Owner & Artistic Director
Susan Sorensen holds a BS in Education, specializing in Physical Education and Dance, from Texas Tech University. She studied at Southern Methodist University, Texas Tech University, Brookhaven College, Moonslice Dancer Theatre, Buster Cooper School of Dance, and Houston Ballet. Mrs. Sorensen taught P.E. and Dance for the Dallas Independent School District for 7 years. She also worked as an independent artist, performing with Contemporary Dance/Ft Worth, Brookhaven Dancer’s Theatre, Donna Marie-Moham Dancers, Diana Taylor Dancers, Lubbock Civic Ballet and e. donnette durham & dancers.
She teaches Jazz, Modern and Hip Hop at CGDA and also works as a freelance choreographer for local theatre groups. Choreography credits include, Carousel, How to Succeed in Business, 100 Degrees in the Shade, On the Verge, Private Eyes, Zombie Prom, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Avalon, Legally Blond, Chicago, Mama Mia and Grease.
My ballet training began at age 7 in Mtn. View, California under Richard Opaterny. I was awarded a Ford Foundation Scholarship at age 10, which allowed me to dance 5 days a week plus 2 summers of intensive study in New York at Harkness House and School of American Ballet. Teachers there included David Howard, Maria Veigh, Alexandra Danilova, and Antonina Tumkovsky. I also studied one summer at San Francisco Ballet School with Harold Christensen and Anatole Vilzak.
I graduated from University of Utah with a BFA, in Ballet, magna cum laude. There my teachers included Mattlyn Gavers, Bene Arnold, and my favorite; Toni Lander, Prima Ballerina with the Royal Danish Ballet. During my first year at the University, I was invited to apprentice with Ballet West, then under the direction of Willam Christensen. I then joined the company, and danced for four years under the direction of Bruce Marks in such ballets as Serenade, Carmina Burana, Nutcracker, and Coppelia.
After leaving Utah, I moved to Aspen, Colorado where I met my husband Mike, had our 2 children, Christina and Michael, and began my ballet teaching career by starting the Ballet Aspen Academy. We moved to the Gorge in 1989, and I have been teaching ballet here since. One of my most rewarding accomplishments is producing and directing the student production of Nutcracker Ballet held each year in December as a benefit for FISH and hospice of the Gorge.
My dance career began at age three with a tootsie roll and the promise of much fun to come under the extraordinary tutelage of vaudevillian soloist, Eleanor Borg; my mentor and, proudly, her protégé. Her spirited teaching and great foundations continue to be an inspiration to me today, as are my parents, Joan and Connie Smith, who encouraged and supported my lifelong dance career. Since the age of 14, I have been privileged to study and dance with the following great Masters of Tap: Charles Honi Coles, Cholly Atkins, Harold Nicholas, Savion Glover, Emery Clay, Richard Billings, Carneil Lyons, LaVaughn Robinson, Buster Brown, Eddie Brown, Steve Condos, Sam Weber, Fred Strickier, Lane Alexander, Derick Grant, Lee Green, Josh Hilberman, my favorite classy ladies: Lady Di (Diane Walker), Brenda Buffaiino, Heather Cornell, Lynn Daily, Teny Brock, Roxanne Butterfly, Jeannie Hill and my dear Ballet friend, Margaret Dallman.
My greatest accomplishments (PRIDE and JOY!)… My lifelong relationship with my husband and partner of 35 years, Richard, and my three incredible children; Jacob, Nicholas and Meredith (all of whom, by the way, including my husband, are great dancers too!) And of course, watching the “Halos of Happiness” from backstage and in class of those I teach!
I encourage everyone to find time in their lives to dance! Stay young at heart!
Upper Level Ballet C and Elite
Pointe C and Elite
Melissa Vovou, born and raised in Hood River, began dancing at the age of 4 (under the tutelage of Bev Bridgewater, Margaret Dallman, Theresa Mason, and Charlotte Arnold,) and
continued training in Portland (with Robert Guilliam, Jacques Kunzman, Nina Raimondo, and
Pat Hon, among others.) A scholarship to Marin Ballet brought her to the Bay Area (where she
trained with Frank Bays, Cynthia Pepper, Summer Ratigan, Maria Vegh, and Lorien Fenton,)
and performed with regional ballet, contemporary, and hip hop companies including Redwood
Empire Ballet, Newstyle Motherlode and Marin Future Shock.
Later, she joined Carnival Cruiselines as a showgirl, performing in their variety and magic
shows for 7 years, and developed an Adage act with her dance partner, bringing that act to the
Nutcracker in Hood River in 2007.
Melissa has been teaching dance since she was 14 years old, and is a fully certified Pilates
instructor since 2008. She has been a guest teacher for CGDA over the years and was on the
ballet faculty 2011-2012. She loves to inspire her dancers and clients to find joy and freedom in
movement. “Dance from your heart
Christa joy began her dance training at the age 4 at CGDA. She studied ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap and was on of the first CGDA Company Dancers. After graduating from CGDA, Christa joy went on to continue her dance training in Eugene, OR. She added African, modern, swing, salsa, and contemporary to her training and danced with the Bomb Squad under the direction of Allison Franco. Christa joy then moved to Portland, OR and began teaching hip hop and lyrical at Cami Curtis Performing Arts Center and joined Eclectic, an adult performing company where she had extensive swing and partnering training for a production of Guys and Dolls.
Christa joy now is a member of Push Jones, a hip hop and jazz performing company under the direction of Evie Graham and Allison Franco. She continues her training in hip hop, ballet, jazz, contemporary, and lyrical at Vega Dance+Lab, OBT, Conduit Contemporary Company, and Groove Nation. Christa joy is committed to her continued education in all forms of dance and attends workshops such as Monsters of Hip Hop and The Pulse Tour every year.
Theresa Mason started dancing at the age of eight. She began her ballet training with Leigh Salsibury in Concord, Ca, continued with the Showalter School of Dance in Walnut Creek Ca, and from there went into San Francisco and trained with Alan Howard and the Pacific Ballet Co. She attended Lassen College and obtained her A.A. degree as well as a Vocational Teaching Degree in Dance. While there she danced with Tanya Braunstein and the Lassen College Moving Co. She later taught ballet for three years at Lassen College in the P.E. Dept, during which time she also ran her own ballet school for children which continued for nine years. In 1989 she moved to Hood River and began teaching at the Bridgewater Dance Theatre for three years before joining the Workout Dance and Fitness Center, now the Columbia Gorge Dance Academy, where she has been teaching since 1994.
Portland native Heather Wright began dancing at the age of 14 with the Milwaukie High School Dance Team and was introduced to a variety of genres: ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop. As a senior, Heather was named team captain and selected for the OSAA All-State Dance Team. Her love of dance grew from there and earned her a scholarship with the Boise State Mane Line Dancers where they competed and won three USA National Championship titles.
Since then Heather has taught dance all over the West Coast as an UDA instructor and also spent two seasons performing with the Idaho Stampede Dancers. Most recently, Heather lived in New York City and studied contemporary, lyrical, broadway, jazz-funk, street-jazz and hip-hop at Broadway Dance Center while also working in TV production. Heather currently teaches Jazz at Columbia Gorge Dance Academy and continues to take classes at Vega Dance Lab.
Angie Welch was a student at the CGDA for approximately 13 years studying several disciplines of dance, including Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Pointe and modern. During her high school years she was also involved in cheerleading. During her dance career she traveled with the performing troop taking several master classes and attending numerous dance competitions around Oregon and Washington.
After attending college and starting her own family, Angie moved back to Hood River and began taking Charlotte’s adult tap classes at the CGDA. She is thrilled to be back and joining the CGDA faculty!
Ruby took her first tap class when she was 3 and her move to Germany at age 6 introduced her to Ballet. She realized that in dancing, the language barrier was not an issue. When she moved to Hood River she started tapping again and eventually added Jazz and quickly Ballet, too, as her goal was to be in a professional company. She was accepted into Columbia Gorge Dance Academy’s company when she was 16 years old. She moved to Portland about 6 months ago and was so excited to start teaching dance! Ruby cannot imagine life without dancing and is thankful for her directors and their constant encouragement and support. Being in a Company expanded her experience on stage by performing at the Art of Movement, Portland Youth Ballet, NW Dance Project’s Summer Intensive, and The Nutcracker. She has danced with 11 Dance Co., NW Dance Project, Portland Youth Ballet, Portland Metro Art, Oregon Ballet Theater, Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway, and The Creative Art Center. She has taught many classes and workshops in Hood River and absolutely loves it! She feels so lucky to have gotten this amazing opportunity with Columbia Gorge Dance Academy and can’t wait to connect and grow with her students.
Giselle Kennedy Lord
Giselle started dancing as a kid in the late nineties in LA county. After several years of jazz dance in her hometown, she joined the Dance Factory when she was 11, where she trained in ballet, jazz, lyrical, and hip hop. She competed and performed as a company dancer there for 6 years. After moving to San Francisco to earn a BA in media studies, Giselle continued to dance and exuberantly added to her training: West African at the University of San Francisco, hip hop at Dance Mission Theatre, ballet at Presidio Dance Theatre and City Dance, and contemporary at ODC. She danced with the Presidio Dance Theatre performance company for 2 years,
Giselle started teaching at the Presidio Dance Theatre, spent summers teaching hip hop in the Santa Cruz mountains, and continued teaching hip hop after moving to Portland in 2011. Shortly after, Giselle relocated to Hood River, where she has choreographed for and worked with the CGDA company+senior dancers for several years and guest starred as a sub in many fabulous classes. She is thrilled to be a part of the CGDA dance faculty and family.
Between good meals, asanas, and creative endeavors, Giselle continues her dance education and exploration whenever and wherever possible.
Jazz 1 & 2
Boyz Hip Hop
I began dancing at the age of three with a pair of tap shoes and Charlotte Arnold as my teacher. At the age of 10 I began traveling and competing all over the northwest. I studied ballet with Margaret Dallman, and jazz with Tony Loupe.
In high school I continued to compete nationally, and added hip Hop and modern to my dance experience. I was asked to teach preschool age tap and ballet classes until I graduated, this is when I fell in love with teaching.
I found Charlotte again in my 30’s and have been back tapping for the past 6 years. Dancing has always been a big part of my life, and I can’t wait to share my excitement and love of dancing with our students.
Upper Ballet A & B
Ballet 3 & 4
After graduating with a Dance Minor from Portland State University in 2007 Nicole has taken some time away from Dance to have children. She is very thrilled to get back at it! Her last accolade was choreographing and dancing in the opening ballet piece for Portland State’s Dance Program.
As a child, Nicole Danced with Columbia Gorge Dance Academy, (Back then called The Workout) from the age of 3 until High School Graduation. She focused on ballet, but also took jazz, hip hop, modern and a little tap.
Prior to High School, she choreographed a contemporary piece to The Jurassic park soundtrack for the Weiler Choreography Competition and took home an award for “strongest opening.” In High School she danced the roles of “Arabian Attendant” and was in “The Russian Dance” for Jan Hursts Columbia Dance Ensemble in Vancouver Washington. She has also danced the Spanish Dance Lead, Sugar Plum and Dew Drop for Columbia Gorge Dance Academy.
Summers were spent auditioning for things and in Washington at the Walla Walla Summer Dance Lab. Dance is a great way to spend a youth and she cannot wait to be involved in our dance community again, and she welcomes the opportunity to dance together and create movement!