Our Staff

Karen Lee Willes

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“Born In A Trunk”– Miss Karen parents were a song and dance team in Vaudeville and owners and operators of 2 successful Ohio dance studios, so she was literally “born in a trunk.” Dance instruction as a child began in Cleveland, Ohio and continued through the teen years in Chicago, Boston and finally New York.  Miss Karen performed in musicals at the Cleveland Playhouse, in club dates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York and was a member of The Cleveland Civic Ballet Company along with credits as a dancer in several television productions and pilots.  She also worked as a Production Assistant on several television recorded concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra and worked as a Productions Assistant at WIXY Radio and WKYC TV. She began working as a class assistant at the ages of 12 and has been teaching Ballet and Tap since the age of 16. Karen, along with her mother, was co-director of 2 dance studios in the suburbs of Cleveland. She is now the Owner and Director of the very successful Carousel Dance Studio in the West San Fernando Valley since 1984 and is the Artistic Director of the equally successful and nationally recognized Carousel Dance Company, a Performance/Competition dance group.  There’s a saying that goes “Those who can’t do, Teach.” Karen prefers this one:
“Those who care, Teach,”

Natalie Willes

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Born in Hollywood, Natalie went straight from the hospital to her Mother’s dance studio. At Sixteen she moved to New York to work with Alvin Ailey and Dance Theater of Harlem, while in NY she was chosen to be a Radio City Rockette- the youngest in history. Ms. Willes’s performance credits include Broadway’s Movin Out, Saturday Night Fever, Leap of Faith, Jersey Boys the Movie, Ted 2, 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, Oscars , 2016 Tony Awards,Chicago the Movie, Fox’s Lucifer,SF Opera La Rossignol, LA Opera Tanhouser. Ms Willes’ Directorial/ Choreography credits include- “The Travels of Shaka-Muni, “Vox Lumieres Phantom of The Opera”,2018 Universals City Gala, The 2016 White House Halloween Spectacular, Bravo Television promotions, Honeywell, Ameriprise Financial and Amgen. Natalie and her Mother Karen Willes were recipients of the 2017 Professional Dancers Society Choreographers Award. Natalie also received the Los Angeles Music Centers Spotlight Award for choreography and performance in contemporary dance. Natalie is the proud Artistic Director/Choreographer of the Highly Acclaimed Carousel Dance Company,Her Pieces “The Giving Tree” “Blurred Lines”, “To Life” and “Winter Wonderland” have won Top honors at Tremaine, ASH,Hollywood Vibe Dance League and McCallum Theater Competitions. Natalie’s multicultural Background has opened many doors to her all over the world and has given her an opportunity to perform and teach on every continent. Her newest passion project is Founding The Ishan Foundation- a non profit organization that raises funds and awareness for Autism and Neurological Disorders the Foundations mission is to use artistry & creative means to inspire philanthropy. Creating,educating, and entertaining for children has always been a passion of Natalie’s and it is her children, Rasha and Ishan that inspire her creativity, moves and joyful spirit.

Rebecca Hennessy

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Rebecca's life has been spent dancing on the floors of Carousel Dance Studio. She started dancing at the age of 4, and from the moment she met Karen and Natalie Willes they have been family.

She is professionally trained in all genres of dance and has danced throughout the world. Over the years, Rebecca has danced for some of the world's most renowned dance groups and venues. Most notably, Rebecca has performed with Cirque du Soliel, where she danced a principal role in the show "Mystere".

Rebecca enjoys teaching all styles of dance from beginner to advanced at Carousel Dance Studio. For years, her commitment of teaching has trained dancers that have graduated and moved onwards to some of the most sought-after dance schools and professional dance careers. 

When she's not dancing, Rebecca's passion for fitness kick's in. She shares her pursuit of living a healthy life style with others and teaches fitness classes at Carousel Dance Studio as well. 

Aside from being a teacher Rebecca is a devoted wife and mother to Christopher and Hana. She thanks them for always being her biggest fans and supporting her every step of the way.    

REBECCA@REBECCA-FIT.COM

Emily Zachary Smith

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Originally from Indianapolis, Emily began training at a young age for a career in dance. In high school she was asked to study extensively at Butler University in the Early Entrance Program for Gifted and Talented Students, where she had elite ballet training, and performed corps through soloist roles in many ballets. During those same years she spent time training at professional studios in LA and NY. In 1998 she moved to Los Angeles beginning her professional career performing in films, television, commercials, and theater. Emily prides herself in being a versatile dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Along with a dance career, Emily became a Pilates Master Trainer. She found the education and knowledge of Pilates was a great balance with dance, and was amazed at the benefit of injury prevention for herself and others. Some of her film credits include Academy Award winners; American Beauty and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Looney Tunes Back in Action, and The Haunted Mansion. For almost a decade Emily spent her holiday seasons performing in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, with featured roles, including the 75th Anniversary at Radio City Music Hall. She has enjoyed performing in shows such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Crazy for You at the acclaimed Sacramento Music Circus. Other Hollywood credits include The Emmy Awards, The Grammy’s, and numerous other performances. Emily has been blessed to experience performing internationally for special events in China and Germany, where she was not only a dancer, but was also a co-choreographer with her husband and others. She has appeared in a variety of other productions ranging from numerous classical and contemporary ballets, commercials, industrials, and more. Emily is so thankful for her training with mentor, and dance icon, Mr. Joe Tremaine. Her time studying and working with him, and other influential teachers helped shape her to a well-rounded performer and teacher. When not performing Emily truly loves being a teacher, choreographer, and mentor.

Emma Krauss

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Born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA growing up in the competition world, Emma trained at Evelyn Ott School of Dance under the direction of Denise Ott Land.  Throughout her 8 years competing she won multiple titles and scholarships at Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America.  During her high school years, Emma attended The Governor’s School for the Arts and graduated with honors. She then studied dance at The University of the Arts graduating with honors, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz Dance Performance and All Around “Teacher Recognition Award”. Emma currently resides in Los Angeles. She is currently teaching and choreographing at Carousel Dance Studio and is signed with Go 2 Talent Agency. Professional work experience includes The Ellen Show, Dr. Oz, Erin Condren spring promo video, Pose FX, Verdon Fosse Master Series. As she continues to work and grow towards her own personal goals in the dance industry, she teaches at Lagree Fitness Studio where she is a Lagree certified trainer. This low impact high intensity strength training workout has opened her eyes to learning more about body through corrective body alignment.

Drew Davis

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Drew is a Carousel alumni who started dancing at Carousel Dance Studio at the age of three. Drew was a part of Carousel Dance Company from 2009-2015 and was trained by the fabulous staff of Carousel Dance Studio. After graduating in 2015, she moved to Santa Barbara where she now continues to dance while also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Drew is delighted to be inspiring young dancers and carrying on the lessons she learned as a Carousel student.  

Amanda Carr

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Amanda Carr is so excited to be teaching at Carousel! Amanda grew up in Los Angeles, CA dancing and doing musical theatre. She is now working as a professional dancer, with credits in tv, film, theatre, and live stage shows. Some of her recent credits include “Beauty and the Beast”, "Sister Act the Musical", "Oklahoma", "Bye Bye Birdie", "The League" on FX, The Queen Mary’s Chill, and shows at Six Flags Magic Mountain. 

Roman Vasquez

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Coming from Los Angeles, California Roman Vasquez as had the opportunity to work for artists such as Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, BackStreet Boys, Eva Longoria, Roselyn Sanchez, Anastasia, just to name a few. Other television/film and video credits include American Music Awards, MTV Music Awards, Kids Choice Awards , Pepsi, Sprite, EL Pollo Loco, Days of Our Lives, Rock the Reception, Bring it On 5, Indiana Jones 4, Mobbed and Alvin and the Chipmunks 3d. Stage shows including EFX with Michael Crawford and David Cassidy, Splash, Christina Aguilera Tour, Jessica Simpson Promo stage show.

He has also choreographed and performed with companies such as Nike, FUBU, Adidas, Red-kin and Paul Mitchell. Roman Vasquez continues to choreograph and teach across the country on workshops and dance conventions.

Allie Lieberman

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Allie began dancing at the age of 3. She grew up dancing at Carousel and was with us for 12 years. She also joined Carousel Dance Company at the age of 8 and continued until she graduated. After Carousel, she signed with Go 2 Talent Agency and attended Moorpark College, where she joined a new modern company that she currently dances with, called Movement Theater CoLab, which attends dance festivals all around. She has danced professionally in the production of Chicago the Musical with Plan B Entertainment, in the La Gay Pride Parade and other small gigs around LA. 

Allie has taught with us over the summer for the past 3 years and is excited to continue that into the fall season. Allie thanks her family that has put her through all her years of dance classes, competitions, and endless dance costumes! 

Lolly Mitchell

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Lolly Simoni Mitchell began dancing with Carousel Dance Studio at the age of three. She joined the dance company at age eight and spent ten years attending competitions and performing with the dance team at events honoring Gregory Hines, Dick Van Dyke, June Allyson, and Milton Berle. Lolly attended university at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont California where she double majored in Digital/Electrical Engineering and Human Movement Studies with a focus on Biomechanics. Her thesis focused on the impact of dance on the human body using Laban Movement Analysis, and she uses this focus to help her students learn healthy movement patterns. In college Lolly danced with the Inland Pacific Ballet Company and co-founded an on campus tap company called On Tap working with choreographers Lynn Dally, Chloe Arnold and Gregg Russell during her tenure. She taught Ballet, Pointe, Tap, Turns, and Jazz at Dance Academy USA in Cupertino from 2011-2017, and coached Body Weight Movement at Mad Dawg Fitness in Redwood City from 2015-2017. In Summer of 2017 she returned to the Valley and Carousel and is happy to be home and back in the studio.

Natalie Simoni

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Natalie Simoni started dancing at Carousel Dance Studio when she was three years old. She would have started earlier if there wasn’t an age limit. She would insist on showing up ready for class with a bun and leotard at 18 months to watch dance classes. She joined the Carousel Dance Company at age eight and spent years competing and performing with the team. Natalie was a class assistant and student teacher during her tenure at Carousel, starting her teaching career with Junior Jazz in 2005. During her time with Carousel Dance Company, She performed for the Professional Dancer's Society over the years honoring Milton Berle, Shirley Maclaine, June Haver, Gregory Hines and Dick Van Dyke.

Natalie attended Loyola Marymount University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, and a minor in Dance with an emphasis in early childhood education. She is currently enrolled in the Fully Employed MBA program at Pepperdine University, due to graduate August 2019.Natalie has continued to teach part time since graduating from college at a number of studios in the San Fernando Valley, and is very happy to be back home at Carousel.

Emily Figueroa

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Born and raised in Florida, Emily began her dance training at the age of 8 and instantly fell in love with the craft. Growing up through the competition and convention circuit she trained with some of the most admired educators in the industry which made her come to realize that she wanted to dance and choreograph as a career. She started with the Tremaine Performance Company at age 12 and traveled with Joe Tremaine and staff every chance she could, picking up not only vital dance instructions but unforgettable life training. She attended New World School of the Arts for 4 years where she trained strictly in Ballet, Modern, Pointe and Improv/ Choreo composition and graduated with Honors. Shortly after graduation she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams and has had the opportunity to perform with Tyga, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and other artist. She has also been featured on So You Think You Can Dance Season 14 Academy Week, as well as a back up dancer for the World of Dance Opening Episode. She continues to audition, train, and create. Teaching is and always will be her creative escape. She is able to share her voice and pass down knowledge that has made such an impact on her. Emily genuinely loves teaching, choreographing and creating!

Orna Gonzales

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Orna’s passion in life is dance. In her determination to create fun and life changing fitness classes she has designed a unique and energetic dance program. Orna’s enthusiasm for fusing all forms of dance steps and continuous athletic movement into a fun cardio class. Combining interval training and creative dance moves based on her certifications in Zumba, Belly Dance and Spin.  These disciplines have captivated and inspired many of her students.

Before joining Carousel Dance Studio in 2011 Orna’s fitness dance classes at Powerhouse Gym, Spectrum Health Club and My Symmetry Studio, quickly became huge successes with a devoted following.  Orna was delighted to join Carousel Dance Studio exclusively and become surrounded in extraordinary creative environment.

Inspired to create she formed a Belly Dance troupe “Apsara and The Tanha Dancers” made up primarily of her talented students. The troupe performed in many of the highly anticipated events in the Belly Dance community.

Orna’s motivation to keep evolving her style and learning along with her charismatic and enthusiastic approach toward teaching has caught on , her classes are always filled with students of all ages, levels of fitness and ability.

Orna is most proud when her students transform not only physically by losing weight and getting into great shape but they also experience a mental and spiritual transformation. They discover a new passion for dance and look forward to her class as part of their journey to success!

Shannon Vergun

Grace-C McGriff

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Being just old enough at the age of 3 for organized gymnastics and dance classes, her mom enrolled her at the local recreation center, and Grace-C fell in love. She grew up as a military brat, which meant she moved often, granting her the opportunities to not only see the world, but to train and compete around the world as well. As a USAG level 7 gymnast, she competed in the sport of gymnastics up until age 13. Entering her Freshman Year of high school, Grace-C hung up her leotard, replaced it for cheer bows and officially converted to competitive cheerleading. She cheered as a high school cheerleader, an all-star cheerleader and a collegiate cheerleader, and had a very successful career.

Grace-C has coached gymnastics, cheer and dance for 16 years in gyms and studios around the world. She is a National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) Coaching and Safety certified coach, United States All-Star Federation Certified (USASF), USAG coaching and safety certified and is able to bring knowledge and experience from all three worlds to the table. 

Grace-C is a classically trained vocalist and music is her heart and soul, she is an accomplished singer/songwriter/producer with several placements and credits alongside some top names in the entertainment industry. She is an international selling recording artist and is the owner of Gracious Jamz Music Publishing Company. Being able to balance her love of music along with her passion for developing kids through means of athleticism, Grace-C is truly doing what she loves daily in life. To God be ALL the Glory!

Mary Hicks

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Mary Hicks is born and raised in Southern California. Mary started dancing at age 2 at Golden Performing Arts Center where she learned all styles of dance, and even dabbled in Musical Theater. In high school, she started studying under the direction of Patrick Frantz at Rozann Zimmerman Ballet Center where she focused on ballet. Mary attended California State University, Long Beach where she received her BFA in Dance. During college, she had the opportunity of working with various choreographers such as Sophie Monat, Alaine Haubert, Andrew Vaca, Keith Johnson, Susan McLain & Lorin Johnson. After college, Mary danced with La Danserie for 8 seasons under the direction of Patrick Frantz along with Judy Pisarro-Grant. Mary worked with Black Diamond Ballet Theater in Northern California for 4 seasons. She is thrilled to be teaching at Carousel Dance Studio and to share her passion with the students!

Chelsea McLaughlin

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Chelsea was born and raised in Woodland Hills, California and began dancing at Carousel at the age of 7. She joined Carousel Dance Company in 1998 and continued until 2002.
She then transitioned to staff member when she began working as Carousel’s office manager 15 years ago. She truly loves managing the studio, building relationships with the students and families and watching Carousel continue to educate and raise the next generation of beautiful dancers. She is so grateful to be a part of the Carousel Family and hopes to continue for years to come!