Meet The Faculty
Choose a staff member to see their full profile. Use the blue arrows to return to this directory.
Lauren Ben Yaaqov | Owner/Director
Lauren began dancing at the age of 8 under the Direction of Maureen Gibson at STEPS School of Dance. Throughout her high school years, Lauren was accepted and trained with several prestigious Ballet Schools including: North Carolina School of the Arts. In April of 2002, Lauren received the “National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts” Award, recognizing her talent and exceptional artistic achievement. Selected from over 6,000 applicants, she placed in the top 9% of the Nation! Lauren continued her dance education and earned her BFA in Dance from Florida State University. After Graduation, Lauren went on to dance professionally with the Richmond Ballet before moving to New York City to pursue other dance styles. She danced with a wide range of companies and choreographers and was chosen to choreograph at Columbia University for two years. Dance brought her all the way to Israel where she continued to perform and choreograph. She was a founding member of Make Sound Music and Dance Company based in Tel Aviv. While performing in New York and Tel Aviv she taught dance to students of all ages and levels. She also had a successful career in the fitness industry teaching Pilates, group fitness and Barre classes. Miss Lauren is excited about her new adventure as Owner/Director of STEPS School of dance!
Maureen Gibson | Founder Emeritus
A Dance Educator in the area since 1986, Maureen and her husband Scott founded STEPS in 1987 and began a journey toward excellence and education. Maureen was the sole “Children’s Ballet Mistress” for the Miami City Ballet’s George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” for 18 years and was named “Repetiteur” for the Children’s roles of the George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” by the Balanchine Trust, an honor given only to the most elite dance teachers. Honored to receive National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, Teacher Recognition Award. The NFAA recognizes teachers for inspiring young artists and having profound influence on their artistic development. For 10 years, Maureen was an Adjudicator in the Dance for “Walker Rising Star Scholarship Competition” to judge artistry, technique and creativity in an impartial format. Served as Artistic Advisor for the Florida West Ballet, a not for profit organization, who bridges the gap between the studio and the professional environment. added the “Dare to Dream” Scholarship 2012 from Hoffman Institute at Ruth Eckard Hall to her Judging Panel resume. Many of Maureen’s students have gone on to lead very successful dance careers. Maureen is honored to pass the reigns to Lauren. We wish Miss Maureen the very best for the beginning of a new era in her life.
Marianna Gonzalez | After School Director | Instructor
Marianna Gonzalez started dancing at the age of five in Bonifay, Florida. She also participated in cheerleading and Acrobatics and attended several competitions as a captain. She discovered a passion for Musical Theatre and traveled/competed around the state of Florida as a main character in the Broadway musical “CATS”. She then decided to pursue a career in music and received my Federal Communication Commissions license to broadcast on the radio. She received lots of publicity from broadcasting live and transformed into a public figure/model for social media with over 10 sponsors and 30 thousand followers. Simultaneously she continued her Dance education and received her certification from the American Sports and Fitness Association to Teach Hip Hop and Contemporary Dance. Marianna joined the faculty of Steps School of Dance and had the opportunity to train with Dr. Mallory Quinn in Applied Behavioral Analysis Sports Innovations (ABASI). She received a certification from ABASI to teach Dance Education to children. She is passionate about continuing her education in dance and music as well as teaching. She enjoys showing the next generation how love, dedication and positive attitude can drive you wherever your heart desires.
Heather Mills | Instructor
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio Heather Mills grew up studying with renowned artists and teachers including Artour Bajanov, of the Moscow Ballet Theatre, Bashkirian State Ballet and Bolshoi; Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez of Ballet San Jose and Joanne Morscher of North Coast Ballet Theatre. Furthering her education she studied around the country at BalletMet, American Ballet Theatre and Point of Departure, as well as participating in several youth ballet companies. Heather received a dance scholarship to attend Mercyhurst College where she earned her BA in Dance Management in 2011 under the direction of Tauna Hunter. While at Mercyhurst she fostered her love of jazz, modern and contemporary styles, which she continues to use today. Upon graduation she went on to dance professionally with The Ballet Theatre Maryland in Annapolis for three seasons under the direction of Dianna Cuatto. In 2014 Heather moved to Florida to join Tampa Ballet Theatre. In addition to dancing with the company Heather also takes on the role of Development Manager and was promoted to Company Ballet Mistress in 2017. Heather enjoys teaching at STEPS School of Dance as well as Tampa Bay Ballet, the official school of Tampa Ballet Theatre.
Chris Liddell | Instructor
Christopher recently directed and choreographed the 12 annual “All You Need is Love” Gala for the prestigious performing arts center, Ruth Eckerd Hall, alongside legendary Broadway producer Zev Buffman. As resident choreographer there, his productions of “Bye Bye Birdie” and the musical revue, “Broadway Bound” were a hit! Before that he was Artist in Residence at Tampa Ballet Theatre for the 2015/16 season where he danced the Principal role of Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to raucous acclaim and premiered several works. Christopher has taught at Steps on Broadway NYC, Yale University, Harkness Dance Center, Cecchetti Council of America, and privately for many Broadway and Ballet dancers. Christopher is also an ABT certified teacher in Pre-Primary through Level 3 of the ABT National Training Curriculum. TimeOut New York magazine says “Christopher Liddell exudes plenty of energy, making [his] class a total blast.”
Maneula Oliveira | Instructor
Manuela Oliveira is well Recognized in the Field of Dance and Choreography, her works displayed on TV shows, TV Commercials, Music Videos and on Stage. Choreography Credits include: NBC’s The Voice Season’s 1,2 & 3 as Performance Consultant and Choreographer and working with Ceelo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, SYTYCD Malaysia Season’s 1 & 2 as Creative Director, Choreographer and Guest Judge, SYTYCD Australia Seasons 1,2 & 3 as Choreographer, X-Factor USA assisting Paula Abdul and Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Manuela has appeared as a Dancer for Rihanna - MTV Music Awards, Jennifer Lopez, Sara Bareilles, Luke James to name a few. She recently relocated to the Tampa Bay Area and is a proud faculty member of STEPS School of Dance.
Laura Rodriguez | Instructor
Laura began dancing at the age of 2 at Creative Movement in Panama City, Florida. She went on to study ballet, jazz, tap, and lyrical and served as a student teacher at Audience of One, where she danced until she moved to Tampa to attend college at the University of South Florida. Laura earned degrees in Psychology and Behavioral Healthcare and has worked in the mental health field for four years, serving youth with severe mental illness. Laura has over 15 years of dance experience and continues to participate in classes while also serving in her church.
Caterina Zanzi | Instructor
Caterina Zanzi was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She received her dance training from “Musa Estudio De Danza”, the best dance academy in her country. She danced for Venezuelan music artists on the National TV show “Venevision and Televen”. Upon moving to the US with her family Caterina began teaching hip hop, jazz, commercial dance and lyrical to adults and kids of all ages. She participated in one of the most well-known international competitions World Of Dance in Orlando with VYB Dance Crew from Tampa. Passionate about the stage arts, she began studying theater and production two years ago and she is recently continuing her training here in Tampa with the new theater company “Miniteatro Tampa”. She is being trained in child care by “Bright Horizons” international child care company. Caterina is really happy and grateful to be a part of the Steps family.
Vashti Walters | Instructor
Vashti Walters began her dance training at the age of 13 at a recreation center in Richardson, Texas. A few months later, she began training seriously at Tuzer Ballet with Tanju and Pat Tuzer, former dancers of the Harkness Ballet, where she received many opportunities, including performing in the Nutcracker. She was also selected to perform in a Turkish folk-dancing group called Rakkas Dance led by Onur Kasaburi. In 2016, she moved to Florida and joined Tampa Ballet Theatre as a trainee. She is currently an apprentice with the company.. Vashti is very excited to be teaching our younger dancers at STEPS.
Alex grew up in Los Angeles, California. She began her training at Carousel Dance Studio, where she was invited to join their award winning Company and competition team. With Carousel Dance Company, she travelled the country competing at dance competitions such as NYCDA, Hollywood Connection, and Tremaine. Alex had the opportunity to train under Professional Dancers/Choreographers such as Mia Michaels, Andy Blankenbuehler, Leslie Brown, and John Corella to name a few. Later, Alex found a passion behind the scenes of a dance studio. She started working the front desk at A Step in Time School of Dance in Calabasas, CA. She quickly was promoted to Office Manager where she worked on daily dance studio tasks and managed the competition Team as well. After taking a break to have her daughter, Evelyn, she began working at Calabasas Academy of dance as assistant manager. Life luckily brought Alex to Florida, and she started working at STEPS School of Dance, and is now your new office manager. She looks forward to this new year of helping with all STEPS needs and teaching Tap!