Mission / Philosophy

The Stapleton School of the performing arts is dedicated to providing every student with a high standard of classical ballet training in an open, healthy, respectful, and stimulating environment. Students are encouraged to discover and pursue their love of dance in a supportive community, without having to endure harshness, exclusivity, or peer competition. The Schools constant goal is to infuse the tradition of world class ballet training with deep understanding and encouragement of the growing child; equally instilling appreciation for the art, and for high self-esteem, confidence, and grace.


Board Of Directors

Stapleton School of the Performing Arts is a
non-profit performing arts organization ID# 68-0202381

The History of the Stapleton School

1980 —
Virginia Stapleton starts a ballet program for the San Anselmo Parks and Recreation Department. Over the next 9 years Virginia works at building curriculum, a syllabus, and enrollment.

1988 —
40 students and parents travel to the USSR for two weeks in the spring to participate in Russian ballet training programs in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

1989 —
Enrollment increases to 300 students, making it necessary to relocate to a facility that could accommodate the student body. Virginia forms a non-profit incorporated business and Stapleton School of the Performing Arts is born. For the next 6 years the school is housed on the campus of Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo. Sharon Burns joins the organization on a part-time basis, Virginia to assist with marketing and administrative detail for the growing organization.

December 1989 —
Virginia collaborates with David McNaughton to create her first Nutcracker, presented in the Drake High School Little Theater.

1992 —
The cast of Tom Sawyer travels to Edinburgh, Scotland in the summer to perform the ballet at the world renowned "Festival Fringe." The performances earn the distinction of best show of the week. In the fall, Vassilii Mountian, former soloist with the Moiseyev joins the faculty. He adds a rich component of character dancing to the school.

1993/1994 —
Students perform throughout the Bay Area in the Festival of Dance in San Francisco at the Herbst Theater & Yerba Buena Theatre of Performing Arts with such pieces as Saber Dance, Tarantella, Gossip, and Over the Leg Polka.

1995 —
Virginia creates a full production of La Fille Mal Gardee. Virginia Stapleton and Vassilii Mountian as contributing choreographer, choreograph the production.

1996 —
The school again outgrows its home, and with Mark Brougham's design we move into the current location at 118 Greenfield Ave. Two studios, office space, costume closet and set storage.

1998 —
A new full-length production of Coppelia, choreography by Virginia and Vassilii is staged.

1999 —
The Nutcracker makes the leap to the “big time”, and is presented at the 1,900 seat Veterans Memorial Auditorium.  The school receives a large grant to underwrite school DanceReach school outreach programs.

2000 —
New choreography and costumes are developed for the 10th Annual performance of the school's Nutcracker. The school receives a large grant to underwrite school DanceReach school outreach programs.

2002 —
Virginia creates first Audition Workshop to help prepare dancers for auditions for professional companies' summer programs. Expanding enrollment and new programs necessitate the opening of a satellite studio.

2005 —
Stapleton escorts a group of parents and dancers on a trip to Panama, Central America, for a two-week Intensive workshop with renowned Cuban ballerina Amparo Brito.

2006 —
Sharon Burns is appointed Executive Director of the Stapleton School. The Board of Directors approves the addition of a Theatre Arts Division, of which the cornerstone is the fledgling Stapleton Theatre Company, evolved from the former San Anselmo Town Players. In July, Stapleton and Burns accompany a group of parents and dancers to Panama to study with Brito.

2007 —
Ballet Division enrollment grows to over 400 students. World renowned danseur Jorge Esquivel and Yoira Esquivel Brito are the guest performers in the Stapleton Ballet production of Coppelia in May, 2007. Individual year-end dancer assessments are implemented for all Youth Company dancers. Fantasy Ballet Camp program is expanded to 6 weeks. Over 3,000 students and seniors attend the school’s DanceReach performances of Nutcracker.

2008 —
The school celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a Gala event, attended by alumni, faculty and supporters. Charles Torres collaborates with Stapleton to create an original ballet, Alice in Wonderland. The 20th Anniversary Nutcracker features all-new sets for the Party Scene, created by Nick Cann; and new choreography and costumes for the Chinese and Arabian variations.

2009 —
Ballet Division enrollment tops 500 students. Fantasy Ballet Camp expands to 8 weeks and a new Junior Ballet Intensive program is added. Phase 2 of the Nutcracker project, new scenery for Act 2, is unveiled.

2010 —
The Stapleton Ballet presents four sold out performances of Swan Lake, featuring guest performers Patricia Perez and Charles Torres. 22nd annual production of Nutcracker features over 225 student performers and a makeover of the Battle Scene. Bold new sets, costumes and choreography are unveiled; highlights include a towering Christmas tree that grows to nearly 50 feet tall and a firing cannon.

2011 —
The Stapleton Youth Company, with over 100 dancers, presents Sleeping Beauty at The Playhouse. Also on the bill are Paquita variations performed by advanced level dancers. Assistant Artistic Director Yoira Brito Esquivel creates new Spanish choreography for 2011 Nutcracker.

2012 —
Over 525 students are enrolled in Ballet division. To accommodate demand, the annex studio is relocated to a large, spacious facility at 1879 Second Street, San Rafael, which opens in August, 2012. The Spring show features Coppelia paired with Repertory Works by guest choreographers Wilhelmina Frankfurt, Jetta Martin, and Cynthia Stanley. New staging and sets for the Nutcracker overture are unveiled; as well as new costumes for adult female party characters and Mother Ginger and her buffoons.

2013 —
The School’s 25th anniversary year begins with a magnificent, full-length production of Swan Lake at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in March. In May, a Gala anniversary celebration is held at the Meadow Club. The Summer Balanchine© Intensive featured guest instructors with a strong focus on the work of the father of American ballet, George Balanchine. The 25th Anniversary Nutcracker features new Party Scene children costumes and set enhancements in the Snow Scene.

About Us

The Stapleton School, Marin County’s largest non profit performing arts institution, offers high quality, affordable programs in three divisions:

The Ballet division, offering over 50 classes per week during the school year; Summer workshops, intensives and our own Fantasy Ballet Camp; and two full-length productions per year, Nutcracker and a spring show.

The Theatre Arts division, featuring the Stapleton Theatre Company, produces an annual musical production of A Christmas Carol and a fully-staged multi-generational musical theatre production each May, directed by resident director Bruce Vieira with Musical Director Judy Wiesen and choreographer Jenny Rand.


Stapleton Ballet Wellness Team

Establishing a Wellness Team for our students and families has been a wish of the Board, the faculty, and me for some time. Having a team of health care specialists as a resource for our dancers to draw upon has become more urgent over the past couple of years, as our students are faced with tremendous pressures: heavy school demands, college preparation, social and personal stresses and extracurricular activities are the many things our students have to cope with...plus they wish to dance! We want to provide a place for them to dance, a place that gives the support they need to stay injury-free and healthy, both in mind and body. The specialists I have found offer this kind of wonderful service and support. -Virginia Stapleton

[click here to meet the team]



Virginia Stapleton — Artistic Director/Founder

Virginia received her professional dance training at the San Francisco Ballet School, under the tutelage of American ballet pioneers, Willam and Lew Christensen. She began touring with the San Francisco Ballet Company and the San Francisco Opera Company in 1961, performing in such works as Swan Lake, Symphony in C, Connamore, Caprice, and Concerto Barocco. Eventually switching focus from performance to instruction, Virginia embarked on an extensive teaching career, instructing advanced and master classes for Jane Stamps Studio in Albany and the Petaluma Ballet, and eventually developing a dance program for the San Anselmo Recreation Center. In 1988, Virginia founded the Stapleton School of the Performing Arts with the unique mission of providing professional dance training, while incorporating a compassion for students as whole individuals. Since the inception of the Stapleton School, enrollment has grown steadily, and currently over 500 students are enrolled in the Ballet Division. In 1998, Virginia developed the Stapleton Youth Company to provide a semi-professional experience for the school's advanced students helping to bridge the prep-professional to the professional level.


Sharon Burns — Managing Director

Sharon joined the organization as Managing Director in January, 2006. Sharon has been associated with Virginia Stapleton / The Stapleton School for over twenty years. Sharon grew up in New Jersey and attended St. John’s University, majoring in communications. In 1984 she was hired as Office Manager of The Loric Corporation, a national direct mail catalog house, which was subsequently named one of INC Magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies”. In 1988, when the corporation moved to San Rafael, Sharon agreed to relocate for a one-year contract to assist with the transition. She fell in love with Northern California and never went back to New York City (although she frequently visits). As Managing Director Sharon manages the school's business affairs, including programming, communications, marketing, finance and production management. Sharon’s extensive management experience also includes fifteen years in the public sector, most recently as Recreation Supervisor for the Town of San Anselmo. Sharon's arts management experience includes eight years as Executive Producer of the award-winning community theatre group, The Town Players, now known as The Stapleton Theatre Company. Sharon is an active community volunteer and has coached girls' softball, volunteered with Ross Valley Schools, the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce and the Ross Valley Players. She has served on: Wade Thomas School Parent Association (President), California Parks and Recreation Society (Board Member at large), Millennium Playground Team (Steering Committee), and the YES Foundation Theatre Arts Committee.


Ashley Brown — Instructor, Upper Division

Ashley Brown is originally a South Florida native, but has adapted to life on the West Coast. She began her training at the age of seven with the Academy of Ballet Florida and summer programs with Houston Ballet and Orlando Ballet, among others. After her traineeship with Ballet Florida, Ms. Ashley decided to go back to college and receive her degree in performance art from the LINES/Dominican BFA program. During her experience as a professional dancer she has worked with many choreographers such as Gregory Dawson, Ben Stevenson, Val Caniporoli, and currently Sarah Berges. Ms. Ashley is very excited to share her experience and knowledge with the Stapleton School and its growing family.

Karen Untalan Cassidy — Administrative Assistant

Karen has been part of the Stapleton community for over 10 years – first as the parent of a ballet student, then part of the theatre company as a volunteer and stage manager for Children of Eden, A Christmas Carol, Wizard of Oz and Hairspray. She grew up in the South Bay then went to Loyola University Chicago, where she graduated with a degree in journalism. Prior to working at Stapleton, she worked for the College of Marin as the director/parent educator of the Twin Cities Coop Nursery School in Corte Madera and had a small stationery business in Greenbrae. Karen was a professional and competitive hula dancer, who studied under hula masters Linda Pi’ilani Danek, Aloha Dalire and Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu. Karen is very excited to be a part of the Stapleton staff and community.


Megan Cherry Gmelin — Instructor, Lower Division

Megan is a native of Marin County.  Megan began her training with Virginia Stapleton at age 4.  While dancing with Stapleton School of Performing Arts for 14 years, Megan performed in 11 Nutcrackers; La Fille Mal Garde, Coppelia, David McNaughton's Tom Sawyer, and numerous repertory pieces.  She later returned to perform with the Offspring Company. Megan earned her BA in dance in May 2004 from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. While at Denison, she received training in classical ballet as well as contemporary dance. Megan performed in various repertory pieces and danced in a collaborative performance with Bobby McFerrin. She was a teacher and director of the Creative Movement Program at Denison, introducing dance to children ages 3-8. Megan began her teaching career with Stapleton in fall 2004. In 2005, she received her CMT license at The Institute of Conscious BodyWork in Corte Madera. In addition to teaching and massage she has most recently created her own business, "Miss Megan's Ballet Birthday Parties."


Kevin Hockenberry — Instructor, Upper Division

Kevin Hockenberry is a director, dance educator, performer, and a choreographer. In 2012 he became a founding member of Emote Dance Theater and is the current director of the nonprofit. Performing experiences include Menlowe Ballet, Mudita Arts for Peace, Company C Contemporary Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Nashville Ballet, Nashville In Motion, Ballet Austin, as well as guest appearances with Ballet Repertory Theatre, Ballet Lubbock and the Texas Tech University Opera. Kevin has had the opportunity to perform works by choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine, Thaddeus Davis, Jodi Gates, Maurice Causey, Viktor Kabaniaev, and many others. As a dance educator his experiences have taken him to schools throughout the country in Pennsylvania, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and California. His dance training comes from institutions such as Ballet Lubbock, University of Utah, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Ballet Academy East, and Elite Ballet.

Milly Murrin — Instructor, Lower Division

Milly began dancing at the age of 2.5 years at a small studio in San Francisco. She continued her ballet training when she moved to Marin, at Dance Theater 7 in Fairfax and performed in their company's original ballet, Surealia, until she was 12 years old. Since seventh grade, Milly has been taking various dance classes- Jazz, Ballet, Modern and Hip-Hop- at the College of Marin and has been a part of their dance company, performing in multiple dance concerts in the Spring and Fall semesters. Along with taking early childhood education courses, she was an intern as a preschool teacher at Kumara School in Mill Valley during her senior year in high school. Milly is currently a dance major at College of Marin and was awarded a departmental scholarship for dance by the head of the Dance Department and mentor, Kristi Kuhn, in Spring 2013. She will be earning her AA in Spring 2015 and plans to transfer to University of California, Berkeley in Fall 2015 to earn a BA in dance.

Jenny Rand — Instructor, Lower & Upper Divisions

Jenny began her ballet study at The School of the Sacramento Ballet and went on to perform professionally as a member of the company.  Jenny performed for fifteen years in Sacramento Ballet's production of The Nutcracker as well as ballet favorites Romeo & Juliet, La Fille Mal Gardee, and Don Quixote.  Nationally she performed in DanceAspen's  production of Balanchine's Serenade and studied under scholarship at San Francisco Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and School of American Ballet.  After career-changing spinal surgery, Jenny shifted her focus toward Musical Theatre and graduated in 2003 with a B.A. in Musical Theatre from California State, Chico.  She has performed professionally and regionally throughout Northern Californian, most recently in a leading role in the 2010 "Best of Festival" award winner at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.  As well as instructing ballet at SSPA, she acts as choreographer for the theatre division.

Miriam Rowan — Instructor, Lower Division

Miriam Rowan hails from New York, where she began her dance training at Northern Westchester Center for the Arts and the Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble. At the age of eleven she was accepted into the School of American Ballet, where she trained on scholarship for seven years. As a child she appeared in performances with the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and the Kirov Ballet. In 2002, the School of American Ballet Directors awarded her the DANCE (Danish American Nationals Cultural Exchange) Scholarship to train with at the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen.

Miriam did her apprentice year with Carolina Ballet before joining the San Francisco Ballet's corps de ballet. During her six years with the San Francisco Ballet, she performed in numerous works in ballets classics Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Don Quixote, and Romeo and Juliet. Miriam's repertoire also includes George Balanchine's Jewels, The Four Temperaments, Who Cares?, Symphony in C, a Midsummer Night's Dream; Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces and West Side Story Suite; Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel and The Leaves are Fading; Anthony's Tutor's Lilac Garden; William Forsythe's Artifact Suite; and James Kudelka's The Ruins Proclaim the Buildings Were Once Beautiful for the New Works Festival (2008).

Miriam's international touring includes performances in France, China, Iceland, and Paraguay. She has also performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera House, New York City Center, the New York State Theatre, the Harris Theatre in Chicago, Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In 2007 she was featured on PBS's "Dance In America: San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker" in 3 roles.

Miriam received her Bachelor of Arts in Performing Arts at Saint Mary's College of California and is currently working on a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium, where she intends to pursue her interest in child development, clinical, and sport psychology. She is a certified Gyrotonic(R) Instructor and studied choreography with Joe Goode at UC Berkeley.

For the past three years, she has been teaching beginning, intermediate, and advanced ballet, as well as pre-ballet at The Ballet Studio, Presidio Dance Theatre, and Stapleton Ballet.

In 2013, Miriam was nominated to a post as member of the International Dance Council CID at UNESCO.

Charles Torres — Ballet Master/Instructor

Charles was born and raised in Mesa, AZ, where he began his ballet training at age 12. He continued on to The School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School, Cleveland Ballet School, Royal Danish Ballet School workshops and Arizona State University, all on full scholarships. He has been a principal dancer with Sacramento Ballet (and ballet master), Smuin Ballet, Ballet West Arizona, and as a principal guest with the San Francisco Opera Ballet; dancing all the full-length ballets and various contemporary repertoire. Charles has worked with some the greatest coaches of our time such as Jorge Esquivel, Violette Verdy, Henry Berg, Stephan Wenta, Malcolm Burn, and Mikhail Lavarosky of the Bolshoi Ballet. Charles has been associated with Stapleton for over ten years; teaching, choreographing and coaching, from Ballet 2 to the Advanced levels. He has choreographed Footloose, Oklahoma and The King and I for the Stapleton Theatre Company. Charles returned to school and in 2008 earned his Master Degree from St. Mary's College in 21st Century Leadership. He has also earned his Level I certification from Values Tech, and has recently consulted for Alameda County Sheriff's M.O.M.S. program. He also consults for numerous dance schools, companies, and fellow artists as a mentor within the field of dance.

Bruce Vieira — Resident Director, Stapleton Theatre Company

Bruce Vieira, a California native, started his acting training at the College of Marin.  He continued his studies in acting at the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City. After several years acting in Chicago, Vermont and Denver, Bruce returned to school at the University of Iowa to study directing and acting. In 2001 he returned to Marin County where he has appeared in many productions including several Mountain Plays and numerous performances with the Ross Valley Players. Along with acting and sound design, in 2006 Bruce returned to directing with a production of I Hate Hamlet at the Ross Valley Players and again in 2010 with RVP's production of The Miser. In 2007 he directed his first production with Stapleton Theatre Company.  As of 2012, Bruce has directed eight productions with Stapleton including Hairspray, A Christmas Carol, Willy Wonka and The Music Man.

Administrative Offices are located at 118 Greenfield Avenue, San Anselmo, CA 94960, tel. (415) 454-5759, fax. (415) 454-5769