Our Dance Instructors
Jessie Bonanno, Guild Dance Director has an extensive background in Classical Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz and Tap Dance. She began her dance training at the age of 3. Over the years she has worked with such notable instructors as Robert Barnett (Former Artistic Director of Atlanta Ballet), Mary Munro (RAD), Maniya Barredo (former member of Joffrey Ballet and former Prima Ballerina for Atlanta Ballet), Nicholas Pacana, Cornelius Carter and Carl Ratcliff. Her studies continued with Diane Callahan (former member of San Francisco Ballet), Carol Smiarowski, Heidi Longwith, Stanislav Issaev (Principal dancer with Moscow State Ballet Theater), Amy Card Lillios, Andrea Pell, Vincas Green, Jolie Long and Martha Goodman.
In 1999, Ms. Bonanno earned her B.F.A. in Dance Pedagogy from Brenau University after being awarded a four year dance merit scholarship. Her studies included Ballet, Modern and Jazz Techniques, teaching internships with Gainesville School of Ballet, Ballet Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology, Kinesiology for Dancers, Music for Dancers and Improvisation as well as Dance Practicum, Choreography and extensive performance credits. While attending Brenau University, she performed soloist roles with Gainesville Ballet and Brenau Dance Ensemble as well as making guest appearances on other projects. Ms. Bonanno was also a substitute dance instructor for Brenau University and Gainesville School of Ballet.
Since moving to this area, Ms. Bonanno has taught and choreographed for Dalton School of Ballet, Baker-VanCura Ballet Centre, Mountain Laurel Dance Studios, Bessy Smith Hall and created a dance program for The Lutheran School in Chattanooga, TN. She has also judged for the state of Georgia in the Georgia Governor's Honors program for many years. Ms. Bonanno also served 3 terms as well as an additional guest term as a dance panelist for Georgia Council for the Arts. Since 2001 and prior to joining the Guild, she owned and directed Dalton School of Ballet and Ballet Dalton. In 2005, she merged Dalton School of Ballet with the Creative Arts Guild and became the Director of Dance. In addition to her position with the Guild, she is also an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga teaching Dance Tech I and II classes. She and her husband Ryan reside in Chattanooga, TN with their son Riley and daughter Finley.
Keenan Daniels is a young man with many talents. Actor, MC, Hip Hop Christian recording artist, DJ and youth minister are a few of his talents. His passion and most sought after talent however is his ability to teach hip hop dance to those who want to learn. With extensive training and experience in Hip Hop as well as extensive musical knowledge, those many talents have been brought to the guild. Keenan joined the Creative Arts Guild Dance Department staff in 2012 with weekly Hip Hop classes for students ages 8 and up.
Paige Craven Retchko is thrilled to work with Ballet Dalton and is looking forward to many exciting opportunities! Paige received her early training in St. Marys, Georgia under Monica Harris. Some of her early performance credits include Chinese Soloist, Marzipan, and Sugarplum Fairy from "The Nutcracker Suite." Later, she attended Brenau University Women's College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Studies. While at Brenau, Paige studied Ballet from Carol Smiarowski, Dianne Callahan, and Nikki Bybee; she also learned the joys of Modern dance from Vincas Greene and Jolie Long.
Paige was a member of the Brenau Dance Ensemble, an educational outreach program that created lecture-demonstrations to encourage dance in education. She also performed in several student concerts and faculty concerts while in college. Paige was a member of several guest choreographer pieces including "Joiners" by Melanie Lynch of Zoetic Dance Ensemble and "Newspapers" by Gladys Bailin who trained under Alwin Nikolai. Some of her favorite pieces have included "Dixit Diem" by Vincas Greene and "Les Fleurs" by Jolie Long. Paige also spent a summer at the American Dance Festival, where she took part in "The Pearl Primus Project" overseen by Ursula Payne. While there she also trained with Brenda Daniels, formerly of the Merce Cunningham School, and Makehda Tomas, from Urban Bush Woman. Other training experiences include Roger Belman, Mark Dendy, and Gerri Houlihan, Lonnie Davis, and Matthew Rose. Paige also teaches dance at Scenic City Dance Center in Chattanooga, TN, and has recently begun teaching fitness classes at a small gym in Chattanooga. She feels truly blessed to have been given such a wonderful group of students, and can’t wait to see all their progress this year and in the future!
Ali Whittier, Guild Dance Instructor and Iowa native, began her dance training with Becky Nalevanko (past President Dance Masters of America #34) in Des Moines, Iowa at the age of three. At age seven, she joined Nalevanko’s regional and nationally-recognized competition dance team. She toured with 11 other dancers on Nalevanko’s European Dance Tour for two weeks at age eight. In 1996 she continued lyrical, tap, jazz, ballet and hip-hop training under MeLissa Budinich in Monroe, Iowa and was an assistant instructor for Steppin’ Out Dance Studio. Whittier was a four-year varsity dancer and two-year captain for the PCM “Jazz Creation” claiming numerous state titles in team competition and also placing in the Iowa State Dance Solo Competition. She was also a member of the “All-Iowa Honor Drill Team Kick Squad” for two years and has judged several high school and collegiate dance team tryouts while living in Iowa.
In 2007, Whittier moved to Dalton after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences with a background in biology from the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, she studied lyrical, modern and jazz in the University of Iowa Dance Department. She is currently working on her Master’s in Health Studies from the University of Alabama and is the Marketing Coordinator for the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership in Dalton. She’s also involved in Junior Achievement, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Dalton Volleyball League and is an officer and two-year “Runner of the Year” for the Carpet Capital Running Club completing two marathons and several half marathons as well as many shorter running events. Whittier has served as co-director for Dalton’s largest road race, the “Bill Gregory Healthcare Classic” since 2008.
Whittier was hired as Dance Instructor for the Creative Arts Guild in the summer of 2009. She teaches ages 3 through adult in ballet, jazz and tap.
Ryan Bonanno, (Not Pictured) Certified Athletic Trainer volunteers his time and expertise to the Creative Arts Guild to care for our dancers. Ryan's background includes a degree in Exercise Physiology from UTC, Certification from NATA Board of Certification and a license from the states of Tennessee and Georgia. He currently works at Hamilton Sports Medicine, a division of Hamilton Medical Center and cares for the Southeast High School athletes. The Guild puts its student's development first and foremost and strives to make appropriate decisions for training progressions including pointe shoe readiness, programming and equipment use.