Staff at JDA

Our Staff

Johnston Dance Academy

Founded by Jeanne Chelsen, Johnston Dance Academy (JDA) has been producing dancers in the Greater Des Moines area for over 25 years!!! Learn about the staff at JDA below

Jeanne Chelsen - Johnston Dance Academy

Jeanne Chelsen

Jeanne Chelsen, the owner of Johnston Dance Academy, is a lifetime member of the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters. She is certified to teach ballet, jazz, tap and pointe. Jeanne is a former student of her mother, Betty Dybdahl, and Beth Gaynes of Omaha, Nebraska. In addition, Jeanne has been to many master classes and endless conventions all over the United States. Also, Jeanne attended business school before opening her own dance studios in Corning, Red Oak, Creston, Carlisle and Johnston.


Jill DeWeerdt – Johnston Dance Academy

Jill DeWeerdt

Jill DeWeerdt is a certified instructor through the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters. She has been dancing for over 30 years and is a former student of Jeanne Chelsen. Jill attended Iowa State University where she studied Child Development and Dance. While taking college classes in all areas of dance, Jill competed, performed and judged on a local, regional and national level. Her training is in Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Pointe and Hip Hop. Additionally, Jill’s training also includes master classes and many conventions.

Nick Rice – Johnston Dance Academy

Nicholas Rice

Nicholas Rice has been dancing since age three. Nick has trained with masters of dance across the U.S.A. He attended the Joffrey Ballet School in the Jazz and Contemporary Department in New York City on a full scholarship. Also, Nick has danced with Ballet Des Moines, Iowa Dance Theatre, Yaro Dance Company, Neglia Ballet Artists, Nolte Academy, and performed in the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat alongside Jon Secada. He was captain of his high school dance team for two years. As captain of the dance team, they earned numerous state titles and a spot as a UDA National Finalist in Orlando, FL.

In addition, Nick has continued his training all over. In Los Angeles, CA,  he has been a member and assistant of Artspoken Dance Company under the direction of Melissa Barlow and Eduardo Mena. He can be seen in many of the latest Parthenon Clothing commercials and high-fashion editorials. Nick regularly takes classes from the industry’s best choreographers at studios such as EDGE PAC, Millennium Dance Complex, and Movement Lifestyle. Nick also may be seen across the country assisting NRG danceProject as a Prodigy alongside choreographers Rustin Matthew, Jenn Parsley, Nicole Kirkland, and more. As a result, this training has inspired his students to receive many accolades and high point awards. At only age 17, Nick received his first national choreography award. Furthermore, Nick’s goal is to inspire students of all ages to reach new heights, not only in dance, but in life.

LeAnn Phillips - Johnston Dance Academy

LeAnn Phillips

LeAnn Phillips is a resident of the Johnston area and is married with two grown children. Her passion for movement began in childhood with ballet classes that she continued throughout her life. She earned a degree from Drake University in education. After Drake, she began teaching various group fitness classes. In addition, she became certified through NETA in 2001. Also gaining a specialty certification in Pilates. Next LeAnn learned the practice of yoga and pursued a certification through YOGAFIT. Of course she began instructing yoga. Furthermore, she continues to improve her education through many workshops and courses. Most of all her classes are fun, interesting, and always changing.

Currently, she teaches yoga at Oakmoor Racquetball and Fitness Center, and offers private yoga instruction. LeAnn holds a monthly “Yoga for Runners” workshop at Fleet Feet Sports, located in the East Village in Des Moines. Her former yoga teaching includes a variety of settings including businesses, spas, dance studios, workshops, health clubs, and even her own backyard. Yoga is non-competitive and integrates both the mind and body to achieve maximum mind/body health. By the same token,LeAnn believes that everyone can benefit from consistent yoga practice and enjoy some of the many benefits. Hence those include strength, flexibility, balance, body awareness, mental clarity, and calmness.

Stephanie Gerlitz- Johnston Dance Academy

Stephanie Gerlitz

Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Stephanie first stepped into the dance studio at age 3. She grew up dancing at Van Cleve Dance Studio and this love turned into a life-long passion. For almost 20 years, Stephanie was a competition dancer and teacher at the studio. She earned various soloist and team awards as well as honors for choreography. She attended Dowling Catholic High School where she was on the dance team and competed at the regional and national levels.  Her passion for dance and teaching followed her to college where she was on the nationally ranked University of Northern Iowa Dance Team and taught at a dance studio in Waterloo, Iowa. For 16 years, she has trained and coached competitive dancers in lyrical, technique, pom, jazz, tap, and hip-hop. Her resolve to inspire, connect, and motivate her students to reach higher, has been a driving force throughout her dance career. Stephanie currently teaches 3rd grade at Brookview Elementary in Waukee. She lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, John, and 1 year old son, Harrison. Stephanie is excited to be here at JDA!

Ashley Clifton - Johnston Dance Academy

Ashley Clifton

Ashley started her dance career at the age of 3 and started competing at the age of 7 in Mound, Minnesota. During her years as a competitive dancer she was able to competed on multiple national teams across the country. She also studied at conventions under some of the best choreographers in the nation. Ashley participated on her high school dance team where she competed at the Minnesota State Championship all four years she was on the varsity team. Ashley attended Drake University where she graduated with a double major in Law, Politics, & Society and Rhetoric. During her time at Drake, she danced for the Drake Dance Team. She captained the team for three years and participated in both state and national championships. She has spent her years after college continuing her love for dance through coaching and teaching. Ashley is trained in Jazz, Lyrical, Tap, Contemporary, Pom, High Kick, and Hip Hop. Ashley hopes to inspire dancers to continue their love of dance and help foster skills that go beyond the dance floor.

Jenna Connolly - Johnston Dance Academy

Jenna Connolly

Jenna Connolly is originally from Urbandale, Iowa and has been dancing for over 30 years. As a dancer she studied tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, musical theatre, hip hop, and tumbling and received top honors at local, regional and national competitions. In 2002 Jenna was selected as a Dance Olympus VIP and toured with Dance Olympus/Dance America as an instructor assistant on their summer convention/competition circuit on the east coast. Jenna graduated from the University of Iowa in 2006, earning a BA in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship with an emphasis in dance. She has also studied with faculty at Arizona State University, Iowa State University and Oklahoma City University where she was a member of the Pep Stars Dance Team. In 2006 Jenna had the unique opportunity to work for the Walt Disney Company in Orlando, FL as a performer in their entertainment department.

Jenna has been teaching and choreographing in the Des Moines metro area since 2003. Jenna’s dancers and choreography have received high marks and awards at competitions across the mid-west. She also holds a Master of Science in Teaching with endorsements in Early Childhood Education and Reading from Drake University. She has taught 1st grade and Pre-Kindergarten and is currently an academic interventionist with Des Moines Public Schools. Jenna also spent nine seasons as an assistant show choir director at Urbandale High School and has been a group fitness instructor. Jenna’s goal is to inspire a love of dance in her students and to help them achieve their technical and performance goals.

Registration is Now Open for Fall 2017-18 at JDA

Johnston Dance Academy offers classes to fit any age or level.

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