Melissa Stafford, director and department chair of Peabody Dance, studied ballet with Marcia Dale Weary and the faculty at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), and received additional training at summer intensives including The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory, Boston Ballet, and The Juilliard School. She began student teaching at CPYB under Weary’s guidance, and later taught for their 5-Week Summer Ballet Program. After earning a BA in psychology (summa cum laude) from Houghton College, Stafford joined the Peabody Dance faculty in 2001 under the leadership of Artistic Director Carol Bartlett and Artistic Advisor Barbara Weisberger. In 2006, she was invited by Peter Stark to become the ballet principal for the Patel Conservatory Youth Ballet in Tampa, FL. During her six years at that school, Stafford also served as full-time ballet faculty and program manager of the dance programs at the Patel Conservatory. She returned to Peabody Dance in 2012 as department chair. Additionally, Stafford has been on the adjunct faculty of Goucher College and has taught for the Orlando Ballet School Summer Intensive and the Next Generation Ballet Summer Intensive, among others.
Stafford’s students have danced professionally with American Ballet Theatre, Ballett Dortmund (Germany), Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Sarasota Ballet, Ailey II, Ballet Austin II, Boston Ballet II, Orlando Ballet II, and Philadanco! D/2. A number of her students continued their studies in pre-professional training programs including The Ailey School, the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Boston Ballet School, the CPYB Men’s Program, Hamburg Ballet School, Miami City Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Royal Ballet School of England, School of American Ballet, The Washington School of Ballet, Baltimore School for the Arts, and the Carver Center for Arts and Technology. Others have attended dance programs at Boston Conservatory, Fordham University, Goucher College, Indiana University, Marymount Manhattan College, Point Park University, Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the University of the Arts, the University of South Florida, and the University of Florida.
In 1999, Stafford received the Regional Dance America/Northeast Region Monticello Award for Emerging Female Choreographers. In addition to creating original choreography for pre-professional students, she has served as rehearsal coach for Next Generation Ballet and for children’s roles in Orlando Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Most recently, Stafford has served as an adjudicator for the Estelle Dennis Dance Scholarship Audition and Maryland State Dance Festival Scholarship Audition; she is the recipient of the 2017 Peabody Preparatory Excellence in Teaching Award.