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About Theatre Next Door & Dancelife Academy

Theatre Next Door & Dancelife Academy strives to encourage the performing arts and to foster a spirit of creativity in the life of each student, one that nurtures the ideals of commitment, fun, and expression. As a performing arts and dance education studio, we offer a selection of dance and theatre classes.  We take pride in the encouragement of the "triple-threat" (acting/dancing/singing) so that students can be introduced to and trained in each aspect of the performing arts


Melissa Mooney

Melissa Mooney (Studio Director/Founder) has been in the theatre, dance, and teaching world for many years. She is a graduate of Caldwell College with a BA in English and Education and has her State of NJ certifications in Elementary Education and Middle School Language Arts. Melissa also attended and completed the first year program at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in NYC where she studied the Meisner Technique.  She has been dancing since she was a child, and has been teaching dance and choreographing throughout New Jersey for the past 15 years.  Melissa has performed all around New Jersey in numerous dance shows, competitions, and musical theatre productions. She was a professional actor and dancer at the now closed Evergreen Theatre, with Palame Enterprises Inc.  Melissa has taught at many dance schools and public schools as a director, choreographer, substitute teacher, and teacher of English in East Hanover, Florham Park, Cedar Grove, South Orange, and Orange, and most recently as an Instructional Aide for Special Education in West Orange. Recently, Melissa choreographed and danced in a pre-show production number at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks, and she has worked as the head of the summer performing arts S.T.A.R. camp at Montclair Kimberley Academy.  She recently became the Dance Team Advisor and Coach for the West Essex Middle School Dance Team.  Theatre Next Door & Dancelife Academy and all her choreography work fulfill her dreams and passions. She is mother to Savanna and Braden, wife to Brian, and she is thankful each day for her Mom, Joann, for believing in her and telling her to “always follow her dreams.”

Angelo DeFazio

Angelo De Fazio (Founder) holds a Masters degree in Educational Theatre from New York University and a degree in Theatre Performance and Communication from Seton Hall University, where he is an Adjunct Professor of Communication and The Arts.  He is also an Associate Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, as well as a Theatre Arts curriculum writer for the National 4-H Youth Development Organization.  Angelo is also a State of NJ certified Teacher of Theatre, having taught theatre and musical theatre at both public and private schools, as well as performing arts studios throughout Essex and Morris counties, as well as a State of NJ certified Teacher of English and Speech Arts and Dramatics. Angelo recently taught at The Calais School as a Teacher of Theatre to students with special needs in addition to his roles as Director/Technical Director at Hanover Park High School, Director of Theatre at Memorial Middle School in Cedar Grove, Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park, Brooklake School in Florham Park, Our Lady of Sorrows School in South Orange, and East Hanover Middle School.  He recently directed Mystery Play at Seton Hall University, A Raisin in the Sun at the Mary Burch Theatre at Essex County College, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown at Montclair State University, and a new play, Day of Awe, at New York University Steinhardt’s Black Box Theatre, as well as Romeo and Juliet, The Pirates of Penzance, Grease, Sister Act, Footloose, The Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood, Guys and Dolls, Once Upon a Mattress, Into the Woods, Peter Pan, The Music Man, The King and I, Oliver, Nephew Fred, Annie, and numerous other children’s theatre productions.  Angelo has also worked as the Producer of Jersey Absurdity, a sketch comedy production group, and as the Drama & Musical Theatre Program Coordinator/Drama & Musical Theatre Instructor for the West Essex YMCA. In addition, he is trained as a Teaching Artist with NJPAC for the Early Learning Through the Arts/NJ Wolf Trap Program, part of the national Wolf Trap organization, as well as in the disciplines of Creative Drama, Acting Technique, and Dramatic Interpretation.  Angelo is also an evaluator for the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards.  He has had the opportunity to portray such iconic characters as The Emcee in Cabaret, Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Jaques in Shakespeare’sAs You Like It, The Baker in Into the Woods, and Jesus in Godspell. He has worked in the theatre as a stage manager, theatre reviewer, production manager, producer, teaching artist, vocal director, singer, actor, technical director, and director at such organizations as The PlayHouse at East Hanover, Celtic Theatre Company, South Orange Performing Arts Center, Paper Mill Playhouse, and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.


JoAnn Russionello 

JoAnn Russoniello (Founder) has been involved in the theatre for over 20 years, and is a co-founder of The PlayHouse at East Hanover (1998-2006).  Her theatre experience spans numerous years in the capacity of costume design, set design, producing, managing, acting, and directing for The PlayHouse, West Orange Theatre, West Orange High School, Seton Hall University, and Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange.  Her acting credits include Godspell, Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, Miss Mazeppa in Gypsy, Mrs. Mullin in Carousel, Mrs. Bedwin in Oliver, and Renee in Neil Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple for The Strollers in Maplewood.  Her vocal performances include PNC Bank Arts Center, Montclair Operetta Club, Rascals Comedy Club, Seton Hall Law School, and various senior citizen and civic functions.  JoAnn’s directing credits include The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Godspell, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Annie, Gypsy, Bye Bye Birdie, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I, Oliver, and Grease.  JoAnn is a former member of “The Goodfellas,” a local New Jersey cover band which included a performance on “The Intrepid” in New York.  



Amanda Patanella

Amanda Patanella is a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in Dance and Art History.  She studied classical voice at Mason Gross School of Arts and has her Certification in Elementary Education from Caldwell College.  Amanda has extensive musical theater experience as a director, choreographer, and performer.   Some of her favorite director/choreographer credits include Crazy For You, Sweeney Todd, Godspell, Into the Woods, and Footloose.  Amanda’s favorite performance credits include Anything Goes (Bonnie), Guys and Dolls (Adelaide), Wizard of Oz (Dorothy), Damn Yankees (Gloria Thorpe) and Into the Woods (Witch).  She began dancing at age 3, including training at NJ School of Ballet, and is a former principal dancer and vocalist with NJ Tap Ensemble.  Amanda has performed on many stages including those at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, NJPAC’s Victoria Theater, and Count Basie Theater. Currently, she is a part-time vocalist, dance educator, and full-time mom to three beautiful daughters.  Amanda has been teaching dance for 22 years and is grateful to continue sharing her love of the arts with others.

Cassandra Barckett

Cassandra Barckett (Dance Instructor) is currently a Junior at William Paterson University majoring in Communications with an Emphasis on Theatre and Comedy. She is a theatre performer and a dancer and she is part of a theatre group that she has been with for 5 years called the Rosetta Lenoire Musical Theatre Academy also known as Amas Musical Theatre in New York City performing Off-Broadway. Credits with them include Jesus Christ Superstar(Simon Zealotes), Hair(Jeanie), Urinetown(Little Becky Two Shoes), Gypsy(Danty June), Fame(Iris Kelly), Guys and Dolls(Miss Adelaide), 9 to5(Candy Striper), and The Music Man(Maud) also got an award called the Ozzie Davis Leadership Award for showing leadership and a student who is willing to learn. Other favorite shows include Footloose(Vi Moore), Beauty and The Beast(Ensemble/Wolf/Utensil), Urinetown(Senator Fipp/Josephine Strong), Ghost(June/Passerby/Nun/Poltergeist Dancer), Pippin(Player/Featured Dancer), and The Wizard of Oz(Dorothy Gale). She is a graduate from Passaic Valley Regional High School where she was in Choir for all four years and got the choral award for excellence in leadership, did drama club where she performed in two Christmas shows Elf(Ensemble/Featured Dancer), Christmas in the Land of Oz(Dancer/Ensemble), and The Wedding Singer(Ensemble). She has been dancing for 14 years at 5-6-7-8 Dance Studio in Totowa, NJ since she was 4 and has been singing since she was 6. One of her dreams was to be a dance teacher and she is so thrilled to be teaching at Theatre Next Door & Dance Life Academy!

Shaun Salmon

Shaun Salmon (Master Teacher/Guest Teacher) is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Seton Hall Law School.  She is certified in Intellectual Property/Entertainment & Sports Law and admitted to practice in New York and New Jersey.  A longtime dancer and theater enthusiast, she also works with the Dance Teams at West Essex High School and choreographs the school's musicals.  She lives with her Wheaten Terrier, Dexter (who you can follow @thedexydog on Instagram!), as well as her human best friend, John, their fish, and their newest addition, Mollie the Whoodle.  

Cassie Rossi

Cassie Roberts Rossi (Dance Instructor) grew up dancing in New Jersey and currently teaches dance full time at Passaic County Technical Institute. She holds a BFA in Dance Performance from Arizona State University and an Ed.M. in Dance Education from Rutgers University. She was the Assistant Director of the Rutgers Pre-College Summer Dance Conservatory for three years, and taught technique and repertory for the program for five years. Cassie is an ABT® Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT® Teacher Training Intensive in Pre-Primary through Level 3 of the ABT® National Training Curriculum.

Cassie serves on the Board for Dance New Jersey. She is on the committee for Dance Against Cancer, an organization that benefits the American Cancer Society. She is a Certified Barre Instructor and Pilates Mat Instructor (Balanced Body) and teaches fitness at Work it Out in Hoboken and is also the Director of Instruction there. She can be found doing various dance projects in NYC. Cassie has presented at the National Dance Education Organization conference and has presented research at the Dance and the Child International (daCi) conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Throughout the year, Cassie spends time at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont, a multi-abled community for adults with disabilities, assisting with their choreography for their annual musical and being a friend and supporter.


Alissa Dorey

Alissa Dorey  (Dance Instructor) is currently a student at Hanover Park High School. In school, she performed in various productions including Annie as Tessie, Legally Blonde as Margot, and Aladdin as the Genie!  Alissa has also helped direct various shows such as Cinderella, Aladdin, and Into the Woods. Furthermore, Shes been a part of many Theatre Next Door & Dance Life Academy’s productions such as The Little Mermaid where she played Sebastian, the Wizard of Oz where she played Dorothy, and Peter Pan as Wendy. Other shows she was in include Footloose, High school Musical, and Glee.


Alissa has been dancing for 14 years. 12 of those years were at Dance Life Academy and she is so excited to be passing down all the skills she learned  from the amazing teachers there to the equally as amazing students she is lucky enough to meet every year! When Alissa was 9 she started doing competitive dancing. She has won many awards and loves going back to the competitions every year to see her students compete like she once did.  In addition to dancing Alissa also sang for many years competitively. She recently got to take a masterclass with a singer from the Broadway show Hamilton. 

Beside singing and dancing Alissa participates in and coaches competitive cheerleading. She has been cheerleading for 11 years and has been coaching for 5 years. In 2015 and in 2018 Alissa was lucky enough to be a cheerleader in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Alissa fell in love with the art of singing, acting, and dancing at a young age and hopes to help her students feel the same way!

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