Who We Are
ESTEEM Group Inc., formerly Pure Ballroom Inc., was established in 2012 and a new board was brought together, in 2018, to revitalize the organization and create a new mission and sustainable programs to push ESTEEM Group Inc. into the future. Our new mission, to empower students through education, engagement, and motion, while instilling important social emotional learning skills to help students thrive physically, mentally, socially and emotionally throughout their lifetime, has inspired a new program, The E.S.T.E.E.M. Group. This program was created with the mission in mind and the board is hoping impacts students of all ages, today and well into the future. Our program is based in Western Pennsylvania and spans from PreK through College encompassing a diverse curriculum that meets students where they are and challenges them to grow and develop social emotional learning skills important to thrive in life.
We use music and movement with our students to:
- Motivate them to become better teammates
- Strengthen their social skills
- Feel a sense of community
- Heighten their self-esteem
- Foster leadership
- Learn how to communicate effectively
- Use proper etiquette
- Develop respect for themselves and others
Meet the Team
Lead Teaching Artist
Gena Melago, MS has been “in motion” for most of her life. Taking ballet and gymnastics at a young age, she used her discipline to become the captain of the dance team in high school. She has studied Latin and Ballroom dancing under the tutelage of Terry and Rozana Sweeney, champion professional Ballroom/Latin dancers and national/world-class adjudicators, since 2000. She has always been active in sports and fitness as well. Playing basketball and volleyball throughout her K-12 school years.
Gena has always had a passion for learning and a love of teaching. Her Masters in Instructional Leadership, Education and Training from Robert Morris University as well as being a certified Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor has given her a strong base to build on. Gena found that her love of teaching and her passion for dance could be combined when working for Pittsburgh Mercy as a Prevention Specialist. She loved using music in her lessons and saw the power music and dance had in her classrooms. She has always felt that music and dance can help change the way we see each other. She hopes to continue this through her work with The E.S.T.E.E.M. Group as well as the George Washington University Customer Experience Certificate Advisory Board.
Gena’s favorite quote, “the best memories are those you never planned on having”, speaks to the direction she wants to take this program. Hopefully everyone that crosses her path, will have some wonderful memories that they can cherish for a lifetime and help shape them into the person they never knew they could be or always strived to be.
Jenny Malarkey (she/her) is thrilled to be joining the E.S.T.E.E.M. teaching team. A Pittsburgh native, she attended Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC where she studied performing arts and sports medicine. Jenny has always loved dance, movement, and the power of story-telling through performance. She has worked professionally for the past 10 years as a performer and teaching artist with many companies across Pittsburgh, including: The Pittsburgh Public Theater, Carnegie Mellon University, Bricolage Co., Little Lake Theatre, The Pittsburgh CLO, Saint Vincent Theatre, Attack Theatre, and Prime Stage. When not on stage, Jenny loves sharing her passion for performance with students across the city. She loves encouraging students to try something new, and is always inspired by their bravery and creativity.
Jennifer Milligan found the love of dance at the early age of 3. She studied ballet, tap, jazz and point under Sandra Graham. She then found her husband of 25 years and had 4 beautiful children. Becoming certified in group fitness and pilates, Jennifer taught at CCAC, the Oxford Athletic club, Starlight Dance academy and several other places in and around the Pittsburgh area. Jennifer has also been a dance Instructor at Dance Junction for 12 years teaching youth age 2 to adult ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, fitness and mommy and me classes. Jennifer found her love for ballroom dance working for Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh. She taught 5th grade Pittsburgh Public School students for 7 years. Changing lanes, she then trained at Arthur Murray instructing adults. Although it was fun and glamorous she longed to feel she was doing something more important! Jennifer is so very happy to be able to use her love of dance and fitness to help youth again!
Sarah Howe, a recent graduate of Point Park University, began dancing at the age of 3 in her hometown of Charlotte, NC. While in high school, Sarah began fostering her love of working with children while working at Open Door Studios as an assistant teacher. While in college, Sarah spent much of her senior year working with Attack Theatre as the Assistant to the Arts Education Manager, Allison Popieski. Under her leadership, Sarah was able to continue growing her passion for non-profit work and accessibility in the arts; most notably in her work as the Production Director for a new accessible arts initiative, The Adaptive Dance Series. While with Attack Theatre, Sarah also had the opportunity to work as a Teaching Artist with many different ages and levels of movers, including in and out-of-school programming with Pittsburgh Public Schools, Provident Charter School, and through administrative programming with Stanwood Elementary. Sarah earned her Bachelor of Arts in Modern Dance from Point Park University in 2021, and could not be more excited to be joining the E.S.T.E.E.M Group. She looks forward to working with students of all ages and levels and is thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue her passion of movement and socio-emotional wellbeing through this organization.
Ashley has been a lover of all things creative since childhood. Whether in the dance studio or art studio, she has found peace and inspiration in creating, experimenting, and collaborating with fellow artists and educators. This enthusiasm for art and education lead her to a career in museum education, where she regularly interacted with groups of various ages, abilities, and interests. After studying at Florida State University, she relocated to Pittsburgh, PA, with her partner (now husband). Pittsburgh’s healthy art scene encouraged her to pursue her path in the creative arts and education. She worked with various non-profit organizations: The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Attack Theatre, and the Fort Pitt Museum. Once her first child was born, she left her formal employment to take time to be present with her new growing family.
Today, she is an active volunteer in her community and participates in various school and sports related events. She enjoys dancing, cooking, hiking, crocheting, building LEGO, and training her puppy. Following the motto knowledge is power, she strives to equip students with confidence to be an individual and the compassion to be part of a larger community. She is very excited to get back in the classroom with the E.S.T.E.E.M. Group, with the goal of having a positive impact in children’s lives in clear focus.
Amber is a certified health and physical education teacher; she earned her degree in kinesiology, education, and mathematics from Texas A&M University. While working in college as a teacher coordinator at an afterschool program, she developed her passion for educating children. After graduating college, she coached and taught high school math for seven years before starting her family, which she considers one of her biggest blessings. While her two children were young, she taught gym class at their preschool and helped develop and run a nonprofit, MomKind, in the Houston area.
Amber believes in the importance of spreading kindness and giving back to her community and collects donations for a local food bank several times each year. She has found a unique sense of belonging in Pittsburgh and is excited to serve youth in the area through The E.S.T.E.E.M. Group. She spent most of her childhood playing team sports and was captain of her volleyball, basketball, and cheerleading teams. John C. Maxwell states that “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and she has carried this philosophy throughout each chapter of her life and believes in the power of listening and learning from one another to achieve a common goal.
Meet the Board
After receiving her Master of Social Work from Tulane University, M.A. has worked with children and their families for the last twenty years. About half of that time was dedicated to family therapy and the other half she specialized in a social emotional learning program called PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies). Her primary focus was on the preschool through elementary school children.
The PATHS program teaches a behavioral technique to help children recognize when they are upset, how to calm themselves down and then problem solve. We also see the importance of teaching the children to name their feelings. In this way, they can actually discuss their feelings and behaviors and arrive at a realistic solution. Teaching children these kinds of skills enable them to get along with others and reach their goals. Once learned, these skills can help carry a person through their life time.
Mike MacConnell has been working in education and with youth for over 15 years. He has been teaching for 8 years in the Verona area and currently working towards finishing his Masters in School Counseling. Aside from being a special education teacher at the elementary level, he has also spent time as a Youth Minister, Vacation Bible school director, and an advocate for youth in the foster care system.
Mike’s passion for learning led him to begin learning Ballroom and Latin dancing twelve years ago. He has been competing, mentoring, and raising his two children, Jake and Elijah, in the art of Ballroom and Latin dancing. This proud dad, accomplished dancer, and educator is excited to help bring the vision of The E.S.T.E.E.M. Group alive to the Pittsburgh Area.
Susan has been working in the field of finance for over 40 years. She has extensive knowledge in both the for-profit and non-profit business sectors. She is always helping where she can and works hard to learn what would be best for all involved. When she is not working, Susan enjoys spending time with her grandaughter or sitting outside reading a good book.
Born in Croatia and growing up in Germany, Rozana started dancing at the age of 5 and became over a span of 15 years junior and youth German Ballroom and Ten Dance Champion. Later in the Amateur ranks she placed amongst the top 6 couples in Germany, she and her partner became German Amateur Ballroom Champions which enabled them to represent Germany in major European and World championships. After turning professional they established themselves amongst the top eight couples in Germany for Latin and Ballroom. In 1989 they place second at the European ballroom championship in Belgium. They reached Blackpool Rising Stars semifinals and finals at the UK and International Championships as well as German, Italian & US Open. Rozana and her former partner moved in 1990 to the USA started immediately placing in finals in all major Latin competitions. After meeting her husband Terry, she was introduced to Arthur Murray Inc. in 1992 and worked as a traveling consultant for them until 1995. She and Terry competed from 1993 to 1999 in International Latin and became Rising Star Champions and Open Latin Finalists. After retiring from International Latin in 1999 they competed from 1999 until 2002 in American Smooth and placed in the top 12 in the US competition circuit. In 2003 after a long and successful carrier they both decided to hang up their dancing shoes for good and give their dance knowledge to younger dancers. They opened Art & Style Dance Studio in Pittsburgh, PA and created many successful youth and adult programs in their studio. In 1998 she helped to develop ballroom dance clubs at CMU and Penn State University. From 2009-2016 she worked as a Teaching Artist for Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh. In 2010 she became faculty member of Point Park University to teach ballroom to undergrad through grad students. She became a NDCA adjudicator in 2008 and US National Judge in 2009. In 2016 she was awarded World Class Adjudicator for the USA.
Kristen Ann Walker, MS Ed, LPC, is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who has worked in the Mental Health field since 1995. She has treated a diverse range of clients from children, teenagers, and adults in individual and group therapy settings. Kristen has helped clients heal from symptoms related to and including Autism and spectrum related disorders, Addiction, Anxiety, Depression, trauma, personality disorders, psychiatric disorders, and major mental health diagnoses. Kristen is additionally trained and certified as a nicotine cessation specialist.
Kristen works with clients to create a warm, welcoming, and affirming space, that promotes growth, discovery, and recovery. Kristen recognizes that therapy is a collaborative process and her aim is for everyone who participates in therapy to leave with the tools necessary to continue on the path of wellness and greater emotional health.
As a strong advocate of self-care, Kristen practices what she preaches by playing tennis, spending time with family and friends, hiking the many trails of Western Pennsylvania, and playing with her Boston Terrier puppy.