First row: Paola Amaya, O.C. Harris, Abby Gonzalez
Second row: Deborah Bryan, Lauren LaFrades, Olivia Andrews, Ashleigh Taggart, Savannah Creasley, Baylee Cameron, Kenzie Holt
Third row: Traci Hill, Heather Davis, Katie Jaggers, Meadow Chandler, Nealey Sikes, Stephanie Davidson, Mary Jo Thompson,
Morgan Keel, Emily Pearce, Etori Brown
Mary Jo Thompson
Mary Jo Thompson is the owner of MJ's Academy of Dance. She began the studio in 2005, with the vision of educating young girls and boys about the possibilities that dance can offer them in all aspects of life. She believes that each child is special and deserves the opportunity to experience the many benefits of dance and baton, and this belief is reflected in how she runs her studio.
Mary Jo has been teaching children for over 40 years, 30 of which were spent in the Tuscaloosa County Public School System. She began teaching dance and baton after she saw there was a need to bring bring these opportunities to South of Town.
Mary Jo began twirling at 13, and participated on the dance team in college. Through her experience both personally and professionally, she realized the impact dance and baton can have on young lives and the importance for children to be exposed to these wonderful forms of art. Thus, her vision for a studio that would be inclusive and affordable became a reality in 1994, when she founded Highsteppers, which would later evolve into MJ's Academy of Dance in 2005.
Through the years, in her capacity as teacher, sponsor, and studio owner, Mary Jo has taught many, many girls (and some boys). In the past several years, her studio has moved toward a focus on competition teams, where she routinely produces State and National Champions. She is proud of the momentum of her studio, likes that no matter how much it grows it remains a staple in the South part of Town, and looks forward to many more successful years to come.
Stephanie started dancing at the age of two, and still considers herself a constant student of the art today as an adult, because of the ever changing and developing field. Her training in gymnastics and dance expanded her creativity and leaderships skills, which afforded her many memorable experiences throughout the years. She discovered her love for choreography when she was the co-captain of her high school’s dance team. Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Environmental Science, with a major in Interior Design and a minor in Art History, from The University of Alabama. During her time at Alabama, she worked as a student assistant in the Theatre and Dance Department.
Stephanie started teaching dance at MJ’s Academy of Dance (Highsteppers, Inc.) in 2000, and currently serves as the Artistic Coordinator in addition to teaching. For several years while teaching dance, she worked concurrently as an interior design consultant and visual merchandiser. She teaches both instructional and competitive classes to students ages 2 to adult. The styles of dance she teaches include: jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, hip hop, acrobatics, modern, and contemporary. Many of her competitive teams, soloists, duets, and trios have achieved top awards and choreography recognition. In addition to teaching at the studio, over the years, Stephanie has served as an auxiliary judge for Demopolis High, choreographer for the feature twirler at the University of West Alabama, and a dance team choreographer for Hillcrest High, Central High. Duncanville Middle, and Northside High. She is currently the dance team coach and choreographer for Tuscaloosa County High School. Her love and passion for the art of dance is parallel to the love she has for her students. Stephanie is also currently working as a Para Professional at Lloyd Wood Education Center.
My name is Morgan Keel and I am a blonde-haired blued eyed girl from Grove Hill, Alabama who loves sweet tea and dance. I danced for fifteen years at my hometown studio, Dynamic Dance, training in tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical and pointe. I continued my dance career at MJ’s for a year and then joined staff the following year.
I currently attend the University of Alabama where I am minoring in human resource management and majoring in public relations with a concentration in graphic design and social media management. I love being able to dance beside my students in class whether that is a dance routine or playing freeze dance to Frozen. My goal with each class is for the students to leave with a smile on their face and ready to come back the next week.
My name is Baylee Cameron and I am from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My favorite go to song for a routine would be anything Taylor Swift or One Direction of course. I have twirled Baton here at MJ's for 13 years. I have also done some Ballet, Jazz, and Tap throughout the years. I did an extra year here and twirled/assisted classes through freshman year of college. I go to the University of Alabama as a Sophomore now majoring in Food and Nutrition with a minor in Neuroscience! I love being able to have the opportunity to share my love for all forms of dance with kids of all ages. My goal is to give kids confidence during class so they can go out and be a positive light for everyone/ themselves and grow through each week!
My name is Emily Pearce and I am from Tuscaloosa Alabama. I have been a dancer/twirler at MJ’s for the past 14 years! I Have taken all styles of dance including ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap, etc. I have even twirled baton here at MJ’s most of my life. I continued my dance/twirl career my freshman year of college when I joined the MJ’s staff! I attended Sipsey Valley High School where I was a majorette for three years and the Feature Twirler my senior year. I graduated in the class of 2022. I currently attend the University of Alabama as a freshman majoring in biology on the pre Physical Therapy track. I enjoy being a part of the MJ’s family and I want to make every student feel at home. I love watching each dancer grow and improve every week! My goal at the end of class each week is to leave each dancer excited to come back the next week!
I am Miss Kenzie! I am a sophomore at UA and I am from Kingston MA. I danced for 13 years total, and competed for 4 years! Dance has always been my happy place, and where I felt free to express myself. I learned to leave it all on the dance floor, and dance with my emotions. I try, through my teaching, to express my overwhelming love for dance, and hope to help my students find their passion and fall in love with dance the way I did! The dance quote that has meant the most to me has been, “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”- Martha Graham.
My name is Katie Jaggers. I am 16 years old and I have been dancing and twirling at MJ's since I was 4.
I am a Junior at Brookwood High School, where I am the Majorette Captain. I have been dancing and twirling competitively for 11 years. I am currently on 6 teams, which include Dance Elite, Twirl Elite, Lyrical
Elite, Hip Hop Company, Modern Motion and Jazz Production. I take Ballet as well. This is my second year teaching at MJ's. Dancing and Twirling make me very happy and I hope to teach my students that they can express
themselves and make wonderful friendships through dance!