Meet Our Instructors
Nela Niemann (Founder and Director) began studying ballet at the age of seven, when she started dancing with Miss Dorothy Ewing of Winchester, VA. She continued her training as a teenager at the Washington School of Ballet, Shenandoah University, and the Bolshoi School of Ballet and later studied with professional companies in Washington DC and Zaragoza, Spain. She attended American University and Radford University, where she studied with Frano Jelincic and Dagmar Kessler while earning a B.S. in Psychology. She has been teaching ballet, jazz and tap since 1976, and was the director of the dance program at Zaragoza Air Force Base in Spain. She also created and supervised the Dance Department at the YMCA in Princeton for three years. In 1991, Nela established The Blue Ridge Studio for the Performing Arts, where she continues to teach, choreograph and direct.
Linda Challinor celebrates over 30 years of ballet teaching. She began her dance training in Pittsburgh, PA at the relatively late age of 13. She continued her dance career in Colorado where she performed with The Rocky Mountain Ballet, Jazzworks West and Elite Feet. She also taught and danced in California before moving to Virginia, where she started teaching for The Blue Ridge Studio almost 15 years ago. Linda has a degree in elementary education and is a certified Pilates instructor. She brings both of these skills into her ballet classes where she loves creating new and challenging choreography for her students.
Cheryl Donald’s love of dance began in her home town of Rochester, New York. She then moved to Winchester, Virginia to study dance performance and dance education at Shenandoah University. As a member of the Shenandoah Dance Ensemble she participated in many main stage performances of Ballet, Modern, Jazz, and Tap. As a gifted choreographer Cheryl has produced numerous group works and solos which have been performed throughout the Winchester area. Cheryl participated in an International Tour of Russia and continued her studies abroad in Spain with Estada International De Dansa. She has also participated in the Jazz Dance World Congress for multiple summers. Cheryl joined the staff at Blue Ridge Studio for the Performing Arts in 2006, giving her the opportunity share her knowledge, choreography, and passion for dance with younger students.
Katrina Szymanski first came to Blue Ridge as a young student to study ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. She became an instructor after graduating from High School in 2007. Katrina enjoyed teaching creative dance, ballet, tap, and jazz while earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and minoring in music at Shepherd University, where she graduated in 2011. Her love of dancing is the reason she enjoys the chance to create new choreography for her students. Katrina now works for a mortgage loan company in Columbia, MD and returns once a week to teach our Advanced Tap class.
Kristina Wallace-Goodchild started dancing before the age of three and takes pride in being able to pass her love of dance onto her students. She has been choreographing and teaching various dance forms for 15 years, and her classes have been offered in dance studios, community centers, YMCAs, day cares, public schools, and churches in Delaware, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia. She is thrilled to be teaching with Blue Ridge Studio. Kristina grew up taking ballet, pointe, tap, jazz/hip hop, lyrical, character, clogging, liturgical, and modern, as well as voice and music lessons. She holds an undergraduate degree in Dance from Lees-McRae College and graduate degrees in Counseling from the University of Maryland and the George Washington University. Kristina was a member of a touring dance and performing arts group, and she has danced in Disney World. Some of her favorite performances have been in the Nutcracker and the Sleeping Beauty ballets. In addition, Kristina has a passion for musical theater and some of her favorite roles have been in Oklahoma, Dames at Sea, and Pippin.
Kristina also has experience in teaching special needs dance classes, and has performed research on utilizing dance as a therapeutic modality. She lives in the area with her husband, Chris, and two daughters, Angelina and Gia.
Haley Burtner, a resident of Clark County, came to the Blue Ridge studio five years ago, and instantly fell in love with Ballet. Under the tutelage of her teachers, excelled at her dancing and moved into the more challenging aspects of it within a few short years.
After several years as an assistant, Haley is thrilled to be teaching Beginning Ballet here at the studio. She has a great relationship with her young students, and she is inspired by the challenge of sharing her knowledge, experience and choreography.