Meet the Faculty
YEARS OF DANCE EXPERIENCE & A LOVE FOR TEACHING
Under the leadership of Melanie Smith, the faculty at Dancin' Jazzi bring years of dance experience, combined with a love of teaching. Every dancer receives thoughtful, individualized attention in a warm and welcoming enviroment.
FOUNDER | ARTISTIC DIRECTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER | INSTRUCTOR
Melanie Smith has been dancing since the age of three. She later joined Body Talk Dance Company, studying Jazz, Tap, Ballet, and Hip Hop. Melanie has won numerous awards, scholarships and other titles. She soon began choreographing for special shows and mentoring and encouraging other dancers. She has been a performer, choreographer and instructor in Austin and Central Texas for over 20 years. Melanie firmly believes in what she calls her “ABCD philosophy;" Any Body Can Dance. She has a tough, yet gentle approach that makes students want to become their best while helping them realize their full potential.
Melanie's first dance scholarship was won at the tender age of 6 while attending a Los Angeles Dance Force (LADF) dance convention. As a SAG member, Melanie has many national commercials and movies to her credit. She has had the opportunity to train with Savion Glover; the late Gregory Hines; Acia Gray; Laurie Johnson; Jeff Amsden; Keith Clifton; Mia Michaels; Wade Robinson; Bill Prudich; Nick Bowman and many others.
A gifted choreographer, Melanie is competent in Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop, Lyrical, Liturgical, Contemporary and Drill Team. Her favorite style of dance is Tap.
While in high school Melanie danced with the Regan RR's and the Lanier Vikettes as well as Austin Independent School District's All City Dance Team. In college Melanie served as captain of the Temple College Dance Team 2000 – 2001. She also danced with the Blinn College Treasures, 2001 – 2003.
In August 2006, Melanie fulfilled her dream of establishing Dancin’ Jazzi Dance Studio. In 2007, she founded FLAVA Dance Company. FLAVA has established itself as a National award-winning team.
Leola Smith, or Ms. Leola as she's affectionately called, is the mother of three adult children. Her daughter, Melanie Smith, is the owner of Dancin’ Jazzi Dance Studio.
Ms. Leola has been a dance mom for almost 40 years, which is one of the qualities that makes her very suited to be the Studio Director of Dancin’ Jazzi. Raising two daughters that were competitive dancers, Ms. Leola has traveled extensively to many, many Dance Competitions, Dance Conventions, and attended Dance Recitals and on and on everything dance.
After retiring from her State Government position, Ms. Leola has continued to run the day-to-day operation of Dancin’ Jazzi Dance Studio. Ms. Leola is very proud of Dancin’ Jazzi, its instructors and its students.
As an addition to Dancin’ Jazzi, Ms. Leola recently opened Queenbee's Dance Apparel & More, a dance boutique inside of Dancin’ Jazzi Dance Studio.
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER
Kathleen Gitachu is one of the original "Garage Kids" of Dancin’ Jazzi. At the age of five, she started dancing at Dancin’ Jazzi when the studio was in its original location, the garage of Ms. Melanie’s home. She was also an original member of FLAVA Dance Company and soon became their top competitive Tapper. Kathleen has always continued her dance training while sampling Cheerleading, Theater and Drill Team. She always naturally comes back to dance, especially Tap.
Kathleen has always been told that she’s an "old soul." That’s something that she never quite understood. However, when she reflects on her journey through dance, cheer, sports, theatre, and community service, she now has a better understanding. She enjoys creativity and has a natural "old soul" maturity as a leader and supporter of her students, friends and colleagues.
Growing up, Kathleen was captain for Cele Middle School Cheer team and participated in several award-winning theatre troupes in Middle and High School. She is currently First Lieutenant of the Hendrickson High School Silver Dancers Drill Team and Teen Board President of the Austin Chapter of Jack and Jill of America.
Kathleen feels that her training in various team activities, leadership experiences and the maturity of an old soul brings a well-rounded foundation for developing and teaching the next generation of future performers.
We are happy that Kathleen is on staff and can find time with her busy schedule to continue the legacy at Dancin’ Jazzi.
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER | ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF FLAVA
Austin native LaTifia Jackson has been dancing since she was four years old. She was one of Dancin’ Jazzi’s first students, studying ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop. She also danced with the award winning Spiritual Expressions Praise Dance Ministry. While in high school, LaTifia was a three year member of the LBJ High School First Ladies Dance Team.
After college, she moved to Ft. Worth, Texas and became a behavior therapist for children with autism. Using her gifts of music, dance and teaching, she helped misunderstood children through therapy with music and dance. In 2015 LaTifia moved back to Austin and naturally found her way back to Dancin’ Jazzi. Though tap is her favorite style of dance, she is also proficient in ballet and jazz.
Known to her students as “Ms. T,” LaTifia is the loving, patient “Baby Whisperer” to the Teeny and Tiny students of Dancin’ Jazzi. She is also the Assistant Director of FLAVA Dance Company. We are very happy to have LaTifia as part of our Dancin’ Jazzi family!
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER
Kailah Jones started taking dance classes when she was two years old. She started dancing at Dancin’ Jazzi when she was four and was an original member of Lil’ FLAVA, the Preparatory Company of FLAVA Dance Company.
Kailah is a leader amongst her peers. She is an energetic and artistic dancer. In the eleven years that Kailah has been training in dance, she has also attended numerous dance conventions and competitions, winning dance scholarships and highest honors in her competitive dances.
A gifted choreographer, Kailah enjoys the artistry and different genres of dance, especially contemporary. She is excited to be on staff and Dancin’ Jazzi is excited to have her.
Kaitlyn B. Jones
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER
Kaitlyn B. Jones is an interdisciplinary movement artist and choreographer based in Austin, Texas. A native of Houston, she trained at Ballet Center of Houston for nine years and danced in their pre-professional ballet company, Houston Repertoire Ballet, until the age of 18.
In May of 2019, Kaitlin graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin (UT) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. While a student at UT, she studied ballet technique, house rhythm technique, contemporary technique, and Afro-Contemporary Technique.
Kaitlin has worked with renowned choreographers such as Ananya Chatterjea, Charles O. Anderson, Erica Gionfriddo, Andrea Beckham, Jennifer Freeman, Gesel Mason, and Rennie Harris. She is an arts advocate who is passionate about providing all communities equal access to the arts and arts education regardless of race, age, gender, sexuality, ability, or socio-economic status.
In 2018, Kaitlin was presented the Community Excellence in the Arts Award, by the Edison Arts Foundation, for outstanding community engagement and leadership in the arts. At the awards banquet, she was a guest-of-honor alongside Lauren Anderson, Houston Ballet's first Black-American principal dancer.
Kaitlin has choreographed multiple dance works, including the production of a new work titled DOPE FIT!, which premiered at the 2019 Cohen New Works Festival in Austin, Texas. In collaboration with Tap dance extraordinaire, Michael J. Love, and an ensemble of Black artists and thinkers, DOPE FIT! utilized dance, rhythm, music, text, and voice to create their own metaphysical Black utopia. Through the mixing of Rhythm Tap, contemporary choreography, vernacular sounds and shapes, Kaitlin and Love sought to reclaim lost archives and visceralize freedom.
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER
Daniele Spivey-Sorrells is originally from Detroit, Michigan and began dancing in the Detroit Public School system with the M L King High School Dance Workshop Program. While the Dance Workshop company's focus was Modern Dance, Daniele was introduced to other forms of classical dance training including Ballet, Dunham, and Jazz. During her high school years, she participated in many master classes, workshops and concerts.
Daniele attended college in Ohio and received her BS in Psychology and her Master’s in Business and Organizational Leadership. While in college she competed in the Miss Ohio Organization scholarship pageants (1998-2001) where dance was her talent. During her 11 year stay in Ohio, she taught weekly lyrical dance classes at the local YMCA as well as danced, choreographed and taught liturgical dance classes at her local church.
Daniele moved to Austin in July, 2007 and currently works for Western Governors University mentoring and supporting academically adult learners enrolled to achieve their undergraduate Business degrees. She was previously the principle dancer for a local Contemporary Dance Company as well as principle dancer in the drama dance, Sister Moses; The story of Harriet Tubman. She has studied with Dallas Black Dance Theater and with the Amazing Grace Liturgical Dance Company in Atlanta, GA.
Daniele serves as the Director of Mercy Moves Liturgical Dance Company. She also dances with her church's dance ministry team and teaches monthly dance technique classes, as well as choreographing for many of the church's major productions.
Daniele is married to Aaron Spivey-Sorrells and they have one son and what she calls, two bonus daughters. We are happy that Daniele's family shares her with us and we are excited to have Daniele as part of the Dancin’ Jazzi family!
INSTRUCTOR | CHOREOGRAPHER
An Austin native, Cherelle VanBrakle began dancing at the age of 2 at Joyce Willet School of Dance. At the age of 5, she joined Body Talk Dance Company and was a member for 12 years. Cherelle grew up traveling to many states around the country training with some of the country's best professional dancers. She began teaching dance at the age of 12 and has continued teaching since then. Cherelle offers a firm, yet loving style of teaching, and especially loves watching a dancer reach their full potential.
Cherelle is the loving mother of two daughters, Ryleigh and Marley. Ryleigh has adopted her mother’s love of dance, especially Ballet. Marley, not quite two years old, enjoys coming to the studio and watching the big girls dance.
With a passion for health equity, Cherelle is the Community-Centered Health Home Manager at People's Community Clinic, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Austin. Outside of work and dance, Ms. Cherelle loves running!! Half marathons, 10Ks, and 5Ks are her thing!
Cherelle feels blessed to be a member of such an amazing, inspiring group of dancers of color. Dancin’ Jazzi is happy to have her as part of our staff!
Amanda Lee-Leon has been dancing since the age of 7. She started with Manor Mustangs Little League Cheer squad, and discovered her love of dance when she started competing with the squad at competitions. Doing the cheers was fun, but it was something about dancing that consumed her in a way that cheerleading by itself did not.
Amanda later joined the Manor Sweethearts which was actually a dance team for the little league basketball season and she knew this was what she absolutely loved! After leaving the Manor Sweethearts, she continued dancing in talent shows and anywhere else she could dance and show off her skills. It wasn’t until high school that Amanda finally started training as a dancer. She was a member of the award-winning Manorettes Pom Squad from my sophomore year to my senior year of high school. During her senior year she had a class that gave her the opportunity to learn the basics of becoming a dance teacher.
In 2018, Amanda had the opportunity to assist Miss Melanie at Decker Elementary Fine Arts Academy. This was an experience that had her yearning for more dance training. She soon started training in Ballet, Tap and Jazz at Dancin’ Jazzi. She is proud to be the Assistant Teacher for the Teeny and Tiny dance classes at Dancin’ Jazzi. We are happy to have Amanda join our staff! Welcome to the Dancin’ Jazzi family, Amanda!
Essence Summers is a native Austinite and a student at Manor New Tech Middle School in Manor, Texas. She started dancing when she was three years old after a daycare friend showed up to class one day in a beautiful pink leotard and tutu. Essence with confidence said, "I want to do that!"
As 10 years would pass, Essence fell in love with more than the tutu. She fell in love with the many different dance genres, artistic expression, performing, and the lasting friendships she has formed. Essence has studied at Dancin Jazzi Dance Studio, under the direction of Melanie Smith for the last 5 years. She has competed and is proud member of FLAVA Dance Company for 4 of those years. Prior to that, she danced for 5 years at Tinka's Dance Studio. Essence is also a Praise Dancer at her church home.
Essence has received numerous recognition's and awards at various competitions and conventions, as well as being a part of the 2018 Grande Champion National Award winning FLAVA Dance Company. She recently earned the position of a new FLAVA Officer for 2019-2020 season and will be the team lead for the Mini dance company. Her goals are to learn the business and entrepreneur world and one day be the proud owner of her own dance studio.
In her free time, Essence loves to babysit, go shopping, spend time with her friends and family, and of course…dance! Dancin’ Jazzi is happy to have Essence as one of our Teacher Assistants.
Natalie Johnson is a native Austinite. Natalie’s love of dance began at a very young age. She was inspired by watching her older sister and took her first dance class at the age of three.
Natalie came to Dancin Jazzi Dance Studio as a quiet 7 year old and has blossomed into a beautiful, engaging, artistic, energetic, and expressive dancer! Natalie is entering her 5th year as a proud member of the award winning Flava Dance Company. Natalie has competed in numerous dance competitions and has received awards for solo, duet, trio, and group dance performances. Although Jazz is Natalie’s favorite style of dance, she loves having the flexibility to express herself differently thorough Modern, Ballet, Tap, Contemporary and Hip Hop.
Natalie is excited to have earned the opportunity to be a Teacher Assistant and a Flava Dance Team Officer. Although dance is her first love Natalie enjoys competing on her school’s volleyball, basketball, track, and soccer teams. She is also a percussionist in her school band and a member of a Girl Scout troop, completing community service activities in her spare time.
Outside of dance and school activities Natalie enjoys hanging out with her friends, watching movies, and shopping. Natalie aspires to one day have a career in a science-related field, however dance and Ms. Melanie will always be in her heart!
We are so happy that Natalie has found time in her very busy schedule to be a Teacher Assistant for our teachers and the students of Dancin’ Jazzi.