Canopy Administration (A), Teaching Staff (T) and Repertory Company (R)
Debbie Atwood – T
Debbie is a recently retired Speech Therapist but has found her new passion at Canopy. She is also an avid scuba diver. She enjoys flying under the water as well as in the air! She has been studying trapeze and fabrics at Canopy for about 8 years. She is now teaching adult fabrics and the occasional children’s trapeze classes. She also pioneered additional Open Studios so our students have more time to get in the air! She lives in Athens with her best friend and husband, John and their “herd” of 3 cats and 3 dogs.
Mara Bastow – T
Mara Bastow teaches kids slings and trapeze. She loves encouraging her students and watching them grow stronger- both physically and mentally!
Juli Bierwirth – T
Juli Bierwirth is Canopy’s Partner Acrobatics, Handstands, Conditioning, and Pole instructor. Juli performs and trains all over the US. She is an avid believer in continuing education and uses each possible moment to create learning experiences for herself and her students.
Lauren Blais – T
Lauren Blais took her first trapeze class in 2008 and has been teaching since 2017. While she has dabbled in other apparatuses, including the baby cube, she always comes back to the dance trapeze. When she’s not at Canopy teaching kids and adults, she’s stuck at a computer doing web development.
Mazie Bowen – T,R
Mazie Bowen has been with Canopy since 2002. She combines her love for dance, fitness and swinging through the air through Adult Trapeze instruction and her involvement in Repertory. She works primarily on dance trapeze and various metal apparatus. When not at Canopy, Mazie is the Public Service Coordinator for the Special Collections Libraries at the University of Georgia. She lives in Watkinsville with her husband, two boys and a very large cat.
Annette Byrd – T,R
Annette Byrd has been a member of the Canopy Repertory Company since 2007. Aerial silks are her specialty but she loves exploring on invented apparatus and bungee. Annette made her directorial debut in 2012 with an aerial version of the Wizard of Oz. She began teaching aerial silks in 2009. She also has 12 years of ballroom dance experience and competed in the amateur Dance Sport Southeast Regionals in 2003 and Athens Got Talent in 2010.
Ann Woodruff Conley, Outreach & Children’s Programming Coordinator – A,T,R
Ann Woodruff-Conley is the Children’s Programming and Outreach Coordinator at Canopy Studio. She is an honor graduate from the University of Georgia in the field of Special Education and a former self-contained middle school teacher. She is a life-long learner, having received additional aerial training from the New England Center for Circus Arts (Necca), Ecole Nationale de Cirque (ENC) in Montreal, Victor Fromine’s Ecole Leotard in Montreal and Cirque School LA (Los Angeles). Under her guidance, Canopy’s Outreach and Children’s Program has reached many levels of excellence- one highlight in particular was being selected to present Canopy’s inclusive outreach program and the exciting results of aerial instruction for children with disabilities at the American Circus Educators (ACE) conference in Montreal. She also works with UGA’s Psychology of Movement students to build research-based understanding of inclusion programming. Ann has served on the Board of Directors of Extra Special People and Canopy Studio, she is a current member of Chase Street Elemstary School’s Local School Governance Team. Ann is a founding member of Canopy Studio”s Repertory Company, having begun aerial dance instruction under Canopy’s founder, Susan Murphy, at UGA prior to Canopy’s inception. She teaches all levels of students at Canopy, from beginning three and four year olds through advanced teens; many of her students remain at Canopy until their graduation from high school. Ann also trains all Jr. level teachers in the Canopy kids program, focusing on research-backed teaching methods for students of all abilities.
Claudia Davis – T
Claudia Davis is beginning her first year of teaching trapeze at Canopy Studio, but has been volunteering at birthday parties and summer camps for the past three years, and has been an avid student at Canopy for the past five. She is beyond grateful for the wonderful opportunities Canopy has given her for expressing her creativity and building her strenth, and she can’t wait to help her students do the same! In her time spent not at Canopy, Claudia can be found doing her homework, because she is a huge nerd.
Sam Denney – T
Sam Denney has been involved in Canopy’s community for many years and wears many hats. Most recently, she is one of our upper level slings instructors for kids and adults. She has been important part of creating our slings curriculum and has trained with Lena Alani and others to create new slings material. She also teaches kids and adult trapeze.
Megan Dunn – T,R
Megan has been a gymnast her entire life and is still very actively involved in the sport. Currently she works full time for Athens Clarke County as the Program Leader for gymnastics. In 2008 Megan and a two of her co-workers decided to try out a Canopy class for a fun workout. Since that moment she was hooked! Finally something that combined strength and performance together flawlessly! After taking classes for several years, Megan started combining her love of trapeze with her love of kids. Megan teaches the Pre-K trapeze class and her class motto: “ we have a lot of fun while getting rid of some energy and getting strong!” Megan’s loves to perform on the circus bar with her aerial partner Amber, but enjoys exploring on all the equipment and learning from everyone. Megan has also recently taken her love for aerials even higher by starting flying trapeze at Leap Trapeze!
Amber Ebert – R
Amber discovered the joys of Canopy Studio in 2008. She had just returned to Athens for graduate school in 2007 and found Canopy while searching for a fun, creative and athletic outlet. She began her journey as a student and quickly realized that Canopy felt like her home away from home. She began volunteering as a rigger for shows and eventually joined the board where she currently serves as treasurer. Amber joined the repertory company in the summer of 2013. She has taught children’s classes as well as adult classes and aerial conditioning. When she isn’t spending time in the studio Amber is an assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College in the school of education. A Gwinnett County native she has been a career educator serving as a high school physics teacher and also worked at the Clarke County School district in administration before finishing her PhD at the University of Georgia in Science Education. Amber currently resides in Forsyth County with her husband Jon and their daughter. While she may not always be an Athens resident she will always be a Bulldog at heart, and can still be found hanging, swinging, and flying around the studio with her Canopy family.
Laura Floyd, Business Manager – A
Laura Floyd joined Canopy Studio in 2016 as our Business Manager. She is a Certified Bookkeeper who has worked with a variety of businesses and nonprofit organizations in Athens over the past twelve years. She has a background in music, visual art and theater, and currently is a backdrop artist for Arts!Oglethorpe.
Emily Gronlund – A,T
Emily Gronlund, an Orlando Native, began her aerial training when she was 16 years old at Orlando Aerial Arts under the direction of Jennifer-Drabik. Beginning with aerial silks, she quickly fell in love with circus arts and began training on Lyra a year later. When she left for college, she knew she had to take the circus with her. The University of Georgia was her perfect place for a number of reasons and its close proximity to Canopy was icing on the cake! She is now trained in pole, Lyra, aerial silks, and trapeze and hopes to learn even more someday! After being a student at Canopy for 3 years, she began teacher training and now teaches children’s trapeze classes. The summer before her senior year at UGA, Emily had the incredible opportunity to complete her internship requirement for the Human Development and Family Science major right here at Canopy! She taught 8 weeks of summer camp, shadowed private lessons, worked with outreach programs, and really learned the ~ropes~ of running a place like Canopy. She aspires to someday conduct therapy for students with special needs, perhaps using circus equipment? If Emily has learned anything from her experience at Canopy, it’s that the possibilities are endless!
Mary Jessica Hammes – T,R
Mary Jessica Hammes grew up in Athens, Ga., and graduated from UGA with degrees in journalism and French—never dreaming she’d take up aerial dance in the near future! After seeing an ad for classes and feeling spontaneous, she began studying trapeze with Canopy founder Susan Murphy in 2000. When Canopy opened in 2002, Mary Jessica was a member of the founding repertory company who taught the first classes and performed in shows. Since then, she has had the extreme good fortune of training multiple times with Serenity and Elsie Smith (Cirque du Soleil alumnae and founders of the New England Center for Circus Arts); the cast of Girls on Trapeze; Rain Anya and Sarah Holmes (Paper Doll Militia); aerialist Aimeé Hancock (NECCA, Cirque Eloize); and of course continued study with her first mentor, Susan Murphy. MJ loves to teach both adults and children and counts performing with her friends among her most joyful experiences. When she’s not in the air, she’s an assistant preschool teacher, freelance writer and editor, knitter, gardener, and general crafter. She attempts to spend as much as time as possible with her husband, son, and enormous cat.
Chris Knightes – T, R
Chris Knightes has been a part of Canopy since March 2003. He started recreational gymnastics when he was 4 and coached recreational and competitive gymnastics while in New Jersey before moving to Georgia. He has been a member of Canopy’s repertory company since May 2005. While at Canopy, he has instructed dance trapeze and fabrics for both adults and kids, and is currently one of the advanced fabrics instructors. Chris has studied and performed on dance trapeze, silks, straps, lyra, rope, and metal cube. Chris was one of the original instructors of dance and circus trapeze and fabrics at D’AIR Studio in Atlanta, and performed with D’AIR in their first company performance, and has trained at the New England Center for Circus Arts.
Lauren Liverman – T,R
Lauren Liverman started flying at Canopy in December of 2007 at the encouragement of a friend. With a background in dance, gymnastics, and theatre, aerial training and performance is the perfect marriage for the little girl within, who used to ‘play’ with imaginary mythical creatures that could fly. An oncology social worker by day, Lauren finds being in the air enormously therapeutic, a way of releasing all the heaviness of the professional world into the sky (literally and figuratively). Lauren teaches beginner level adults and finds the joy her students experience from flying as pure as her own when she’s in the air. When not flying/teaching or at the hospital, Lauren likes to eat yummy food, be with friends and family, nourish her soul with worship, and laugh out loud.
Ana Madrid – T
Ana Madrid has been taking classes at Canopy Studio since she was five years old. Now an instructor herself, she works with students ages five to early teens teaching them trapeze; she is most passionate about outreach programs, such as Camp DIVE.
Allyson Mann – T,R
Allyson Mann moved to Athens for grad school and, like a lot of people, never left. She has always enjoyed exercising—ultimate frisbee, yoga, kickboxing—but had trouble sticking with anything for more than two years. In 2003 that changed when she discovered Canopy and the joy of defying gravity. By day she works as an editor, and by night she feeds her aerial addiction by teaching silks and trapeze. She also fulfills her circus dreams by studying flying trapeze at Leap, where she is known to hoard the twisty belt and leave chalk handprints on her fellow flyers. She shares her home with an assortment of rescued furbabies: Sadie Lou Hammersmith, canine levitator and Head Dishcleaner; Zoe Kensington-Hightower, feline biscuit maker and Professional Diva; and StellaLuna Marylebone, feline alarm clock and Late-Night Tormentor of Frogs.
James Neves – T,R
James has been part of the Canopy Family since 2009. He has great appreciation for how Canopy provides to people of all ages and abilities opportunity for self-expression, play, overcoming challenges, building strength, and even providing physical and emotional therapy. As an instructor for the Boy’s Mixed Level Trapeze Class, he enjoys the balancing act between aerial instruction and all-out, crazy, wild play time. Canopy is not the only place where James celebrates his love of all things aerial, as in his spare time he is an avid bird-watcher and dragonfly-watcher, and one of his favorite birds is the acrobatic Northern Harrier, which has the scientific name Circus cyaneus.
Rabun Neves – T,R
Rabun Wiley began her aerial career studying under Susan Murphy when Canopy opened in 2002. A year later Rabun joined the Repertory Company and has never stopped exploring. Training mostly at Canopy but also at Nimble Arts, LEAP, Frequent Flyers, and NECCA she works on all things trapeze (dance, circus, flying, swinging), as well as aerial fabrics, hula hoops, and invented equipment. Rabun teaches adult trapeze and duo trapeze classes at Canopy. Studying dance and movement arts from the age of 3, Rabun loves teaching others how to dance in the air and make the movement their own. She has served Canopy Studio in multiple capacities since its creation – student, performer, teacher, board member, and board president. Outside of Canopy, Rabun is a pharmacist and owns Hodgson’s Pharmacy. She is also a mother and is bringing up her own aspiring trapeze artist – her daughter Tyus. Rabun‘s other hobbies include creating costumes, sewing, traveling, snow skiing, swimming, reading, and generally making art.
Johanna Nicol – T,R
Jo began taking classes in 2007, and in 2013, after taking a break following the birth of her daughter, she began teaching trapeze classes. Jo came to Canopy with little to no experience in movements arts, but soon found that this was what she’d been looking for. She enjoys teaching because it brings an opportunity to give people what she’s been given at Canopy: the confidence in your body to do great things. Jo finds great joy in performing and collaborating with other performers, and has done so at the highest heights and from the ground. Life outside of the studio is filled with baking, gardening, adventurous eating, and lots of family time.
Lindy Pals – R
Lindy Pals has studied aerial dance at Canopy Studios since its opening. She thanks some amazing teachers: Susan Murphy, Elsie and Serenity Smith, Nicole Mermans, and repertory dancers (who always eagerly share). Lindy has enjoyed working with solo dance trapeze, duo dance trapeze, solo aerial chair, and her favorite – aerial structures in a trio (spinning or flying cube). By day, Lindy is a middle school librarian where she daily observes children’s desperate desire for movement. She’s thankful to Canopy for providing a well-needed, creative outlet for so many community kids.
Julie Phillips – T,R
Charlotte Reynolds – T
Charlotte fell in love with the freedom and creativity offered by Canopy at age seven. Since then, she has worked on dance trapeze, fabrics, sling, ladder, lyra, and whatever other equipment she can get her hands on. At age fifteen, she started to teach trapeze followed by slings just a few months later. She loves to see kids fall in love with aerial dance, and she always encourages her students to push themselves creatively. She is never more proud than when she can tell her students have grown as artists and performers.
Melissa Roberts, Executive Director – A,T,R
Melissa Roberts is the Executive Director of Canopy Studio, a non-profit aerial arts center in Athens, Ga. She primarily teaches adult, teen and kids’ dance trapeze, fabrics, lyra and partner work. She has over 30 years of movement training, beginning with gymnastics and dance at the age of 4. Under the mentorship of aerial dance pioneer, Susan Murphy (now with The Marsh Studio), Melissa learned the fine beauty of teaching aerial dance that merges the physicality of circus with the expressive depth of modern dance. Equally formative, alongside her longtime aerial collaborator, Nicole Mermans (The D’air Project), she began to explore custom equipment and expand the studio’s penchant for dancing on metal objects. Thus, when Melissa took over the directorship reigns in 2009, it was no surprise that Canopy’s Repertory Company shows began to see more and more aerial cubes, triangles, chains, ladders and even upsidedown stars!
Melissa’s twelve years of teaching aerials have been influenced greatly by longtime training with Elsie and Serenity Smith (formerly of Cirque du Soleil and founders of the New England Center for Circus Arts). She is also greatly inspired by training with her friends and colleagues Rain Anya and Sarah Holmes (Paper Doll Militia), Amy Powell (Chattanooga Aerials) and aerialist Aimee Hancock (NECCA, Cirque Eloize). She continues to further her training and teaching techniques in several national and international schools, her favorites being Cirque School LA, Aloft in Chicago, The Circus Space in NY and private gyms in Montreal. She performs and teaches in several venues in the Southeast, but she is happiest collaborating with dancers and musicians in the local Athens community.
As the studio director, she is committed first and foremost to teaching and outreach that reflects Canopy’s mission. Her first passion is to teach and inspire others to experience the transformative power of circus arts. Additionally, she loves to create art with the Canopy Repertory Company and perform with her professional trio, Aerial Trifecta. When not directing or teaching at Canopy, Melissa can be found doing something adventurous with her husband and two sons. She enjoys bikram yoga, trail running, traveling and exploring cemeteries.
Anne Shaffer – T,R
Anne Shaffer has been dancing since the age of four, eventually finding her way to modern dance. She has performed as a member of CORE Concert Dance Company at UGA, as well as other dance collectives; currently, Anne is an active and founding member of Underground Dance Society. Her love of movement arts led her to Canopy Studio in 2010, where she found a way to take her dancing to the air. Anne continues to seek ways to unite floor-based and aerial choreography, and is inspired by the performers and students at Canopy as testaments to the benefits of dance for all ages. Most days, she works at UGA as an Associate Professor of Psychology and eats dinner with her husband and son, but she doesn’t knit as much as she used to.
Victoria Slaboda – T
Victoria is relatively new to aerials, but has been taking dance lessons since she was 7. Her hope is to pass the joy of movement on to our youngest students so that they can develop strength and confidence as they grow. She has been training at Canopy since 2012 and is now assisting teach trapeze classes for our younger students.
Natalie Smith – T
By day Natalie is the music teacher and an assistant classroom teacher at Emmanuel Episcopal Day School. By night she is a musician, playing flute in various classical and jazz groups. If you hear flute at an Oconee Youth Playhouse musical, that’s probably her playing down in the pit! She has two wonderful daughters, Lorelei and Sylvia, and the best husband she could ask for, guitarist Brian Smith. Natalie has been with Canopy since Fall of 2009. She teaches several of our children’s trapeze classes.
Kay Stanton – T
Kay Stanton has been involved with Canopy off and on since 2003. She began teaching adult trapeze classes in 2016. While she tries to spend as much time as possible in the studio exploring all flavors of aerials arts, she has to save up time for her day job working in the Office of University Experiential Learning at UGA, playing in various bands in Athens, and painting. She also enjoys hanging out with her husband/bandmate, Jason.
Ashley Travieso – T,R
Ashley Travieso began taking classes at Canopy Studio after her bosses gifted her a session of trapeze classes in 2007 (best bosses ever!). Ashley spent most of her life in gymnastics and dance, joining the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band as a member and captain of the danceline, The Georgettes. Training on dance trapeze, fabrics, invented equipment, and pole, Ashley teaches mainly adult trapeze classes and loves to see the joy aerial dance brings to others! For her, Canopy embodies everything she loves about dancing – performance, creativity, accessibility, and community. Ashley bleeds Red & Black and appreciates everything that makes Athens unique, of which Canopy tops that list. Outside of Canopy Ashley is the event director for another uniquely Athens mainstay, the Athens Twilight Criterium, and is a national-level race director for USA Cycling producing and providing support for bicycle races across the country. Her and her husband, Frank, have two sweet sons, Frankie and Maximo.
Melissa Wilson – T,R
When she’s not wrangling 4-year-olds at Barrow Elementary School, Melissa Wilson can generally be found either in the air or on the ground at Canopy, where she joined the Repertory Company in 2008. Melissa has performed on dance trapeze, bungees, Spanish Web and various invented metal equipment, and with her frequent-partner Carlynn Kenna, has astounded Canopy audiences with incredible ground-based acrobatics as well. Melissa came to Canopy as a student in 2003 where she studied with Canopy founder Susan Murphy, who became both her friend and mentor. Outside the studio Melissa finds her life enriched to overflowing by her faith, her close relationships with family and friends, her precious dog Boo, and days on the river. This, along with her love and commitment to all children have enabled her to have an abundantly full life.
Annaka Woodruff – T
Annaka Woodruff is Canopy’s flexibility instructor. Her training as a classical ballerina helps inform her stretches and work ethic towards flexibility- and her students are always inspired by her amazing splits! She also teaches adult beginner trapeze.
Allison Workman – R
Allison Workman moved to Athens from the Pacific Northwest on somewhat of a whim in 1991. In 2000 she finally found what she was looking for when she swung on a trapeze for the first time. Allison has been with Canopy from its inception as a student, teacher and performer. The birth of her son in 2006 grounded her in many ways and led her to discover the joy of Hoopdance and the Zen of hoop-making as well as teaching and playing with young children and babies. She has since found her way back into the air and swinging is what she loves most. When on the ground she derives tremendous satisfaction from helping other people get organized and loves her non-aerial work as a Well-Organized Woman. Allison eventually graduated from UGA with a degree in French, and if it weren’t for Canopy she’d find a way to live in France. Currently, however, she lives in Danielsville, GA with her young hockey-playing son, hockey-devotee computer wizard husband and cats.
Junior Teaching Staff
- Kamara Adogu
- Zoey Conley-Mullis
- Reece Dale
- Lillian Glushka
- Sophia Perez
- Jessica Russo
- Dillin Temple
- Katie Grace Upchurch