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Paula Fortner

Paula has been the owner and director of the American Academy of Dance since 1986. Prior to opening the school, Paula danced at Opryland USA for 7 seasons and performed in theatre productions in Chicago and Los Angeles. Television credits include, CMA Awards, Music City News Awards, and many specials filmed in Nashville. Paula has choreographed commercials, industrials, show choir groups, and numbers for television as well as National Competition Award winners. Paula teaches classes and maintains daily operation of the American Academy of Dance.


Michelle Fortner

Michelle is a third generation dancer/teacher/choreographer. Recently Michelle has been touring the country with "Tap the Show" choreographed by tap master Mike Minery. Her choreography credits include Taylor Swift's Fearless Tour and CMT Awards, Jana Kramer's tour with Blake Shelton, TV special, "Christmas in the Blackhills" with Big and Rich, "Vinyl Daze" and "80's Rewind" for Holiday World and Splashin Safari, "A Grand Christmas" at the Deadwood Mountain Grand, and production shows for Oceania and NCL cruise lines. She has danced in music videos, award shows, and live performances with country artists such as Taylor Swift, Brooks and Dunn, and Big and Rich. Industrial credits include Disney's Animal Kingdom, Harley Davidson, Ingles Supermarket, and FedEx to name a few. Michelle has also entertained audiences around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines. She enjoys teaching workshops and master classes across the country. Michelle is a passionate and energetic teacher that loves motivating students to reach their full potential.


Tana Barndollar

Tana began dancing at age 5 at The Dance Factory in Topeka, Kansas.  Her early training included baton, tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, and hip hop. As a young dancer, she competed on dance teams for both her studio and her school. After graduating from high school, she began teaching a full load of classes at The Dance Factory as well as dancing and choreographing for Washburn University’s dance team, The Dancing Blues.  After college, Tana danced with the IFL dance teams: The Lady Knights and Lady Kings in Topeka.  Additionally she was a member of the MLS Champion Kansas City Wizards dance team The Wizards Girls. 

After 7 years of teaching at her local studio, Tana decided to relocate to California where she danced for Sacramento’s NBA dance team, The Royal Court Dancers.  Simultaneously, Tana assisted in opening the Hype Dance Studio in Chico, CA.  As the studio manager, she also taught tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, lyrical, pom, and pre-dance.  She also served as head coach and choreographer for competitive pom and dance teams.  


After 11+ years at Hype, Tana, her husband Jim and their son Isaac relocated to Tennessee to begin a new adventure.  She was able to attend and enjoy AAD’s 30th Anniversary Recital last year and was so impressed that she contacted AAD to possibly become a member of the teaching staff.  She is happy to be with AAD and is excited for this new dance chapter.


Taryn Escobar

Taryn Escobar is no stranger to dance shoes and a stage! She started her career at a very young age durning her dance training and competitions. She started dancing and performing professionally in stage shows, theme parks, cruise ships, tours, TV, as well as modeling for several dance wear magazines. Her career path spans almost 3 decades in the entertainment industry and has allowed her to grace the stage Nationwide. During this time, Taryn realized her love for teaching and the arts and has had the pleasure of working with and has taught for dance studios in several states throughout the U.S. She has choreographed Master Jazz and Hip Hop classes for many award winning numbers. 

She also has several years in Entertainment Management. Taryn was a Production Manager for The Dixie Stampede, a multi-million dollar show in Pigeon Forge, TN, with a cast of nearly 100 members. She has also choreographed and judged for ‘Dancing With The Knoxville Stars’ which is a charity event benefitting the East TN Children’s Hospital that has raised over a million dollars. Taryn is also a fully licensed cosmetologist and makeup artist. Her husband of 11 years is a World Champion Ballroom and Latin American dancer. He has toured with the World-renowned show, ‘Burn The Floor’, for many years. They, along with their daughter, moved to Nashville in 2018 where she has joined the staff of American Academy of Dance as a teacher and as the Competition Director.


Jodie Henderson

Jodie Henderson began dancing at American Academy at the age of 3. She has danced at the studio for fifteen years, including being on the AAD competition teams for 6 years. Jodie has also had the privilege of taking classes from professional dancers such as Brandon Bryant, Lauren Froderman, Alex Wong, and Kent Boyd. Jodie has been student teaching at AAD for many years, and is so excited to work with your children. She is currently attending Vol State pursuing a degree in early childhood education.


Colby Taylor

Colby Taylor is a Teacher, Choreographer & Dancer from a small town outside of Jackson, MS. He started in the competition & convention circuit at a young age, while training in various styles such as Jazz, Hip Hop, Contemporary & More! He was won Regional & National titles and scholarships, which lead him to be able to train under Britney Spears choreographer Kevin Maher, and Jennifer Lopez choreographer, Liz Imperio. After graduating Colby decided to put his passion to the test  to pursue a career in the Commercial Dance Industry. Colby has danced in commercials for Gaylord Hotels, danced on the “WHOS BAD MUSIC TOUR”, and behind the 90s artist Shanice! He also became a Jazz Funk Instructor for the infamous Millennium Dance Complex, where he taught open classes for all ages and levels. Colby’s opportunities, lead him to sign with one of the top agencies for dance, Clear Talent Group! As Colby gains more experience, his love for teaching and mentoring grows. He travels across the country setting choreography for competitive studios, which lead him to become a main teacher for the training program “The CREW” founded by Mollee Gray and Jeka Jane, where he trains the industrys top kids.


Jojo Lokhorst

Johannah (JoJo) Lokhorst is a professional dancer raised in Victoria MN, and now resides in Nashville TN.After graduating high school she was granted a scholarship to attend the Joffrey Ballet School in NYC where she trained in the Jazz and Contemporary program for two years under some of New York's most prestige artists and choreographers.Since her move to Nashville JoJo has appeared in Nashville country artists music videos such as Tenille Arts, Danielle Bradbery, Walker Hayes and more.In 2022 JoJo was seen on Season 17 So You Think You Can Dance where she made it into the top 24.She is currently a dancer in the Area 54 x Harrahs Residency in Atlantic City NJ and continues to find work, train and teach around Nashville.


Renee Mckinney

Renee received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performing Arts from Western Kentucky University. She has directed and choreographed countless productions for Cumberland County Playhouse as well as having performed in 42nd Street, Grease, Music Man, Anything Goes, and Hello Dolly just to name a few. Renee has studied all forms of dance, but holds a special passion for tap and musical theatre.The past 2 summers, Renee has attended the Dance Teacher Summitt in NYC, continuing to learn from some of the nations top dance educators.  Renee teaches pre-school and primary classes and also most of our Tap classes at AAD. Renee’s energy and enthusiasm for dance shows in all her classes!


Leslie Hardcastle

Leslie began her dance training 35 years ago in Hendersonville, where she studied at Jody's School of Performing Arts, Smartt Steps, and American Academy of Dance. She then went on to pursue dance at the University of Georgia, where she was a member of the UGA Ballet Ensemble and earned a degree in dance education. Leslie began teaching dance after college, and has taught for studios in Georgia, Kansas, and Tennessee. She also worked as the assistant director of the UGA Ballet Ensemble, where she continued to take class, perform, rehearse, and choreograph for the company. Leslie has taught many styles of dance, but ballet is her love. She has choreographed many ballets in the past for AAD, including Mary Poppins, Lion King, Peter Pan, and many others. For the past three years, Leslie has been teaching public school in Sumner County. In May, she earned her Masters' degree in Cirriculum and Instruction. She is excited to be back at AAD this year! Leslie has five children, loves to travel, and lives in Gallatin, TN, where she teaches 1st grade at Guild Elementary.


Kyrstin Young

Kyrstin Young, a Nashville native, began her dancing career at the age of 2, at Ridley’s School of Dance in Nashville, TN. At the age of 13 I began training at Spotlite Dance Studio in Murfreesboro, TN under the direction of Meghan Casteel & Lyndee Baker. I also trained under the dynamic duo Zach & Dorinda Walker all while attending Nashville School of the Arts studying under Stacie Flood-Popp and Debra Perry. After graduating in 2017, I decided to pursue college. In 2021, I obtained a BBA from Austin Peay State University where I also danced on the Austin Peay Dance Team for 4 years. During my time at Austin Peay I was able to experience 3 UDA Camps and 2 UDA Nationals, placing Top 10 in the nation both years. I have also been blessed to work with some amazing artists over the years such as Coco Jones, DaBaby, and Breland, where I was able to open up for the one and only Shania Twain. My heart is in hip hop and jazz, however I am well trained in various styles. I have grown to love teaching and educating those coming up after me. It is super important to me to pass the baton to the younger generation as I grow into my own artistry so that the art of dance never dies. I have a super bubbly personality, love to have fun, and truly loves to educate anyone willing to learn.


Natalie Aaron

I’m Natalie Aaron and I am from Nashville, TN! I trained and competed in all styles of dance at the incredible, DC Dance Factory. I was given the opportunity to be mentored by and an assistant to HipHop legend, Nick Bass, which helped sky rocket my dance career. I have been blessed with teaching opportunities at various studios across the country, as well as, working with several artists choreographing, dancing and creative directing their music videos in person and over social media; including artists Chris Lane, Midland, and Lily Rose plus artists from The Voice, CMA's, + Netflix series "Rhythm and Flow". Other collaborations are Pantene, Burju Shoes, and Neighborhood Barre. Additionally, I taught at Millennium Dance Complex Nashville. As a dancer, I take pride in physical fitness. I attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, majoring in Kinesiology. With my degree in Kinesiology, it allowed me to work as a student athletic trainer, which helped obtained my position as a barre instructor for the past four years!


Meredith Combs

Meredith Combs grew up in Dallas, TX and began her dance training when she was eight years old. She has trained in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, lyrical, contemporary, hip hop, pointe, and partnering. When she began her sophomore year of high school, she started teaching and choreographing and immediately fell in love with it. After graduating high school, she had the opportunity to continue her dance training at Missouri State University, where she worked closely with professors while assisting and teaching classes. Upon moving to St. Louis, MO, she spent a year as a trainee for the Big Muddy Dance Company, training alongside company members daily and working with a variety of choreographers. After moving to Nashville, TN with her husband, Meredith has had the opportunity to train with world­ renowned choreographers and teachers. When she isn’t training, she can be found performing in: award shows, music videos, and live performances all while teaching and choreographing for studios and projects around the city.

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