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Sugar Cane Westie

Founder of Defy Gravity LLC

Sarah began her career in dance in 2007 after studying under professionals of Latin Dance in southern Mexico. Upon her return to the US, she continued studying under award-winning dancers and soon launched her professional career as a private and group instructor. Sarah brings these many years of dance and teaching experience to pole fitness and dance, and as Advisor and former President of Illini Pole Fitness, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s student pole fitness and dance organization. As a Level 1 and 2 ElevatED Pole Dance Fitness and Flexibility Training certified instructor, a certified beginners aerial fitness instructor, and as a PoleAndAerial Pole and Pole Silks Certified Fitness Instructor, Sarah’s classes are designed to assist her students in gaining strength, poise, flexibility, confidence and grace. As a choreographer, Sarah creates interesting, playful, and/or sensual choreographies that draw on the traditions of burlesque, striptease, flow and stage story-telling. You can catch her performing at Defy Gravity's bi-annual showcase, or with Carnivale Debauche, Champaign's burlesque troupe.

Liana Alcantara

Studio manager, pole instructor

Liana started pole dancing when Defy Gravity opened in August of 2015, and something happened that had never happened before: Liana realized she might actually like working out. A few years and a career change later, Liana is the Studio Manager of Defy Gravity and teaches a variety of fundamentals and Level 1 pole offerings. Liana's pole style is a combination of classic, exotic-style movements and contemporary flow. Liana is also ElevatED certified for Levels 1 and 2. 

Chelsea Shaffer

Assistant studio manager, aerial instructor

Chelsea has been training pole and aerial at Defy Gravity since September 2015 and rope and silks at Aloft Circus Arts School since April 2017. Starting her circus training from ground zero and choosing silks as her primary apparatus, Chelsea has learned through personal experience the best training methods to help students meet their fitness goals.

To assist with keeping her students as safe and healthy as possible, Chelsea is a Pole level 2 certified trainer from ElevatED, she has also completed a one 20 hour aerial rigging course and studies under several certified instructors. She currently teaches Silks at Defy Gravity in the main studio and in the Aerial Warehouse.

Michelle Colowsky

Lead aerial instructor

Michelle first trained in Aerial Arts at The DAKA and Agora Arts, two studios near Detroit, MI. After moving to Illinois to attend grad school a few years later, Michelle got back into the swing of things at Defy Gravity, regularly attending all of the aerial classes and several pole classes. Michelle’s focus is on strength training and flexibility, while striving to create beautiful shapes that only look easy. Michelle currently teaches level 2 aerial classes, including Trapeze 2 and 3.

Rida Strange

Lead pole instructor

After moving to Berlin, Germany, Rida wanted something that would keep them active and help them practice their German. In September 2015, they came across a pole studio named SoulFlight and decided to give it a try. After Rida's first pole class, they were hooked and have been addicted ever since! It not only felt great, but it also showed them what her body was capable of doing. Every place that they traveled to after, they carried their new found love with them and tried a new pole studio in each place.

​The many things that they liked in those studios came together when they found Defy Gravity. Focusing on body positivity and inclusivity in a non-judgemental or competitive setting with people that are your cheerleaders. You can find Rida performing at Defy Gravity's Semi-Annual Showcase or in various places around the country, and teaching some of their favorite classes at Defy Gravity! Rida is also ElevatED level 1 and level 2 certified allowing them to teach a wide range of pole/movement classes at Defy Gravity. Rida aims for everyone and every body to feel welcome in their classes and to enjoy their own movement identity. Come share their passion with them, fly, and feel great in your skin.

Megan Severson

Pole instructor, administrator

Megan took her first pole class in July 2013 because her friend was too scared to go alone. She bought a home pole 3 weeks later and hasn't stopped training! Her teaching style is chock-full variations, modifications, and adaptations so everyone can leave class feeling great about their progress. Megan is ElevatED level 1 & 2 certified and teaches Pole Level 3, Non-invert Level 2, Spin Pole 1+ and Level 1.

When she's not at DG, she is learning ballet at the Champaign Park District, dusting off her gymnastics skills at iPower Gymnastics, or spending rest days with her friends and family. She's a UIUC alumnus and works in Champaign as a senior graphic designer.

Jamie Hines

Pole instructor, dance instructor

Jamie is an educator and plus-size fitness professional who is committed to creating change in the visibility, and education of plus size athlete-artists, with an emphasis on creating intersectional communities that celebrate diversity, promote self-exploration, and foster healthy relationships. She developed and currently teaches Fluffy Kitty™ Pole, a class for plus sized individuals. With certifications from ElevatED (Levels 1 and 2) and (Pole and Pole Silks), Jamie also teaches Burlesque, Bend and Flex, and a variety of Pole classes. Jamie’s extensive background in performance naturally led her to fall in love with the sensual and comedic Polesque style, but she also enjoys exploring all other styles of pole and dance. Outside of DG, she works in social justice and education in CU and you can also see her performing on stage with Carnivale Debauche, a burlesque and vaudeville troupe she co-directs. She is a performance activist focused on feminism, body liberation, and unapologetic self-expression and is a fierce lover of cats.

Nadia Hoppe

Pole instructor

Nadia began pole dancing in 2013 and immediately embraced the art as a mode of expression and fitness. Since then she has trained with pole professionals in both Chicago and New York City in some of the most recognized aerial dance schools in the nation, completing elevatED Education's Pole Level 1 and 2 teacher trainings, as well as several "traincations" at Body and Pole. As former President and Vice President of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s student pole fitness and dance organization, Illini Pole Fitness, Nadia deeply appreciates the inclusive, supportive and unique aerial community and strives to continue to foster that community in Champaign-Urbana. She is a regular performer in Defy Gravity’s semi-annual showcases and has performed with Carnivale Debauche, Champaign-Urbana’s vaudeville/burlesque troupe. Off the pole, Nadia expands her knowledge movement by practicing yoga, and is currently training to become a yoga teacher by January 2020.

Christen Mercier

Aerial instructor

Christen began training pole in 2013 and aerial in 2016. With a background in salsa, swing, and ballroom, she finds the solo element of pole and aerial arts a challenging creative alternative to dancing with a partner. She appreciates the balance between artistic expression and physicality--and especially loves the fact that she can get a great workout without stepping foot in the gym! As an instructor, Christen’s focus is on developing solid technique in her students and creating an environment in which each person is empowered to set and work towards their individual goals. 

Claire Simons

Pole instructor

Claire greatest desire in life has always been to thwart gravity. From a childhood of getting yelled at to stop climbing on stuff, through 6 years of gymnastics, to high school and collegiate pole vault, she has explored many ways of foiling gravity. When Claire found pole and Defy Gravity in 2015 it felt like fate. Claire is ElevatED Level 1 and 2 certified and now teaches a variety of pole classes and is happy to share her excitement for pole with the wonderfully inclusive and supportive DG community.

You can find Claire on stage at Defy Gravity’s semi-annual showcase, opening for CU’s Carnivale Debauche, or at Pole Sport Organization competitions. Claire is Defy Gravity’s official PSO representative, so if competing is something you are interested in, please ask her all about it!  

Amelia Williams

Aerial instructor

Amee is an avid fan of musical theatre and was drawn to trapeze after seeing Pippin on Broadway. With no previous dance or athletic experience, she embraced the challenge of building strength and body awareness.

Amee loves the theatrical elements of aerial arts and encourages students express themselves through aerial fitness and dance. She also helps in modifying tricks to accommodate a variety of body types and strength levels.   

Christine Janak

Inversions & arm balances, flexibility, and silks instructor

Christine Janak is a certified yoga and aerial instructor and performance artist based in Urbana, Illinois. She has been performing with hoops, veils, and fire since 2010, and she began training aerial silks in 2013, completing Level 1 Aerial Silks Teacher Training in 2016. Christine currently teaches "Inversions & Arm Balances" group classes at DG, and offers private lessons and workshops in aerial silks, flexibility, and more! She often uses her yoga background and knowledge in her teaching, and will likely remind you to breathe many times during class. ;) When she’s not teaching yoga, dance, or fire performance, she can be found spinning hoops, eating fire, and standing on her head on stage with the C-U-based band Sun Stereo. Follow her on Instagram @christinejanak and on Facebook: Christine Janak Yoga & Performance Art.

Mx. Shirley Cean Rogiers

Aerial instructor

Mx. Shirley Cean Rogiers (she/her, xe/xir, they/them) decided long ago to become a circus and run away with xirself. When Defy Gravity opened it's doors, it was to Opportunity's knock! Shirley answered by diving in head first: trapeze, lyra, silks, pole, etc. After a brief dalliance in the desert, training, performing, and then teaching with the Reno Aerial Co-op, xe returned to the DG scene and became a passionate instructor. Now teaching Aerial Fundamentals, as well as various level one aerial and circus conditioning classes, Shirley is more than excited to share the love of aerial arts, fitness, and performance with all, and brings that energy into every class! Come join in on the fun!

Robyn Bianconi

Aerial instructor

Robyn signed up for her first class at Defy Gravity in November of 2016, when she needed some cross-training to prepare for the Illinois Marathon. She quickly fell in love with the beauty and challenge of aerial arts, training on silks, trapeze, lyra, and hammock - and pole when she can find the time! Robyn completed Defy Gravity's aerial instructor certification in fall of 2017, and is thrilled to be helping new students discover their strength and creativity in a fitness community that has become such an important part of her life. 

Alli Breaker

Aerial instructor

Alli found Defy Gravity after coming across Defy and the Illini Pole Fitness club online, months before moving to Urbana in 2016. With no dance or gymnastics background, she thought the classes would be a fun way to relieve the stresses of veterinary school. After one class, she fell in love, and enjoyed taking many different dance classes that Defy had to offer. As an instructor, Alli encourages everyone to embrace and find their own personal style in dance and aerial. Discovering what you like to do is one of the most exciting parts of the defy gravity journey. In her classes, Alli wants everyone to have a great time learning how to express themselves through movement, and explore the joy of circus arts. In her spare time, Alli enjoys snuggling animals and partaking in geeky activities such as video games, books and board games. She draws inspiration in her aerial routines from the nerd pop culture around her. 

Izzy Del Mar

Pole instructor

Izzy is an instructor of Pole Level 1, Bend and Flex, Pole + Dance, and she observes Open Pole. She started training in pole and aerial arts at Defy Gravity in 2016. She also has several years of dance experience in the areas of ballet, pointe, lyrical, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary and hip hop. Izzy additionally coached competitive dance and poms for two years. Izzy not only loves to perform on pole, but enjoys the beauty of the aerial arts of Lyra, Trapeze, and Silks. Her goal at Defy Gravity is to share with others the creative outlet she finds in performing, so that they can similarly express themselves. When not at the DG studio, you can find Izzy at home, spending time with her pug.

Jordan Colefornia

Aerial instructor

Jordan knew it was love at first sight when she saw an aerial silks performance at a dance club in San Francisco. She was ecstatic to finally get a taste for herself at Defy Gravity after moving to Champaign in 2016 and has since expanded into hammock and lyra. As someone who always claimed to have no upper-body strength or flexibility, aerial arts has provided a pathway for making gainz in both departments. Over the past year, Jordan has also developed an addiction to online aerial videos and finds a deep satisfaction in stringing together the new moves that she finds. Jordan completed Defy Gravity’s aerial instructor certification in spring 2017 and is excited to help more people climb skyward.

Lindsey Ly

Pole instructor

Lindsey’s dance career began when she was persuaded into auditioning for her high school dance team. After three years of dancing with the team, she took a brief hiatus from dance during her undergraduate studies. She reignited her passion for dance during the summer of 2017 after she took her first pole class at Defy Gravity!

Lindsey started teaching Pole Fundamentals, Embrace Your Sexy, and Pole + Dance at Defy Gravity during the fall of 2018. Her previous dance training influences her pole choreography and teaching style, as she strongly emphasizes storytelling, musicality, and stage presence during her class. She takes advantages of all of the performing opportunities in the area, including Defy Gravity’s semi-annual showcase, shows with Carnivale Debauche, shows with Illini Pole Fitness, and at regional Pole Sport Organization competition.

Kayla Regnier

Aerial instructor

Kayla took her first trapeze lesson in August of 2013. Since then, her love for circus arts has flourished. In addition to her training at Defy Gravity since it's opening in 2015, she has pursued further instruction at Aloft Loft in Chicago and takes advantage of the opportunity to learn from new instructors when she travels. Though trapeze will always hold a special place in her heart, current interests are strongly rooted in Silks and Rope. Kayla looks forward to helping new students begin their journey into the aerial world and is extremely excited to be joining such an incredible team of instructors!

Bella Solis

Aerial & flexibility instructor

Bella has been training circus since she was 14. She started right after DG opened, and has loved this community ever since. Now 18, she's looking forward to her aerial life growing and changing. She specializes in flexibility and aerials, including trapeze and lyra. She's excited to begin teaching Bend and Flex courses this spring, to help people get their #flexygains.

When not at the studio, you'll find her reading books, watching history documentaries, failing to juggle, going to art museums, and watching Brooklyn 99.

Natalie Becerra-Staciewicz

Aerial instructor

Around May of 2014, Natalie Becerra+Stasiewicz started learning aerial arts and met her tribe at the Xtreme Training Center (XTC) Gym in Los Angeles. The week before Defy Gravity opened, Natalie moved to Urbana-Champaign and immediately found her new tribe.

In 2016, she became a certified aerial silks instructor and performed in her first Defy Gravity showcase. She is a hands-on instructor who enjoys teaching small groups but also encourages self-discovery and learning at Aerial Hangout on Sundays. Natalie loves to fly and wants to help you do it too!


Aerial instructor

Liselle (she, her, hers) has her second degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. Raised in a multi-generational family of martial artists she has always enjoyed collaborative, unorthodox physical activities. When Liselle moved to Illinois, she began looking for another fun, community-based physical activity. Getting into the spirit of Goldilocks, Liselle tried a number of activities in the CU area (including but not limited to swing dance, yoga, karate, walking, and rock climbing) before she finally found aerial. Liselle loves the playful element of aerial and learning new ways to move her body.

As an instructor, Liselle is committed to creating a joyful, explorative space where people can come as they are. Liselle delights in fostering the feeling of community in the studio through positive interactions. When not at the studio, you'll most likely find Liselle working on her PhD dissertation in a coffee shop.

Caitlin Brooks

Aerial instructor

Caitlin loves aerial arts as one way to fully inhabit her body and came to DG in 2016 to do just that! When she's not teaching aerial silks and cheering on her students, she practices lyra, silks, trapeze, and dabbles in pole. Away from the studio, Caitlin gifts her teaching skills at Regional Burning Man events (Burns) to further DG's work of broadening accessibility to aerial arts. On the ground, she's a passionate PhD student studying meaning making in liminal tourist spaces and advocating for consent education in leisure communities. 

Maggie Berg

Aerial instructor, bungee fitness instructor, pole instructor

Maggie has been involved in some sort of physical activity for her entire life, including figure skating, gymnastics, and distance running. She has been dancing swing and blues in C-U on and off since 2001, and taught swing dancing lessons for 3 years with the Illini Swing Society. Maggie started taking pole and aerial classes at Defy Gravity in November 2016 and was ecstatic to find a new physical challenge, a much-needed creative outlet, and supportive community all in one place! She loves the stage and you can see her perform in Defy Gravity’s Semi-Annual Showcase and occasionally with Carnivale Debauche. Maggie began teaching aerial arts and bungee fitness classes in December 2018 and added pole instruction in August 2019. She believes in celebrating the everyday victories and encourages her students to enjoy the journey to accomplishing their goals.

Lacey Lee

Aerial instructor

Lacey Lee (they/them) discovered aerial arts in 2014 and has since fallen deeply in love with circus and its community. Before moving to the CU area, they lived in Boston and trained in the Professional Preparatory Program at Esh Circus Arts. Lacey is passionate about movement as a form of self expression and making circus accessible to everyone. When not in the air, you’ll find them programming, advocating for web accessibility, teaching their cats partner acrobatics, and sewing.

Stella Grace

Pole instructor

Stella began poling in January 2017 as a way to reconnect with the dance part of her life after relocating from Chicago and struggling to find a dance studio near her new home. She finds that the mental and physical strength she's gained from pole helps her reduce overall stress levels and she brings this experience into her classes where she helps students build confidence in themselves and their movement. Stella can be found teaching a variety of classes at Defy Gravity including Pole Fundamentals, Spin Pole, Eat My Chrome, and Pole Flow.

Rose Quartz

Pole instructor

Rose Quartz (they/them) began their pole dance journey in April 2018 as a way to reconnect with their body and their mind. Rose believes pole dance is a unique experience for each and every person and encourages their students to find the experience that works for them. They enjoy playing around with many apparatuses including pole, chair, hammock, and trapeze, but their favorite "apparatus" is the floor.

When not teaching or taking classes at Defy Gravity, you can find Rose in the community wearing many different hats including board game enthusiast and cat guardian.


Pole instructor

Jess (she/her/hers) has been a long-time student of movement and dance. She has studied tango, salsa, and modern dance styles, and has been training in and exploring Contact Improvisation since 2008. She first discovered pole and aerial arts while living in Vermont, eventually performing in pole and silks at Marlboro College and training at the New England Center for Circus Arts. Jess first joined Defy Gravity as a student in Fall 2017, and instantly fell in love with the passion, warmth, and inclusive nature of the community. She began instructing in Fall 2019 and is looking forward to supporting and celebrating her students through their own pole and fitness journeys.