The School

Welcome to the New England Academy of Dance,
an elite pre-professional ballet academy nestled in the
idyllic downtown of New Canaan, CT.
Together as a community of over 500 dedicated dancers, staff, and parents,
we take pride in a high level of professionalism.

About the School

Founded in 1968 by former Broadway dancer and esteemed ballerina Doris Driver,
New England Academy of Dance (NEAD) began as a boutique studio with only 12 dancers.
Slowly, the school grew to extend class offerings to dancers of all ages, and encompass a studio company.

In 2003, school ownership was transferred to a trio of directors with professional dance & choreography experience:
Frances Ortiz, Gina Ortiz, and Ted Thomas.

Together, the new directors focused their energy on defining a curriculum for each distinct age group, and
transforming the Nutcracker and Spring Performances into highly theatrical, community events.

Enrolling over 500 dancers each semester during the past decade,
NEAD has grown to become one of the foremost dance institutions in Fairfield County.


Our school is set in a quaint Masonic Lodge, sitting within walking distance to downtown New Canaan, CT. Within the historic building are three studios (Studios A, B, and C) equipped with marley floors, extensive mirrors, and top-end audio systems. Studio C, on the top floor, flaunts ceilings over 20 feet tall, which prove ideal for partnering rehearsals and high jumps. The impressive space also holds four bathrooms, a full changing room, and a newly renovated waiting room and kitchenette.

Parking is available in our private parking lot in the rear of the building. If full, additional free street parking can be found on adjacent streets. Please abide by town restrictions (clearly posted on street signs) if seeking street parking. As a reminder, the front door on Main Street and side door on Church Street are great places to drop off students, without congesting the back parking lot.

Our Approach

At NEAD, each class level has a unique curriculum that has been carefully crafted with specific, age-appropriate goals and achievements in mind. Both the classical Russian Vaganova technique and Italian Chichetti methods are incorporated into class work for all age groups.

Additionally, the three NEAD Directors are certified to teach the AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE® National Training Curriculum, levels primary through five (5).

At its core, the curriculum aims to provide students with the highest quality of age-appropriate, outcome-based training. These leanings have been integrated into all levels of NEAD schooling, to ensure high levels of physical and mental engagement across age groups.

New Students

NEAD’s yearly calendar coincides with the local academic school year, running from September through June.
Our classes are broken into four distinct divisions, each with a uniquely tailored curriculum, dress code, and set of objectives.
Beyond the classroom, students have the opportunity to gain stage experience during our Spring and Nutcracker performances.
NEAD values live-audience performances as ways to teach stage decorum, confidence, and professionalism.

Pre-primary Division (Ages 3-6)

The Pre- Primary division focuses on introducing young dancers to the fundamentals of balletic movement, while also emphasizing enjoyment and personal expression. Dancers graduating from the Pre-Primary division will be equipped with a foundational understanding of the basics of ballet vocabulary, classroom etiquette and musicality. The curriculum is deliberately structured to ensure dancers evolve from early learners to musically mature movers.

All class levels in the Pre-Primary Division, from Tiny Dancer to KinderBallet, require students take one class weekly.

In the Spring, class dances will be choreographed for dancers in Pre-Ballet 1 and Pre-Ballet 2, and KinderBallet, allowing dancers to showcase their progress and perform with lights and costumes!

Class Offerings:

  • Tiny Dancer (Ages 2 – 3)
  • Pre-ballet 1 (Ages 3 – 4)
  • Pre-ballet 2 (Ages 4 – 5)
  • KinderBallet (Ages 5 – 6)

Primary Division (Ages 6-10)

Designed for dancers ages 6-10, classes in the Primary Division build off the foundation established in the Pre-Primary division and expand on both vocabulary and artistry. All classes in this division are tailored to the ABT National Training Curriculum and can be taken at a cadence of once or twice weekly. Our faculty members work to foster a welcoming and energetic environment for Primary Division students, helping to sustain motivation and encouraging lasting peer relationships.

Students in Ballet 1 and 2 are required to take one class weekly, and upon entry of Ballet 3 students are expected to attend two classes each week. A full year of Ballet 3 coursework is required before admittance into Ballet 4A, unless otherwise advised by artistic faculty.

In the Spring, class dances will be choreographed for each level in the pre-primary division, allowing dancers to showcase their progress and perform on stage. Additionally, there are roles in The Nutcracker designed for students in the Primary Division, such as Angels, Mice and Bon-Bons.

Registration and attendance in class is required for participation in performances.

Class Offerings:

  • Ballet 1 (Ages 6 – 7)
  • Ballet 2 (Ages 7 – 8)
  • Ballet 3 (Ages 8 – 9)
  • Ballet 4A (Ages 9 – 10)

Jr. Pre-Professional Division (Ages 10-14)

The Junior Pre-Primary division is recognized as an integral age for personal and artistic development. As such, students are carefully taught by staff members to begin adding personal artistry to their foundational technique. Movement up to the next class level next requires teacher approval.

In the Jr. Pre-Professional Division comes the introduction of pointe work, which requires approval on an individual dancer basis, to prevent injury. Cadence of classwork is typically 3 technique classes per week, in addition to pointe classes.

In this division, a variety of more challenging roles are offered for dancers in both the Nutcracker and Spring performances. Many of these roles, such as Party Scene in the Nutcracker, involve acting and stage presence.

Registration and attendance in class is required for participation in performances.

Class Offerings:

  • Ballet 4B (Ages 10 – 11)
  • Ballet 5A (Ages 11 – 12)
  • Ballet 5B (Ages 12 – 13)
  • Ballet 6A (Ages 13 – 14)

Sr. Pre-Professional Division (Ages 14+)

Classes in the Senior Pre-Professional division are intended for students aspiring to pursue collegiate-level or professional dance opportunities after graduation.

In these elite classes, instructors focus on the individual success of each student, pushing dancers in ways to guarantee personal growth and achievement.

Advancement from one level to the next is contingent on the observed dedication, technique and classroom decorum of each student.

Dancers in the Sr. Pre- Professional Division are expected to attend a minimum of 5 classes per week, and often weekends are busy with rehearsals.

For students in the Sr. Pre-Professional Division, performance opportunities may include the chance to learn partnering and work alongside professionals. These advanced roles are meant to push the technical and performative growth of each dancer.

Class Offerings:

  • Intermediate (Ages 14+)
  • Advanced (Ages 14+)

Open Adult Classes

In addition to our four main divisions, we also offer a range of open and adult classes including Adult Ballet and Zumba. Participants of all ages and levels are welcome.

Class Offerings:

  • Adult Ballet
  • Zumba

Current Students

NEAD faculty members are passionate about overseeing the personal and artistic development in each individual dancer.
At the start of each new Fall & Spring term, we recommend setting personal goals to track development. At the close of each semester, students are offered one-on-one meetings with their teachers to review personal growth.
Evaluations will include assessments of:  technical progress, focus, comprehension of concepts, application and retention of corrections,
plus work ethic, performance quality, and attendance.

Class Schedule

The NEAD Class Schedule closely follows the local academic school year, facilitating vacation planning and scheduling alignment.

During the 2018/2019 school year, Fall Semester classes will run from September 4, 2018 – January 12, 2019. Spring Semester classes will run from January 14, 2019 – June 1, 2019.

A detailed breakdown of our schedule can be found on the Current Class Schedule link here, or in the footer at the bottom of every page.

More details on our class make-up policies can be found in the School Policies section on the For Parents page.

Dress Code

In order to minimize distraction in class and keep technique a priority, the New England Academy of Dance follows a strict uniform policy.

Please review the style and color requirements for each specific class, outlined on the Dress Code page or using the link below.

Please stop by the office if you have any questions.

*Modifications to class uniform are at the discretion of the artistic faculty or directors.

Summer Program

The NEAD General Training summer program allows dancers to continue training during the off-season.

The General Training program runs for two weeks in June, and classes are available for Ballet 3 through Advanced levels.

In addition, the school holds a one-week Nutcracker Bootcamp, designed to prepare students in levels 5b and up for Nutcracker Auditions.

*Private lessons are also available during the summer,
upon individual request.

Artistic Faculty & Staff

Our artistic faculty is dedicated to providing students with the highest level of personalized instruction. With degrees and certifications from esteemed institutions such as Purchase College and NYU our teachers bring years of professional experience to their craft. In addition, our teachers are selected based on their ability to choreograph and connect with students on a personal level.

Frances Ortiz, Director

After graduating from the New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL, Ms. Ortiz went on to earn a BFA at SUNY Purchase and a MA in Dance Education at NYU. During her professional dance career, Frances received scholarships to Dance Theater of Harlem, The Martha Graham School and The Ailey School, and performed works by Kevin Wynn, Elisa Monte and Ti Martin. Additionally, her choreography was showcased in City Arts on PBS. In 2002, Ms. Ortiz co-founded Thomas/Ortiz Dance, a company that has since been invited to perform at esteemed venues such as Jacobs Pillow and Battery Arts Dance Festival. One year after founding Thomas/Ortiz Dance, Frances simultaneously became a director of NEAD, where she continues to act as a teacher, choreographer, and mentor for many. While overseeing progress of NEAD, Frances has taught and presented dance works at Yale and NYU, while also teaching dance at Greenwich High School. In 2015, Frances became certified to teach the AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE® National Training Curriculum, levels primary through five (5).

Ginna Ortiz, Director

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ms. Ortiz studied dance at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL, and received her BFA from SUNY Purchase with her twin sister Frances. For almost five years, Ms. Ortiz performed with Dance Theater of Harlem, and subsequently worked with a number of independent choreographers in New York City. In 1996, Ms. Ortiz began teaching at NEAD, where she later became a director in 2003. In addition to teaching and directing rehearsals at NEAD, Gina actively performs with the Thomas/Ortiz company. In 2015, Gina became certified to teach the AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE® National Training Curriculum, levels primary through five (5).

Ted Thomas, Director

Mr. Thomas attended La Guardia High School of Performing Arts in New York City, where his early interest in dance evolved into a professional passion. He went on to earn his BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase, and his MA in Dance Education from NYU. During his time dancing professionally, Ted spent seven years as a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and performed with Ballet Hispanico, the Elisa Monte Dance Company, and Nikolais/Louis Dance. He was also afforded the opportunity to teach dance at Barnard College. In 2002, Mr. Thomas co-founded Thomas/Ortiz Dance with Frances Ortiz, and one year later became a director of the New England Academy of Dance. In 2015, Ted became certified to teach the AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE® National Training Curriculum, levels primary through five (5).

Mary Lynn Poin

MaryLynn Poin started her dance training as a young adult, at Ballet Etudes of Stamford and Norwalk, under the tutelage of Jeannette Lauret, Russel Fratto and James Zynda. After completing an extensive 2 Year Training Program in 1975, she started teaching both children and adults in Ballet, Jazz and Modern Dance. While performing with the Ballet Etudes Repertory Company, she conducted classes, workshops and performances for the Junior Company as well.

She also taught for many years at the Connecticut Dance School in Fairfield, Ct., with Elizabeth Gaynor and Alan Woodard.

MaryLynn started teaching for Doris Driver in 1977, making this her 41st year at NEAD. Over the many years she has instructed hundreds of children, instilling in them her joy and love of movement and dance. As the head of Elementary Dance Education for the children’s Division at NEAD, she also implemented the Mommy and Me and Tiny Dancer programs into their curriculum.

After receiving her certification in levels I and II of the Zumba Fitness Dance Program in 2008, she has headed a thriving Adult Dance Division at NEAD, which offers classes in Ballet, Zumba and Zumba Toning.

Danielle Shupe

Danielle began her early training at the Woodbury Ballet under the direction of Randyl Errica. After graduating high school she became a full scholarship trainee at the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC, where she performed works by Robert Joffrey, Gerald Arpino, Peter Pucci and Margo Sappington. After her time at Joffrey Ballet, Danielle became one of eight trainees chosen to perform with Arts Umbrella in Vancouver, Canada, and was also featured in Dance Spirit Magazine. Later, Danielle joined the New York Theatre Balle­t— allowing her the opportunity to travel nationwide and perform works by esteemed choreographers Agnes DeMille, Keith Michael, Frederick Ashton, and Antony Tudor. She was also invited to join the original cast of Richard Alston’s “A Rugged Flourish” and was involved with the “Little Dot” project, which premiered at Dancespace.

After three seasons with the New York Theatre Ballet, Danielle joined the Connecticut Ballet, where she is now beginning her fifth season. The Connecticut Ballet has showcased Danielle in many soloist roles, including: Spanish and Columbine in The Nutcracker, Spring Fairy in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty Pas de Trois, and the “Waltz” variation in Les Sylphide. While now dancing with the Connecticut Ballet, she also freelances in New York City with several companies including Thomas/Ortiz Dance. Some highlights of her performance work with Thomas/Ortiz Dance include: NY Fashion Week, Battery Dance Festival, Bryant Park Dance and the Southern Vermont Dance Festival. Danielle is a ABT certified teacher in Pre-Primary through Level 3 and has been teaching throughout the Tri-State area for several years, where she loves to instill the love and discipline of dance in her students.

Kristen Prescott

Kristen Prescott began her dance training at Connecticut Ballet and The Ballet School of Stamford under Stephanie Marini. She went on to graduate from the Greenwich Ballet Academy under Sara Knight & Michael Shannon. In 2007, Kristen won a bronze medal at the Youth America Grand Prix in South Carolina, and went on to compete in the New York City finals. She has studied at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Nutmeg Conservatory, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and attended Colorado Ballet summer program on full scholarship, where she was offered a position with the Studio Company.

In 2008, Kristen began dancing professionally with Configuration Dance Theatre in Buffalo, NY. During her two years with the company, she performed many soloist and principal roles, and was able to work closely with choreographers Yuri Zhukov, Catherine Bachelor, and Harrison McEldowney. At the 2009 Buffalo Dance Festival, Kristen shared the stage with stars of American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Boston Ballet. She also performed Joseph Cipolla’s Soft Verge at an anniversary event honoring Arthur Mitchell of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Kristen has performed with Ballet des Ameriques and numerous times for choreographer Marcos Vedevoto, and has been seen on ABC’s TV show Elementary. Kristen performed with Connecticut Ballet for five seasons, where it was her pleasure to perform many soloist and principals roles, including Bluebird Pas de Deux, Courante Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, Mazurka Pas de Deux from Coppelia, Myrtha from Giselle, and Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Pulse. Kristen has danced two seasons with Thomas/Ortiz Dance and is currently the Artistic Director of Hudson Valley Ballet.

Jacob Taylor

Jacob Taylor received his formative training at Boulder Ballet School and in the summer programs of American Ballet Theater, the School of American Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Kaatsbaan, and Perry Mansfield. Mr. Taylor is a graduate of the Ballet Performance Program at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. At IU his repertoire included ballets by George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Dwight Rohden, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp. His professional career includes working with such companies as American Ballet Theatre, Colorado Ballet, Christopher Caines Dance, FJK Dance, Thomas Ortiz Dance, and Boulder Ballet.

Stephanie Marini

Ms. Marini was born and raised in Boston. Her early training was with Albert and Diane Pesso in modern dance studying Limon and Graham techniques as well as choreography.

After winning a choreographic competition, she was given a rare scholarship to study at The Boston Conservatory at the age of 12, under the guidance of Ruth Ambrose. It was at that time her training in ballet became her passion.

Ms. Marini was then invited by Miss E. Virginia Williams at the age of 15 to attend The Boston School of Ballet as a Ford Foundation scholarship student. During her first weeks at the school she was asked to join the Boston Ballet Company.

After seven years of dancing with the company she turned her passion for ballet toward teaching and mentoring young dancers. Ms. Marini has taught at many of the country’s leading ballet schools including The Boston School of Ballet, The Boston Conservatory, The Walnut Hill School, Children’s Ballet Workshop, Stamford City Ballet, Chautauqua Institute and Guest Teacher at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School.  In recognition of her high standards Ms. Marini was approved by the Balanchine Trust to act as assistant director for the Balanchine Nutcracker that was performed in Stamford and did so for 15 years.

Ms. Marini worked with many of the great dancers and teachers, Edward Villella, Violette Verdy, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride to name just a few.

In 1999 Ms. Marini became the Artistic Director of a successful not for profit ballet school. During the course of her nine years directing the school it became a significant training facilities for ballet. Many of her students have gone on to join professional ballet companies, as well as becoming up and coming current choreographers.

Ella Sharpe

Ella Sharpe began her early dance training at Columbia Dance Academy in Columbia, Tennessee. She then went on to earn a BA in dance from the University of Alabama. During her time there, Ella performed with Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre, under the direction of Cornelius Carter. She also performed and choreographed works in Dance Alabama during her time in college. After graduation, Ella received a scholarship to train at Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester in New York City. She has also freelanced in various productions in NYC, including shows in New York Fashion Week and Buglisi Dance Theatre’s Table of Silence Project. Ella is a certified dance educator through both Chicago National Association of Dance Masters and Southern Association of Dance Masters.

MaryKate Walsh

MaryKate Walsh grew up in Barre, Massachusetts and began her dance training at Betty Gundersen’s Studio of Dance. After graduating high school, she moved to New York City to attend Marymount Manhattan College and continue her dance education. At Marymount, MaryKate studied ballet, Graham, Horton, Limon, jazz, tap, improvisation, and more. She performed works by Bennyroyce Royon, Karen Gayle, and Lorna Ventura to name a few. She graduated from Marymount in 2018 with a B.A in Dance with a concentration in Teaching Dance Arts and a Minor in Business Management. She is currently a freelance dancer in NYC as well as a dance teacher at several studios.

Samantha Goldman, Administrator

A graduate of the Theatre Studies program at the University of Connecticut, Samantha (Sam) brings her knowledge and love of performance to the office at NEAD. During her time at UConn, Sam was elected president of Agents of Improv, an on-campus comedy and improvisation group. Additionally, Sam served as a Company Management Intern at The Connecticut Repertory Theatre— gaining exposure to the inner workings of a professional Company. Together with her degree in Theatre Studies, these experiences have since earned her teaching opportunities at several local CT acting and improvisational summer camps.

Since 2015, Sam has been bringing her years of creative experience to the role of Administrative Assistant at NEAD.  She inspires creativity within the NEAD Summer Dance Program, teaching ballet-themed arts and crafts lessons to lower school students. During the school year, Sam can be found in the NEAD office greeting and helping parents and students alike. She also manages the soundboard during performance weeks.