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Innovative Choreography Judges

Innovative Choreography founders, Lauren Wilson and Anne Kastelic, will be joined by this esteemed panel of judges:

Alexis Close

Alexis has over 25 years of experience in dance, gymnastics, and musical theatre.  She was a level 9 gymnast and was classically trained in voice from the age of 15.  She has enjoyed working as a dance instructor and choreographer in the techniques of jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical, musical theatre, contemporary, and acrobatics since 1992.  Alexis is starting her 10th year as the Drill Team coach and musical choreographer at Shawnee Mission East High School, as well as a member of the Varsity Dance C.A.S.T.  She has received multiple choreography awards from Nexstar, Talent On Parade, American Dance and Drill, and the National Dance Alliance.  Alexis is currently choreographing a production of Frozen Jr. for Stage Right Performing Arts. In her spare time, she enjoys photography and spending time with her husband Andrew and their two children, Dalton and Delaney.

Heidi Jacobson

Heidi Jacobson began her twirling career at the young age of 4 and went on to be a feature twirler at Missouri Western State University, and was a professional twirler for the Kansas City Kings NBA. She now shares her love for twirling with her students and is a current NBTA Judge. Heidi has coached many individuals who have gone on to win state, regional, national, and world titles. She is the director of a baton twirling team, Heidi’s Heroes, and is the former owner of Heidi’s Dance Center.  Heidi currently teaches dance and baton, as well as choreography for the IDKC Elite dance team at All About Dance by IDKC. 

Stephanie Kersten

Stephanie Kersten grew up as a competitive gymnast, baton twirler, cheerleader, dancer, and athlete.  Individually she won many national titles in gymnastics, baton, cheer, and dance.  Her very first time choreographing was her freshman year in high school to help her team gain a national title.  Stephanie also competed in All-Star Cheer and Dance with Orlando Magic, which is now Top Gun.  Stephanie slowly began to transfer more into the dance world when she was 16 years old when she was asked to dance with 69 Boys (most famously known for their song "Tootsie Roll").  She performed many concerts with them.  After making the All-Girl Cheer Team at Florida State University she found out she was pregnant with her firstborn, Kayla.  She then taught many mommy and me, tiny tot tumbling, and dance classes.  Stephanie finished her degree at the University of Central Florida all while choreographing, teaching, and coaching dance, gymnastics, trampoline, and cheer at Orlando All-Stars. She majored in physical education and minored in fitness wellness and African American studies.

Stephanie then landed the job teaching dance and coaching at Lake Mary High School in 2005.  Since then, she has brought the Marionettes back on top and has won 9 national titles and numerous states titles.  She is proficient in kick, jazz, hip hop, pom, and contemporary.  

Diana McClain

Diana McClain is a well-known teacher and judge. She has taught championship twirling groups, individuals, and collegiate twirlers. Diana is a former college twirler who received a twirling scholarship from Baker University. She travels throughout the US judging twirling competitions at the local, state, and national levels.  Diana is a registered NBTA judge and has also judged the AAU Nationals.  She also regularly provides cleaning and critiques to high school dance teams.  Diana has an eye for detail and has a wonderful talent for making any individual she works with feel proud, skilled, and confident.

Kati Oddo

Born and raised in Kansas City, Kati Oddo began her dancing career at age three and has had a passion for dance ever since.  She danced competitively with Dance Xcel where she earned several national titles, trained with instructors from across the country, and began her career as a teacher and choreographer.  In addition to training at Xcel, Kati was also a member of her high school dance team.  Upon graduating high school, Kati went on to dance at Kansas State University as a member of the Classy Cats dance team.  An assistant section leader her junior year and captain her senior year, Kati performed at basketball games, football games, volleyball games, parades, pep rallies, NCAA tournaments, bowl games, and numerous other university activities.  Additionally, Kati received three “All American” awards at National Dance Alliance camps and placed in the top ten at the collegiate national competition.  During her years at K-State, Kati took four years of ballet, yoga, and body conditioning for dancers through the university’s dance program.  After graduating college, Kati continued her dancing career as a Galaxy Girl for the Missouri Comets soccer team.  She currently choreographs and teaches throughout the Kansas City area and coaches a local high school team.  Kati is honored to be a part of the Innovative Choreography team and looks forward to using her experience to guide young dancers to perform to the best of their abilities.

Kande Sell

Kande started twirling and dancing at the young age of six. She has had a rewarding coaching and teaching career. In her 25 years, she has taught many top ten placing students and teams. She has had her NBTA judging license for over 25 years and has judged in many states as well as at AYOP. In her many years, she has also taught bodywork, rolls, modeling, and strut at different camps. Along with being a baton instructor,  she has taught dance at a studio. Her background is in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, and pom.

Candace Starr

Ms. Starr’s experience perpetuates progressively a compelling course of study and nurturing atmosphere within which parents discover for their child a wondrous journey in artistic education.  While she is professionally trained in all genres of dance, her true love is teaching.  Her passion for dance and learning are the motivating force that drives the success of the dance program at Olathe Community Center.  She believes poise and grace will create an entire world of accomplished talent and self-confidence as we encourage dancers to learn expressive and creative movement, within a softly, exacting curriculum of superior and professional training.


Ms. Starr holds a Bachelors's degree in Management and Human Relations - a minor in Dance and a Master's Degree in Academic Advising - transition and disability.  Most recently, she began the journey to pursue her Doctorate Degree in Leadership.


Ms. Starr began dancing at the early age of five in Southern California and continued dance throughout high school and college.  Beyond, ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, and lyrical, her performing experiences include baton twirling.  As a native of SoCal, Starr was an advanced twirler where she was part of a national team as well as an individual twirler.  Starr experiences awarded her the title of “Miss Majorette of California” at a very young age. Furthermore, Starr was also honored to perform for the Los Angeles Rams professional football team at the L.A. Coliseum.  A fun fact…at age 16, Starr broke the Guinness Book of World Records for twirling  55 ½ hours non-stop.  In addition, she was the lead choreographer for the AE Yogurt commercial.


As a professional in the dance and twirling community, Starr has been an active adjudicator throughout the United States for renowned dance and twirling organizations. Starr has traveled all over the country offering her expertise to all ages at Rainbow, Talent on Parade, Showbiz, Hall of Fame, Starpower, Dance Champs, AYOP, and Revolution regional and national events.  In addition, she has been privileged to work with high school dance teams and dance studios with technique, choreography, team precision cleaning, team selection, and studio marketing for growth.  

Ms. Starr owned her own successful dance studio for over 25 years.  Dance Xcel/Olathe was ranked Top #1 dance studio in Kansas and Top Ten in the United States as recognized by the renowned Dancers Magazine.  Her studio was known throughout the country for its outstanding choreography, technique, precision, and style.  Additionally, her dancers were recognized for their passion and artistry on stage.  

Her students were inspired by and had pieces set by professionals such as; the beautiful Sonya Tayeh (SYTYCD), Missy Ridgway (Perseverance), Emily Shock (Applause), Destini Rogers (L.A., N.Y.), Shannon Mather (L.A.), Fred Odgaard (Neverland - Broadway & Kinky Boots, NYC), Brooke Pierotti (L.A.), CJ Salvador (Justin Bieber Dancer), and Nick DeMoura (Justin Bieber lead choreographer and manager), plus more.   Starr has also worked with some of the most outstanding dance professionals in the country.


In addition, her twirling students were part of local, regional, and national twirling competitions. American Youth on Parade Nationals held at Notre Dame University, Indiana was always the highlight and most prestigious yearly event.  Starr’s talented twirlers, both individual and team, always placed at the highest level of all events. 


She is a PROUD dancer teacher - One of Starr’s students is currently dancing with Justin Bieber on the “Purpose” tour.  Starr is thrilled to see her dreams come true with a lot of hard work and determination.  In addition, many of her students have opened their own successful dance studios, danced with Disney, performed with the New York Brooklynettes, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Jacksonville Jaguars, taught at Millennium and EDGE in Hollywood, attended PACE and Chapman University, and performed on cruise lines.  She believes “passion” is a motivating force behind fulfilling life dreams.


Ms. Starr has three beautiful Kansas State University daughters. All have been a part of the Classy Cat Dance Team. In addition, Starr has been an active volunteer in the community.

Brianna Thomas

Brianna Thomas is a recent graduate of Oklahoma City University with a degree in Dance Pedagogy, where she graduated summa cum laude and cum honore. Brianna loves being a part of the Innovative Choreography family, getting to teach, coach, and adjudicate dancers. She teaches at Jody Phillips Dance Company, working with all ages in a variety of genres, spreading the love and joy of dance. In addition, she is the dance and color guard coach at Shawnee Mission West. Brianna has multiple years of experience in color guard, musical theatre, instrumental and vocal technique, and dance technique training. She has formerly danced with the American Spirit Dance Company and the Spirit of Grace Liturgical Dance Company at OCU.

Emily Wicks Hawkins

Emily is the full-time director, artistic director, and coach for St. Louis Performance Academy, home of "Kelly's Kuties."  She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ole Miss with an Honors B.F.A. Degree and a minor in business. She is a former National Champion baton twirler, Ole Miss Feature Twirler, Miss College Majorette of Mississippi, Mississippi Collegiate Twirling Champion, Missouri State Champion, Peru Twirling Ambassador, and Miss Missouri Talent Winner. Besides twirling, Emily has performed at the Muny Theatre, Tent Theatre, and the Fabulous Fox Theatre. She has also founded a student dance company and choreographed and performed for professional dance companies. She is a current coach for the National Champion Oakville Golden Girls. She was Mrs. Missouri USA 2015 and an NFL Cheerleader for 2 seasons. 

Tara Yantis

Tara Yantis is a coach, teacher, choreographer, and adjudicator based in Kansas City. Tara trained at some of the top studios in Kansas City and was afforded a rich performance career taking her across the country and abroad, performing on numerous stages from her first promotional gig for Home Depot all the way to a featured guest performance for the President of the United States. She graduated from Washburn University where she was captain of both the game day dance team and the national competition team. She was also an arena football cheerleader for 4 years, serving as captain and choreographer for the team.

Tara is in her 9th season as the Head Coach and Creative Director of the 3-Time National Champion Saint Thomas Aquinas Spirits Dance Program in Overland Park, Kansas. The "Spirits" have been decorated with numerous awards over the years including Judges Choice in Hip Hop, Kick, Jazz, Prop, and Lyrical in Kansas competitions and 1st place finishes in Missouri competitions. Tara's competitive high school choreography has been recognized by the National Dance Alliance as well as ADTS.

Tara is an 11th-year Head Instructor and adjudicator for the National Dance Alliance, traveling the country throughout the year to teach, inspire and mentor. She was been named the NDA Excellence in Leadership recipient, recognizing the top Head Instructor in the nation in the area of leadership, demonstrated by the staff and customer surveys. She was also the inaugural recipient of The Work is Worth It™ award, voted on by NCA/NDA corporate staff nationwide, recognizing the top Head Instructor demonstrating contributions to both the cheer and dance worlds, and superior dedication throughout years of services to various entities of NCA/NDA, consistently going above and beyond for customers and staff. Tara was also the 2016 national delegate to London for NDA, facilitating performances for the London New Year's Day Parade seen by 300million+ viewers worldwide.

Amy Yarberry

Amy Yarberry, based in Wichita, KS works as a dance educator in the fields of studio and college dance, dance team, and guest choreography.  She is a graduate of Wichita State University where she earned a BFA in Dance and BBA in Business Management.  Amy has performed under many choreographers even touring to Taiwan and Italy with the Wichita Contemporary Dance Theater. Amy is currently an adjunct professor at Wichita State University.  At Wichita State Amy currently teaches hip-hop, jazz, and modern dance. She is in her eleventh year of teaching at a residential studio and her fifth year as the company director for the studio’s competition team. In addition to her studio employment, Amy is in her fifth season as the head coach of the Newton High School Railiner Dance Team.  Amy has received many awards for outstanding choreography at local and national events.  She spent ten years working with the world-renowned National Dance Alliance.  In her role as Head Instructor with the National Dance Alliance, she traveled around the country teaching all styles of dance to high school and collegiate dance teams nationwide.  She also enjoys traveling to guest teach and choreograph at studios and dance teams throughout the country. Recently, Amy joined Innovative Choreography with their studio touring group. With Innovative Choreography, she is able to work with students all over the Midwest, bringing new and exciting workshops to dance studios. Amy Pollard also works for The Dance Effect, where she travels across the country to teach at their fall intensives. Amy’s life is dance and she loves every minute of it.

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