Reach for the Starz

Moving through magic for over 26 years, Starz Performing Arts Academy has transcended dance into its greater heights. Located at the heart of East Rutherford, New Jersey, we offer a dancing dreamland for individuals who want to bring out the stars in them.

Lauren Lanza

Studio Director

Lauren, with over 29 years of experience in dance education and performance, runs Starz Performing Arts Academy Inc. Her comprehensive dance background, continuous professional development, and contributions to the dance community propelled her students to have successful careers in dance and related fields.

Heather Haczyk

Heather has a diverse career in dance, from performing internationally with NBA to owning a dance retail store, she has embraced both motherhood and her love for dancing. Her ongoing dedication to dance education includes acquiring an Acrobatic Arts certification, continuously improving her skills and sharing her passion with students.

Leslie Smolen Wuebben

Leslie originated from Buffalo, NY. She received extensive ballet training and advanced to a modern dance career with Pick of the Crop. Then later she performed with various dance companies in NYC and obtained certification from American Ballet Theater (ABT). As an ABT Certified Teacher, Leslie has taught ballet for several years and now shares her passion and experience with students at Starz Performing Arts Academy.

Ava Coccaro

Ava began her dancing journey at two. Since then she has mastered various styles and competed for twelve years. Then she obtained an Acrobatic Arts certification and graduated from Montclair State University with a Master’s in Education and Mathematics certification. Besides her passion for dance, she teaches middle school mathematics, applying her educational skills and love for dance to inspire her students in both disciplines.

Tania Santiago

Bio Coming Soon


Kristina, a Montclair State University graduate, has had a distinguished career in the entertainment industry. She performed and did a lot of choreography across the globe, including her experience with the NBA and at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Despite her global experiences, Kristina’s deepest passion lies in teaching dance, a role she cherishes alongside her personal life as a wife and mother.

Caitlyn Barrows

Caitlyn Barrows is an alumna of Starz Performing Arts Academy. She pursued higher education at Rutgers University, earning a Master’s in Dance Education and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance. She was also nominated for the New Jersey Department of Education’s Distinguished Student Teacher Award. She is now a certified dance teacher for PK-12 and leads the dance program at Clifton High School. She has recently returned to Starz to teach and share her passion for dance.

Emma Gentile

Emma Gentile, a dancer based in Montclair and New York City, graduated from Temple University in 2022 with a BFA in Dance. Starting her formal training at DanceWorks Studios in Montclair at 12, she has since excelled in various dance styles including ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip hop, African Diasporic techniques, and improvisation. She is passionate about choreography, teaching, and dance fitness, and has performed in numerous festivals locally and internationally. 

Avery Vazac

Avery, a Starz Performing Arts Academy (PAA) alumna, trained in various dance styles from age three and competed on Starz’s Competitive Team for ten years. Later, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media from Montclair State University. She has also built a career in media as a producer and host at Sirius Radio NYC on Hits 1 for the past four years, and now returns to Starz as an instructor.

Katiana DiGioia

Katiana is an alumna of Starz Performing Arts Academy. She trained in multiple dance styles and competed on Starz’s Competitive Team. With a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers Business School, she performed with various dance companies and theater groups. Now a teacher at Starz, she continues her dance training in New York City and North Jersey while also working in business operations at luxury fashion group Farfetch.

Samantha Drake

Samantha Drake, a guest teacher and choreographer from New Jersey, began her dance journey early. She performed with notable groups and assisted in dance conventions. This led to her winning the Harlequin Dance Scholarship and obtaining a BA in Sociology from Quinnipiac University. Post-graduation, she joined the Hands Down Tap Project and founded Mind Body Sole Tap Intensive. She choreographed dance routines for her students to perform in prestigious shows nationwide.

Kristen Carlsen

Kristen Carlsen, a Starz Performing Arts Academy alumna, has a diverse background in dance and education. Having competed nationally, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Monmouth University, and founded dance programs in schools where she taught. Now a middle school teacher, she has returned to Starz to teach dance, sharing her lifelong passion for the art with her daughter Savannah and her students.

Bethany Brooks

As an alumna of Starz Performing Arts Academy, Bethany infuses her teaching with a passion for rhythm and precision, challenging students to explore new rhythms and push creative boundaries in tap dance. She emphasizes the fusion of artistry and technique, believing that genuine love for dance creates truly magnificent performances. Bethany combines her love for movement with an understanding of biomechanics, holding degrees in both Dance and Exercise Science from Rutgers University.


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