.
Since returning to Vancouver she’s been continuing her studies within the Cecchetti Society and is currently preparing for her Enrico Cecchetti Final Diploma. She has received numerous choreography awards from local competitions for her innovative Ballet choreography and strives to inspire and share her love of dance with her students.
Carolyn Schmidt, FST
Modern, Contemporary, Ballet
Miss Carolyn is a professional contemporary dance artist originally from Vancouver Island. She creates, performs, teaches and produces contemporary dance in the Vancouver area and beyond. Training formally at The Ailey School in NYC, Carolyn has a deep knowledge of many modern dance techniques and a passion for dance composition. As a dancer, Carolyn has performed in work by emerging and established choreographers throughout the USA, Canada and Spain. As a choreographer, her dances have been presented at venues and festivals including Dumbo Dance Festival (NY), Young Choreographers Festival (NY), Green Space (NY), Feats Festival of Dance (Edmonton), Dancers Studio West (Calgary), Dance Victoria, Mascall Dance/BLOOM (Vancouver), HATCH Series (NY) and Vancouver Fringe Festival. Carolyn is Co-Producer of To.Be.Announced Choreographic Showcase which presents contemporary dance in unique and engaging settings and Co-Director of Vault Movement which brings Countertechnique workshops to Vancouver. Aside from her passion for dance, Miss Carolyn is also dedicated to the health and well-being of dancers and non-dancers alike and has opened a clinic with her husband dedicated to Stretch Therapy, Wim Hof Breathing and other holistic health practices! Dedicated to a life of moving and shaking, Carolyn is constantly seeking opportunities to connect, share and grow through the art of movement. www.carolynschmidtdance.com
Kristyn has been teaching throughout the lower mainland for the past 16 years. She began dancing at the age of 5 at R & S School of Dance and won numerous scholarships and awards throughout her years of competition. As a young dancer, Miss Kristyn appeared in the Canadian Dance Teacher Association Tap training video. Kristyn has performed in numerous venues throughout her dance career and was honoured to perform as a tap dancer in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Kristyn has trained with some of the best tap teachers in the business including William Orlowski and Brenda Buffalino. In 2007, she trained in New York at the Broadway Dance Centre Teacher Convention with renowned choreographers Shea Sullivan, Mia Michaels and Tyce Diorio. As a teacher, Kristyn has been awarded with outstanding choreography awards for her Tap and Lyrical choreography. She is proud to have been the teacher & choreographer for a bronze medal tap solo at the 2008 Dance World Cup. Miss Kristyn’s tap choreography has helped DG dancers qualify for the BC Provincial Arts Festival, Crystal Challenge Dance Off, Power Championships, Peak Challenge and Synergy Finals. Kristyn is known as an enthusiastic and motivational teacher and loves to share her passion for dance with her students.
Creator and Director of VanCity Project Choreography Showcase Adam McKinnon joined the faculty of Defy Gravity in the 2016-17 season and continues to build our award winning Hip Hop program! Adam has danced and choreographed for the best in the business, performing at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Music Artists such as Nelly Furtado, Michael Buble and Carly Rae Jepson to name a few. Adam has been teaching and choreographing in the Lower Mainland for years, earning him great accolades with Adjudicators and fellow colleagues alike. Adam brings his passion for Hip Hop and all things performance to DG. Our dancers love working with Adam and enjoy his infectious passion for his craft.
Contemporary, Lyrical, Jazz, Assistant Studio Director
Taylor is a Vancouver-born dancer, performer, choreographer, adjudicator, and instructor. Raised in White Rock, Taylor began dancing as a toddler, training with Spiral Dance Co. Her professional career started at the age of twelve, where she danced for Disney, Nickelodeon and Royal Caribbean Cruises. After graduating high school Taylor continued to pursue her passion for dance, joining the ballet-contemporary company Lamondance in 2010 under the artistic direction of Lara Barclay and Monica Proenca. At the age of seventeen Taylor was asked to debut her first choreographic work at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. That same year she danced in music videos for various recording artists such as K-OS, Keisha Chante and Sean Desmond. The following year she began her first adjudicating tour across Canada, and has since adjudicated in Canada, the US and internationally. In 2012 Taylor moved to London UK where she danced with The Greenwich Contemporary Dance Company, and trained musical theatre performers for their West End debuts such as The Lion King and Annie. Some of her other European credits include performing at the Much Music Video Awards in Amsterdam, the Tanzart Festival in Germany, and guest teacher and adjudicator at Danza In Fiera in Florence, Italy. After two illuminating years of performing and teaching abroad, Taylor returned to Vancouver where she has been enjoying teaching and choreographing at various studios across the Lower Mainland for the last few years. She has worked with The Response Dance Society under the artistic direction of Amber Funk Barton, and was a BC Provincial Adjudicator for Modern and Contemporary in 2015. For Taylor, every aspect of contributing to the dance community is her passion and privilege, and she continues to focus on the creative elements of dance.
Jazz, Contemporary, Lyrical, Ballet, Tap
Kirsten started dancing at the age of three, and began training with Defy Gravity when it opened in 2007. In 2016, Kirsten graduated from the Defy Gravity Pre-Professional Program, where she trained in Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Lyrical, Tap, Contemporary, and Pointe. Over the years, Kirsten has been involved in many performance opportunities including Sweett Moves: Bated Breath, Lovers Cabaret: Lovers of Dylan, Sweett Moves Summer Jam, and Vines Art Festival. At a young age, Kirsten found her passion for dance and continuously strives for new experiences and opportunities to learn from.
She is currently training with Modus Operandi, a Vancouver based contemporary training program to expand her knowledge of dance and performance opportunities and is working on her degree in Kinesiology. Kirsten is excited to return for her 4th year as a faculty member at Defy Gravity and can’t wait to share her passion with DG Dancers.
Erin Lequereux, BA (Dance), CNP
Contemporary, Modern, Ballet
Erin is a freelance dance artist and educator, graduating with her BA in Contemporary Dance from the University of Calgary with an emphasis in Choreography and Performance and a specialization in Ballet from the School of Alberta Ballet. Miss Erin studied intensively in Limón technique in the company’s Pre Professional Program in New York City where she performed in the work of Kathryn Alter in Anadromous as well as the repertory works of JoséLimón. Her studies have taken her across Canada as well as abroad where her curiosity for investigation through movement continues to deepen. Since then, she has performed the works of La Caravan Dance Theatre, Corps Bara Dance Theatre, Trip the Light Dance Company, Body Narratives Collective, Pamela Tzeng, Davida Monk, Carolyn Schmidt, Patricia Allison and Helen Husak among others. Erin has had the honour of performing at festivals in Edmonton (NextFest) Vancouver (Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Beaumont Studios, Gold Saucer Studio, The Dance Centre, Dancing on The Edge) and Calgary (Alberta Dance Festival, Ignite) as well as the Olympic Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the Calgary Stampede. In her choreography, Miss Erin’s focus is investigating and sensing, creating movement that is authentic to the intention and experiences in the body. In addition to her love of dance, Erin is also passionate about health and wellness. As a recent graduate from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, she is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, helping to create balance through food and lifestyle for her clients and students as well as a fitness instructor for the Lagree method at Lagree West. Her desire is to connect both nourishment of the body and health of the mind in her practices and her teaching. She is elated to join the faculty at Defy Gravity!
Danielle is excited to join the Defy Gravity team for the 2019-2020 season. Danielle began dancing at a young age and has trained in as many styles as she could get her hands on with her true passion focusing on Acrobatics. Within the past two years she has taken her passion for dance and integrated it within the circus world and is excited to bring this new set of knowledge back into the dance world for a new spin on things. Miss Danielle has been teaching for six years and is dedicated to making her students feel empowered, confident and valued.
Natasha Lutz-Van Poelgeest
Natasha is originally from Brampton Ontario where she received her early dance education. She is a graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Professional Training Program and continues to train as both a dancer and teacher throughout the country.
Natasha was a member of the repertory company dancersdancing,performing the works of Judith Garay, Day Helesic, Rob Kitsos, Antony Morgan, Santee Smith and Wen Wei Wang. She has also danced for Judith Marcuse Projects, Robert Desrosiers, the Vancouver Opera Society, Conpagnie V’ni DAnsi and other independent choreographers. Natasha’s own work has been presented at various venues throughout the country,on film and television.
When Natasha gave birth to her first child she decided to focus more on teaching and has never regretted her decision. She has been a dance educator in the lower mainland for over 15 years teaching Ballet, Modern, Tap, Jazz, and Creative movement to dancers of all ages and levels. Along with teaching at various studios throughout the lower mainland, Natasha has a specialized dance program designed for elementary school students.
What Natasha loves about dance is its perfect combination of artistry and athleticism. She finds immense joy in sharing her passion and believes that dance is for everyone. Being a part of the Defy Gravity family couldn’t make her happier.
Zabelita is one of Vancouver’s most experience and sought after Ballet/Exam pianists and we are pleased to have her as our resident accompanist for our Pre-Professional Program Ballet classes. Zabelita has worked with our Cecchetti Ballet students for the last several years, and will be returning for another season with Defy Gravity.
Faculty on Sabbatical for 2019-20 season
Katherine Somody, BA, MFA (Dance)
Katherine trained as a dancer at the Anna Wyman School of Dance Arts and the Goh Ballet Academy, touring China and Japan and performing works by some of her favourite choreographers including Balanchine and Wen Wei Wang. She holds a BA in Art History from UBC and the Sorbonne in Paris, and an MFA (Performance Art & Dance) from Cornell University in New York. She has curated, taught, written about, performed, choreographed and exhibited art, music and dance in Berlin, Paris, New York, Halifax and Vancouver. Recent projects include Did you Say I Was Dancing at Experimental Gallery in New York, and How I Learned To Stop Blanking and Verb the Object at SFU Woodwards in Vancouver. She uniquely incorporates Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies and the Laban Method in her classes. Miss Katherine continues to be impressed by the confidence, courage, creativity and grace of the dancers she works with and is ecstatic continue on as a member of the Defy Gravity teaching faculty.
Guest Choreographers – we love them and we love the positive experiences our dancers have working with these amazing professionals…
Jazz Guest Choreographer
Keiran Bohay was raised in the small town of Wainwright, Alberta. There he took his first tap class at age eight and instantly fell in love with performing. He then began training in various dance styles such as jazz, lyrical, hip hop and ballet. At the age of 13 he took a brief break from dance festivals to perform in The Citadel Theatre’s production of Peter Pan and Oliver!, giving him his first taste of professional work. After graduation Keiran moved to Edmonton, Alberta where he advanced his dance technique under Shelley Tookey. Keiran progressed quickly and made his move to Vancouver to train with The Source Dance Company, under direction of Joanne Pesusich. His talent did not go unnoticed and after only a short time in Vancouver, he took over a few drop-in classes teaching at Harbour Dance Centre under Pam Rosa and Moe Brody. Throughout his time in Vancouver he has gone on to Choreograph Tap, Contemporary, Broadway, and Jazz for local training programs such as ITP (Intensive Training Program), Source Dance Company, and Aviary. He has performed Musical Theatre with the Arts Club (Mary Poppins) and gone on to dance in many hit tv series and movies (CW’s the Flash, Disney’s Descendants, ABC’s Once Upon A Time, CW’s No Tomorrow ect.) Known for his energy, comedic personality and unique style, Keiran teaches and choreographs throughout western Canada, and can’t wait to share his passion with the DG Dancers!
Lyrical, Jazz, Contemporary Guest Choreographer
Jade started her dance career at Defy Gravity in 2007 and graduated from the Pre-Professional Program in 2016. She loves sharing her heart and passion for the art form with likeminded others and hopes to inspire other dancers to pursue their dreams. She has trained in styles such as Jazz, Ballet, Lyrical, Contemporary, Modern and Pointe.
Over the years, Jade has received many prestigious awards, scholarships and recognition from Festivals and Competitions. She has been involved in many performance opportunities such as Peak Provincial Honours Performance 2013 and 2016, Sweett Moves: Bated Breath, Vines Art Festival and Lovers Cabaret: Lovers of Dylan. She has also danced in Season 6 of ABC’s, Once Upon A Time. Jade currently attends, Modus Operandi, a Vancouver based training program to support and further her skills in hopes of becoming a professional contemporary dancer.
Amy Laithwaite, AISTD, Dip NBS TTP, FST
Ballet, Conditioning, Pointe
Miss Amy’s passion for dance led her to the National Ballet School in Toronto. Amy graduated from the NBS in 2004 with the Three Year Teacherʼs Diploma (Dip NBS Ttp): Honours standing. Amy was awarded the Carole Chadwick Scholarship for most promising teacher; she also earned Honours for her Cecchetti Associate Teachers Qualification (AISTD). Whilst at NBS, Amyʼs love of children led her to studies in “Early Child Development through Dance”; she studied with Carina Bomers and Bonnie Popadopalus on creative movement for young dancers. Amy also taught at the Pickering School of Ballet, just outside Toronto, training many young dancers who are now working in the industry. Ballet has always been Amyʼs first love. As a young dancer, Amy trained at the Coquitlam School of Ballet; the Royal Winnipeg Ballet; and has worked with renowned artists such as Veronica Tennant, Karen Kain, and Rex Harrington. Since returning to Vancouver from the NBS, Amy continues to pursue higher level studies in the Cecchetti method. She also regularly studies in modern, salsa and flamenco; these dance styles, as well as jazz, tap, and national dance have influenced her award winning choreography. Amy is a highly sought-after teacher and teaches regularly at schools around the lower-mainland. She holds her Cecchetti Advanced Two certificate and most recently, Amy was a featured soloist in Salagia: Seven Gifts for Clara, a contemporary dance production of Collabart Creations and DansArts et al. Amyʼs goal in the studio is to cultivate a passion for music and movement in her students; and to create a safe and joyful environment for them to explore their love of dance.
DG Faculty after our 2015 Recital “Under the Big Top”