Denise Paavola, Founder

Advanced Ballet, Intermediate Ballet, Pointe, Variations
A Flint native, Denise founded Young People’s Ballet Theatre (YPBT) in 1988 and served as its’ Artistic Director for twenty-four years. Between 1980 and 2012, she also owned and directed Paavola School of Dance, the primary training school for YPBT. In 2012, she semi-retired and donated her school of dance to Young People’s Ballet Theatre but remained on staff teaching our advanced students. In 2016, Denise returned as School Director of YPBT and is excited to return this year as Artistic Director once again. Her early dance training here in Flint led her to a professional dance career with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Ballet Michigan.

She also holds a BA degree in Elementary and Deaf Education from the University of Michigan and an MA in Learning Disabilities from Eastern Michigan University. Denise developed Young People’s Ballet Theatre on the premise that all inspired dancers in Flint and surrounding areas are provided the opportunity to study with professional teachers and choreographers and perform classical ballets. Her unwavering passion for ballet and mentoring of young dancers is fundamental to our core philosophy here at YPBT.

Dan Thompson, School Director

Boys Class, Partnering
Dan studied ballet in his early years with Robert Davis, a former professional dancer from Washington Ballet. He has taught and danced with Young People’s Ballet Theatre, Ballet Michigan, Flint Institute of Music and University of Michigan-Flint Theatre. Dan’s specialty in our school has been as teacher for our Boy’s Class and Pas de Deux class. Last year, he developed our school’s “Ensemble” group which offers a performance opportunity for our school’s dancers who are not members of our company. In addition to his work with YPBT, Dan serves as the Artistic Director for the Nutcracker Ballet Theatre Company production in Port Huron, Vice-President of Trust Theatre Ensemble, and works as IT Manager at Landaal Packaging Systems. He has a degree in Computer Science, and has also studied technical theatre at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Megan Brady

Intermediate Ballet, Pointe
Megan began dancing at the age of seven years old with Janet Richards in Clio, and began dancing at Paavola School of Dance with Denise Paavola the following year. After joining Young People’s Ballet Theatre, Megan had several performance opportunities dancing lead and soloist roles – having worked with professional guest artists and choreographers including Dale Brannon, Addison O’Day, Ruth Leney-Midkiff, Scott Heinrich, Guiseppe Canale, Judd Gibbs, and Christina Mangia. During her senior year of high school she began her study of nutrition and became certified as a Nutritional Counselor. Continuing her study of the body, Megan also became a Certified Massage Therapist. Working alongside a chiropractor and physical therapist, Megan has gained a greater understanding of the body and function.

Diane Clift

Advanced Ballet, Pointe, Variations
Diane Clift grew up studying with the Fort Wayne Ballet, under the direction of Michael and Judy Tevlin. While there, she worked with several choreographers from Julliard, New York City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Charleston Ballet, among others. She performed roles in the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Firebird, Les Sylphides, to name a few. After graduating she went on to teach ballet in Los Angeles, CA before starting her college career at Wright State University. Diane danced on scholarship with the Dayton Ballet Company while working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wright State. Her college career gave her opportunities as the Dance Captain of the Broadway show Cabaret, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, as well as many works by guest choreographers. During Diane’s junior year in college she met, and married her husband, Jason Clift. Upon graduation they moved to Atlanta where he attended Life Chiropractic University. While there, Diane danced in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the ’96 Olympics. Soon after she began dancing professionally with the Georgia Ballet. She then began dancing with the renowned Christian Ballet Company, Praise in Motion. It was there that Diane found her biggest fulfillment. She continues to dance and teach and is honored to be teaching at Young People’s Ballet Theatre.

 Ashlynn Feige

Young Dancers, Outreach Programs
Ashlynn Feige began her dance training, at age three, at the Flint School of Performing Arts, where she took ballet, pointe, and modern dance. She also student assisted many classes for the younger children when she was in high school at FSPA. After graduating high school in 2012, she explored other dance forms such as lyrical, tap and jazz, at Dolores’ School of Dance, where she was asked to teach the ballet and pointe classes after several months at the school. She is holds a B.A. in Dance from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Hannah Nettleton

Pre/Beginning Pointe, Adult Ballet
Hannah began studying with Denise Paavola at the Paavola School of Dance in 2000 and later went on to join YPBT in 2004. She continued in the company until she graduated from Flushing High School in 2014. In 2017, Hannah received her B.S. from University of Michigan-Flint with a major in Biology and a minor in Dance Studies. She is currently studying Physical Therapy at UM-Flint. Additionally, Hannah is continuing exploration of dance as a member of El Ballet Folklorico.

Brianna Phillips

Pre/Beginning Pointe, Adult Ballet
Brianna is an alumni of the Young People’s Ballet Theatre and School where she received extensive ballet training from Denise Paavola. Brianna studied this summer with Carolina Ballet. She has participated in the Youth America Grand Prix and has starred in many leading roles with Young Peoples Ballet Theatre.

Danielle Smith

Jazz, Contemporary, Musical Theater
Danielle received her early training with Denise Paavola at the Paavola School of Dance and is an alumna of the Young People’s Ballet Theatre. She attended Central Michigan University where she minored in dance. She worked for Universal Dance Association for eight years instructing all over the country and judging dance competitions. As an adult Danielle continued her dedication to YPBT, doing character roles in many ballets, including Cinderella, Heidi, and Little Orphan Annie. Danielle’s love for contemporary and musical theater has been a valuable addition to our class offerings here at YPBT.

Louise Somalski

Pre/Beginning Pointe, Adult Ballet
Louise joined our teaching staff during the Spring of 2018. Dancing and performing since the age of 9, Louise began making the drive from her home in Essexville in 1985 to accelerate her training at the Paavola School of Dance. Through our summer programs, she studied with notable teachers such as Guiseppe Canale, Scott Heinrich, Christine Mangia, Justin Gibbs, Vineta Brannon and Jimmy Orante. Louise has performed in ten full length ballets for Young People’s Ballet Theatre including: The Little Mermaid, Little Princess, Little Match Girl, Little Orphan Annie, Pocahontas, and Little Women. Louise has a BS Degree from MSU and an MA from CMU, was a high school teacher for 20 years and a Lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers for 16 years. We welcome her into our teaching staff along with her love for children and dance!

Christina Stefanic

Christina is an alumni of the Young People’s Ballet Theatre and School where she received extensive ballet training from Denise Paavola. Christina has also studied at the Pelio School of Dance and with Sandra Burns. She has taught ballet and jazz for eleven years, and coached a national award winning competition dance team. She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Michigan-Flint. Currently, Christina teaches at YPBT, manages Toe To Toe Dance Wear, and is a judge for regional and national dance competitions.