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Alumni Tributes

Read memories and stories from North Shore School of Dance Alumni from over the last 30 years about how our programs, instructors, and friendships here positively impact and shape dancers throughout a lifetime!

Sophie Allen

From age two to eighteen, I grew up in North Shore School of Dance’s studios. I honed my skills as a technician and I found my voice as an artist.I learned how to collaborate and gained an invaluable sense of community among my peers and teachers. NSSD provided me the foundation necessary to be successful in a collegiate level BFA Dance program, and planted seeds of inspiration and curiosity for me to maintain dance as a life-long passion and professional pursuit. I owe Lisa Gold and all of my teacher’s at North Shore a life’s worth of gratitude and feel incredibly lucky to be able to call NSSD my home!


I really can't thank you enough for creating the most welcoming and supportive space for so many dancers like myself to learn and grow. Most of my childhood memories are in your studios, and I wouldn't be the dancer or the person I am today without you and all of the teachers and dancers from North Shore. 

Alumni Sophie Allen

Jenny (Pickell) Freidheim 

Thirty years after first stepping foot in the sunny studio on Highwood Avenue, I vividly remember Lisa’s 8-8, 4-4, 2-2, 1-1-1-1 degage combination the joy (and pain!) of my first point shoes, rehearsing for the first “Crackers” and loving every minute as Clara in subsequent full length productions. Lisa inspired me as a young dancer by taking my class to a breathtaking performance of American Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadere and with incredible masters classes and opportunities with the Joffrey. Years later I returned to NSSD as a pre-ballet teacher and it was during this time that Lisa and the entire NSSD family surrounded and supported me and my beloved mom through our concurrent cancer fights. And now, with each thought to my posture or as I dance gleefully around my house with my young daughters, I appreciate that my classes at NSSD were much more to me than simply an extracurricular activity and Lisa so much more than merely my ballet teacher, but rather a treasured mentor and friend. Thank you for this enduring, beautiful influence and congratulations on 30 magnificent years!

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Rebecca Oliveira-Pike:

My first time stepping in to North Shore School of Dance was in the fall of 1997. Lisa Gold, the director of the school, would be my ballet teacher; I had followed Miss Caroline to North Shore after she left the Park District. I loved dance, but more specifically ballet, and it became a passion and my life once I started at North Shore that fall. North Shore was a nurturing school with exceptional faculty that allowed me to explore all facets of dance and musicality, as well as make some of my closest friends who are still in my life in 2019.  I learned how to perform, how to be disciplined, and how to respect others. My happiest memories included performing in "The Nutcracker", and the role of "Clara" brought me overwhelming joy. I continued to devote my life to dance until I graduated from high school. Although I do not dance currently, I occasionally substitute for ballet classes in the suburbs and I continue to work hard daily in my profession as a teacher, as I was taught to do at North Shore School of Dance. North Shore has allowed me to create everlasting friendships; two ballet teachers and seven friends I made at North Shore were at my wedding two years ago. 


I may no longer be a dance student at North Shore School of Dance, but as an alumni, I have made friends for life, trained under the most capable professionals, and have a sense of drive that was nurtured at NSSD. 


Happy 30th Birthday, North Shore School of Dance!

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Rachel Pike:

I followed my first ballet teacher, Miss Caroline, to North Shore School of Dance in 1997. My parents wanted my sister and me to go to a top dance school in the area, and according to recommendations, North Shore seemed to be worth the 30 minute drive from Buffalo Grove to Highland Park. Lisa was my first teacher there in the old Highwood studio next to the accountant's office, and she re-engaged my love for ballet by encouraging us to sauté like a basketball player. From there on, I was obsessed with ballet and that has not changed.

I remember looking in the Nutcracker picture books and my first audition as a Little Mouse, as we were told to improv and my sister and I decided to imitate our pet hamster. We were happy to get accepted into the production and I enjoyed a large range of roles every year since, memorizing every part that I could and enjoyed milestones that included wearing beautiful professional tutus, getting to dance a few pas de deux variations and making great lifelong friends.

Dance Company performances at Six Flags were always fun, and I will not forget the Kids Artistic Review competition when our music didn't work and we got an award for standing on stage, smiling.

I also will always cherish performing at Barat College for the Spring Concert, learning variations and getting to see guest professional artists inspire and perform.

North Shore was always the place to get top-notch training from all of the teachers and truly boasts the best faculty with esteemed backgrounds, all of whom care about nurturing students to be responsible, technical artists versus instilling fear for technical success. I felt encouraged to study at various national training programs in the summer while I always looked forward to returning back to my favorite teachers at North Shore, who helped me turn my dance studies into my career, and I couldn't be more grateful as I became a dancer, choreographer, and now ballet teacher myself. My objective is to encourage the same type of discipline, technical correctness, artistic integrity and a strong sense of self-worth into my students just as North Shore instilled into me. Thank you, and to 30+ more years!

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Carly Schwartz

NSSD was my home away from home from middle school to high school. Grounded in the chicago dance community, with the best teachers I could ask for. My experience shaped the discipline and hard work I bring to all other aspects of my life as an adult. I loved all the dance ensembles, nutcracker rehearsals and friends gained. There will always be a special place in my heart for this school. Congratulations on 30 years Lisa!

Carley S

Max Friedstein

Wish I could be there tomorrow for the anniversary! Sending all my love and appreciation for you and NSSD. Truly wouldn't be who I am today without the sacred space you created and sustained. Congratulations on 30 years! Can't believe it... All of my love, Max

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Abra Cohen

Who would have thought that the sanctuary of a church would make the perfect dance studio? But it was there that I learned to use my feet, plie, and soar. I remember forgetting about everyday worries in that studio, focusing on strenuous adagios under Pam Tanis’ watchful eye, practicing jazzy precision with Meghan Grantin, and gliding across the floor trying to keep up with Greg Begley’s flowing choreography, transferring weight and shifting spots. I may not have aced all my auditions out here in the real world, but I have been told time and time again that I have strong technique. That gift was instilled in me from my years at North Shore School of Dance.  North Shore helped a shy little girl find her voice and inner strength, introduced her to the stage and ignited a passion that has never ceased. The car rides to and from the studio are forever ingrained in my mind, as is spending long winter nights crossing that grey marley, and  pinning my hair and pancaking my face backstage at Barat College.  From numerous summer programs to college rehearsals, and international stages, NSSD provided me with the building blocks required to maintain composure, stay focused, and simply dance. The discipline and attention to detail that I was immersed in has helped me thrive in the classroom and the workplace, and most importantly it has allowed me to dance professionally in New York City with the Isadora Duncan Dance Company. Thank you to NSSD and all of your dedicated teachers for the impeccable dance training and life guidance that all happened in a small wooden cathedral in the Midwest.  


Beatriz Wagner:

Wow...there is just too much to say. I made it as brief as possible: 

I have been dancing since I could walk. There came a point, around age 13, when my dad realized I was pretty serious about ballet and we had to find a studio that could cultivate my technique and deepen my passion for dance. That’s when we found North Shore School of Dance. At first I was intimidated by the rigor and intensity. I realized quickly how much room for growth there was in my technique and execution, which was scary but also electrifying. I was so impressed by the dedication of my peers, which seemed to match the fervor I felt inside. As I matured I also came to appreciate the amazing talent among the faculty. To this day I feel honored to have been graced with their instruction, demonstration, choreography, and most importantly, their constructive criticism. I enjoyed many recitals with NSSD and performed in four Nutcracker productions as a student. I made many friends at NSSD. The friendships formed at NSSD are rooted in respect, support, celebration, fun, and collective enthusiasm for dance. Graduating from NSSD as a senior and saying goodbye to my peers and teachers was harder than graduating from my own high school. But I kept in touch with my dance friends and my NSSD family. 

When I went away to college, I did not study dance. I had decided in my mid-teen years that dance would always be a part of my life, but not as my career. But I missed NSSD like crazy! I came back in the summers for a few classes here and there. I graduated from college, got my first job, got married, and settled in the suburbs (close to NSSD, thank goodness!). One day I received one of the best emails I have ever received: an invitation to be a part of the NSSD Nutcracker production again. It has been an honor to play the role of the Governess six times now. I fell in love with the Nutcracker magic, the choreographers, the studio, and ballet all over again. There is a feeling I get when I am at NSSD that I cannot fully describe with words. It is an intense joy that permeates the studio walls and ascends from the floors. And though I do not spend nearly as much time there as I wish I could, I carry a little bit of that feeling with me everywhere I go. Plus, I have their bumper sticker on my car which makes me smile and reminisce every time I see it. 

Though I did not become a professional dancer, like the 13-year-old-me dreamed of for a fleeting moment, dance is forever a part of my core being. Now in my chaotic, stressful, and at times overwhelming adult life, NSSD is my haven. My place at the barre is a sanctum of peace, a calming retreat, a centering harbor. 

So what did I gain from my years at NSSD? Well, I still consider myself a student of theirs and plan to continue to learn from them. But so far I have learned discipline, respect, hard work, dedication, self-confidence, appreciation, gratitude, friendship, humility, and love. If I haven’t said it recently or I haven’t said it enough, thank you.

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Lauren Bergelson:

I will be forever grateful to the North Shore School of Dance for instilling in me not only a powerful love of dance, but also the patience, discipline, perseverance, and humility that have served me well in college and in law school, and will continue to positively influence my life in the years to come.

NSSD was my home away from home for my whole childhood. I loved spending my evenings and weekends in the beautiful studios, honing my skills in ballet, modern, and jazz, learning from incredible instructors and talented choreographers, and developing lifelong relationships with close friends. NSSD challenged me and supported me through my years participating in Company, Spring Concert, The Nutcracker, and Ensemble performances. The impeccable training prepared me to audition for and attend professional summer programs at Interlochen, Joffrey Midwest, Boston Ballet, and Point Park. While I enjoyed my time away, I was always thrilled to return to North Shore the following fall, reconnect with my friends and instructors, and apply my summer experiences to the new year’s classes and performances. NSSD exposed me to some of Chicago’s greatest choreographers and inspired me to choreograph my own pieces in high school and in my college dance company. The opportunities North Shore provided were nothing short of outstanding.

I’ve learned throughout the years that I’m the happiest when I’m taking class. This year, in my final year of law school at Columbia, I cross-registered for a ballet class in Barnard’s dance department. Through it, I’ve have had time to reminisce on my years devoted to ballet, characterized by camaraderie with dance friends and the excitement that comes from mastering new steps and learning new choreography after much time and hard work. Twice a week, I leave class exhilarated and remember that I felt this way five to six days a week at North Shore for years – what a privilege!! Though no studio can compare to NSSD, I feel comfortable enrolling in this ballet class and dropping in at classes in Chicago and in New York City, thanks to the stellar training North Shore gave me and the dedication and confidence this wonderful studio cultivated in me. Thank you for giving me a lifelong gift!


Congratulations on thirty years NSSD. Here’s to 30+ more!!!


Megan Haran:

My love of dance was nurtured in the popcorned walls of a former church on Highwood Avenue.  Lisa welcomed my sister, Erin, and I into the NSSD family in 1992. Erin was a talented and hard working 8th grader and I was a very high energy and unfocused 3rd grader. An early memory from my first year in Lisa’s ballet class entails me goofing off and Lisa giving me “the look”... Lisa is an incredibly talented teacher and has the ability to control a room of rambunctious children with just a look. Amazing! Lisa knew how to reign me in and help me develop into a dancer with focus, while still making it fun. When I was 12 Lisa gave me the honor of becoming a Student Demonstrator for a Modern class, and during college I worked as a teaching counselor for the NSSD pre-school ballet camp and summer intensive.

Thank you, Lisa, for engaging and supporting me!


I had the privilege of spending a decade of my life, almost daily, at NSSD. I had other special teachers: Greg, Jennifer, Katie, Pam, Caroline, Karen, as well as wonderful dance friends.  They each taught and instilled lessons that have stayed with me into my professional career.  They showed me how to work hard, overcome challenges, make commitments, learn discipline, and how to have a respectful competitive friendship.  In high school Greg taught me about attention to detail, setting high expectations, and the most impactful lesson of “going beyond the steps”.


Lisa and my teachers gave me my first taste of performing and from there numerous soloist and partnering opportunities. I loved weekend Nutcracker/Company rehearsals,  stretching, and doing homework with my dance friends. Performing became my passion very early on. I still remember sequences of choreo to some favorite pieces: Earth Song, Greg’s Brahams variation, the Hunter Dance from Peter, Summertime “chair dance”, and most of the roles from the original Nutcracker choreography.  In the years since NSSD I’ve danced professionally, choreographed musicals and solo pieces, performed with a YP dance company, and taught a fitness ballet HIIT class. All thanks to the incredible dance education I received.


I’m so grateful to NSSD - thank you, thank you, thank you!  Congratulations, and here’s to another 30 years!!!

Alumni Megan Haran

Eric Haran-MacCurtain

I was 13 years old when I first began dancing at NSSD, and from the moment I stepped in the door until I left for college it was my second home. More than 20 years later, the Highwood studio still holds many of my strongest memories. I loved the way the light would stream into the studio during Saturday morning ballet class – we lived there on Saturdays, especially during Nutcracker season. I loved sweaty summer night classes with Greg – whose class combinations were always beautiful pieces of choreography. I still remember many of the variations we learned in pointe class. I recently showed my children a video of our production of Peter and the Wolf, and they loved it! I am forever grateful for the first-class training, support, and encouragement I received from Lisa and all my teachers at NSSD. I am so happy to be 40 and still dancing (for fun), it is a rare and wonderful thing to pursue a passion from childhood into adulthood. Congratulations and a million times thank you!

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Rebecca Crystal:

The Nutcracker makes up a significant portion of my memories. Rehearsal in the old Highwood Studio has such visceral and sensory memories. It smells like toe pads and sweat, tastes like Chewey granola bars, sounds like cadences I will never forget—like the Pas that never fails to make me cry to this day, the end of Merliton (I was the little one who got carried off the stage, blowing kisses), the mazurka in the Party Scene, and the crescendo in Waltz of the Flowers—and it feels like the bittersweet feeling in my gut during Second Act Closing.


I also think of the Summer Intensive, sweating in the heat of the Highwood studio, picnicking in the grass, and huddling around the fan for a bit of air.  With Dance Company, I remember stomping grapes at the Highwood Grape Stomp and performing on the stage at Great America, becoming closer with my dance friends as we laughed and chasséd around the park.  I also think of—Barat college—the dusty backstage and hallways, the dressing rooms with lights around the mirrors, ballet class in the creaky studios upstairs, warming up in the auditorium, and feeling like it was all such an amazing adventure.


I remember Greg pushing my leg higher in arabesque as I took an advanced class for the first time with the “older kids,” the warmth in my heart when Karen revealed to me that I was cast as Clara.  I remember Telephone and Silk Pajamas (Caroline), Hoe-Down and Send me on my Way, (Lisa) Earth Song (okay I wasn’t in that one but I obsessed over the video), and host of modern dances choreographed by Katie and Jennifer where I found my freer, earthy, and quirky side.


I had surgery on my ankle when I was 17, and the hardest thing was being off of dance and the rehab process. When I was getting back into dancing, modern was my saving grace— I formed hard calluses and I settled in to my identity as a modern dancer.  That year, as I was rehabbing my ankle, I was also auditioning for college dance programs.  I was depressed, distracted, and had trouble retaining choreography, likely because of focusing on my injury.  NSSD teachers were patient, supportive, and held me up at a time when I felt like my world was spinning out of control.


Today, I make my living as a dance teacher and also run a small modern choreography and performance project.  I am inspired by the teachers who taught me and often think of my roots.  I hope that I am half the teacher that many of my teachers at NSSD were to me!


It was such a joy to write this!  Happy memories!

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Sarah Guggemos:

When I was three years old, my Mom and Grandma took me to see my first performance of the Nutcracker. Six years after that first show, I had the confidence to audition for the Nutcracker and to start training at North Shore. Dancing at North Shore is still one of the best decisions I've ever made.

So much of the woman I am today can be attributed to the countless hours I spent in classes and rehearsals. From my first Nutcracker performance as an Angel, I never would've guessed that I one day would get to dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen. In my nine years at NSSD, I was challenged to become the best dancer, mentor, friend, and performer that I could be. I grew from a shy and nervous nine year old, to a confident and happy eighteen year old under the direction of my teachers and the influence of my fellow dancers.

My formative years were spent at the barre, in rehearsal, running around downtown HP, in the dressing rooms at LFHS, and bothering Barbara Gold-Wowk at the front desk. The joy and growth I experienced from NSSD was worth every commute from Northbrook to HP, every blister and tear, and evert hour spent in rehearsal.


I feel so lucky to have had a second family at North Shore and there are too many people to thank for that. I'm forever thankful that Brook Burkhardt believed that I could be a mentor and role model to company and challenged me to do so. Heather Corrie handled a lot of my stress and supported me through every crazy week. I still miss Tuesday nights with Queen Kesha MilenkovicBrandon DiCriscio helped me break out of my ballerina shell and helped me to fall in love with contemporary. Adam Houston challenged me to develop a strong foundation in jazz, and showed me how to use my strength and range in dancing. Robert Mckeebelieved in me and my journey and honored every step of that path. Miss Pamela Johnson Tanis challenged me and helped me to achieve my greatest dream of performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy and supported me through every pirouette, pointe shoe, and plié it took me to get there. And Lisa Gold created a studio were I found friends that will last a lifetime, and guidance that still impacts the decisions I make.


I love all of the dancers I got to share North Shore with, but I'm especially thankful for my best friend India Shelley who I met at my first day ever at North Shore. I still miss every Saturday morning ballet class, Waltz rehearsal, and trip to Arriva that we took.

At North Shore, I learned how to navigate space with confidence, creativity, and compassion and I'm forever thankful.


I'll never forget my last in studio run through at North Shore and the deafening love and support I felt as I performed for the last time in Studio Five, and I'll never forgot how difficult it was to drive home from the studio for the last time as a student.

I hope many more kids get to grow up in this space and experience the magic of this studio. Congratulations on thirty years NSSD, I feel so grateful to have been there for ten of them.

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Mae Cody

North Shore School of Dance was so formative to who I am a person. I remember Miss Karen in the Highwood studio, teaching us dance vocabulary that we diligently wrote in our little notebooks. I remember sitting in the dressing rooms waiting for my sister’s class to be done so we could take the train home together. I remember how thrilling it was to be one of the first classes to dance in the brand-new Studio 5. I remember pushing myself, being pushed lovingly, and knowing that I always had a home at 500 Laurel Ave. I remember, in seventh grade, being placed into a level with Miss Alejandra that was probably too high for me—but that year I improved in literal leaps and bounds. I remember telling my friends that I couldn’t do sleepovers on Friday nights, because Saturday morning ballet with Miss Pam was my favorite ritual of the week. And I remember the elation I felt when I finally got to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker my senior year of high school, knowing that the bruised toenails and tears were worth it. 
All these beautiful memories aside, one of the best things about NSSD was the care they had for their dancers. Being in college now, I hear stories about dance teachers forcing students into their splits, never being understanding of other commitments, and making dance a “practice” not a “rehearsal.” NSSD always made sure that we understood the artistic value of dance, and that we were taking care of ourselves and our physical and mental health. I knew that I could sit down during class if something hurt—and that observing a class was educational on a different level. And finally, while dance was extremely important to me, so was music and church. NSSD respected this, accommodating my need to do things other than dance, and allowing me to do all the activities that I loved.
I will be forever grateful to the home that was NSSD, including Miss Lisa, who took my uptight ballerina self and showed me how to be grounded in modern technique was when I was in middle school, who listened to and understood my conflicts, and demanded the best from her students without being scary or mean. Thank you to all the incredible people, teachers, fellow students, staff, and everyone who made my experience at NSSD so meaningful.

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Natalie Ecanow

When I stepped into my first class at NSSD at age 5, I had no idea that NSSD would become like a home away from home.  NSSD fostered an environment in which I was both challenged and nurtured, and one that gave rise to some of my happiest memories. I will forever be grateful for the experiences I had and the relationships I formed during my thirteen years as a dancer at NSSD. Congratulations on 30 years, NSSD!  

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Anna Ecanow

NSSD has been like a second home to me. I have so many incredible memories from my fifteen years dancing there, and I truly wouldn’t be the person I am today without NSSD. There I was challenged to reach my full potential both in and out of dance with amazing support from teachers and friends along the way. Through nutcracker, company, ensemble, and ballet theater I made lifelong friends and made my happiest memories. Now being a part of my university’s dance program, I realize even more the strong foundation NSSD gave me. I will always be grateful to NSSD for the amazing experiences I had over my 15 years as an NSSD dancer. Congratulations on 30 years!


Melissa Gocek

I will forever be grateful to Lisa Gold, for taking me in and allowing me to make North Shore School of Dance my second dance home. I learned so much from from all the staff (and received so much support when I was injured my senior year) I know that I would not be the person or teacher I am today without my time and training at NSSD.

Melissa G
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