Rhythmically Speaking is a Twin Cities-based 501(c)3 nonprofit dance organization with a | MISSION | to spark vibrancy and connectedness through performance and education work inspired by jazz and American social dance ideas. Using the rhythm that is at our shared human core to groove together, our work cultivates vibrant, embodied human connection (| VISION |).

We | VALUE |:

  • Access: Everyone can groove to a beat, and should have opportunities to do so with others
  • Inclusiveness: Grooving together socially builds community
  • Diversity: Through jazz, tap, hip-hop and other styles that share the elements of groove, interaction and improvisation (present in all American social dance styles), we find unity in difference, and that makes for vibrant art and relationships
  • Equity: We prioritize rooted innovation in jazz that centers and celebrates its African diasporic roots, and position this in relationship to equity-building measures
  • Resourcefulness: Improvising with the tools at hand
  • Playfulness: Not just for kids!
  • Joy: An important human emotion we feel is far too underrated in capital A Art

Touted by Dance Magazine as “revitalizing jazz dance in the Twin Cities area,” we are the only organization in Minnesota and one of few in the nation dedicated to creating, presenting and conducting outreach work inspired by jazz and other American social dance ideas including tap, hip-hop styles, and many others. From our co-founding by Erinn Liebhard and Heather P. Westerlund in 2008 through our 10th anniversary in 2018, our programming focus was an annual production that featured 7-9 dance works by different line-ups of mostly local and some visiting artists each year who each had their own casts, celebrating the breadth of what ‘jazz and American social/ vernacular’ ideas in dance can mean.

After 10 years of successfully producing this programming, we decided to innovate around our core mission and shift into a model sustaining a cohort of Twin Cities-based dancers. Since 2019, our programming has included performance and education-based outreach work and two evening-length productions per year, providing regular training and performance opportunities for local dancers while continuing to offer a presenting platform to local and visiting choreographers through our annual summer production The Cohort.

We acknowledge that our work occurs on the traditional lands of the Dakota people, and honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations, including the Ojibwe and other indigenous nations. We also acknowledge that as a company built around jazz and American social dances, forms with African and Latin diasporic roots and branches, anti-racism and intersectional justice efforts must also be central in our work. We view bettering these efforts as an ongoing journey, and welcome you to read more about this at our Anti-Racism page.


Artistic/ Executive Director Erinn Liebhard:

Erinn is a dance artist (MFA University of Colorado Boulder, BFA University of Minnesota) making opportunities for people to experience the reflective and connective power of groove through performance and education. Having grown up dancing socially at her dad’s rock band’s gigs, she discovered at a young age the exhilaration of playfully experiencing groove alongside others. Guided by this inspiration and a fondness for jazz and American social dance ideas and their shared elements of groove, interaction and improvisation, she’s worked with creatives as varied as hip-hop dance theater artists Rennie Harris and the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers Appalachian clogging company. In performance, Erinn makes and performs new staged works and presents those of others through Rhythmically Speaking, is a member of Afro-Brazilian company Contempo Physical Dance and performs as self-created character entertainer “Nerdette” for Saint Paul Saints Baseball’s Entertainment Team. In education, she is an active jazz dance residency artist in higher education and for professional dance companies, works as a Teaching Artist for the Cowles Center for Dance and is on faculty at Zenon School, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and Winona State University. She is also an active writer and conference presenter. She’s driven to help connect people to themselves, one another and the moment through rooted and innovative embodiment of groove.

Advisory Panel:

  • Luther Bell: Owner @ Twin Lake Media, A/V Technician @ Freelance and Founder @ Inspiration Fund (Philanthropy, Production & Entrepreneurship)
  • Hannah Elias: Development Operations Associate @ Planned Parenthood North Central States (Development & Management)
  • Kristine Frank Elias: Communications Consultant (Marketing, Development & Management)
  • Brian J. Evans: Assistant Professor of Dance @ Bates College (Artistic & Production)
  • Erinn Liebhard: Artistic Director @ Rhythmically Speaking, Dance Artist @ Freelance (Artistic & Production)
  • Kristoffer Olson: Associate Director, Analytics @ ICF Next, Kristoffer Olson @ Funny Magician (Data, Tech & Entrepreneurship)
  • Janette Davis (Advisory): CEO @ FlightDeck One Consulting (Development & Management)
  • Zoe Sealy (Advisory): Professor Emeritus @ U of MN Dance Program, Retired Artistic Director @ MN Jazz Dance Co (Artistic, Production & Management)
  • Reilly Liebhard (Legal Advisor): Attorney @ Liebhard Law Firm LLC

Our work is also brought to life by the incredible choreographers we engage to create and revisit dance works for our summer show The Cohort, the musicians and composers we work with from project to project, the dancers that perform them and our audiences, who help create the electricity of live performance that we all get the joy of sharing in. Our current collaborating dancers:

Nieya Amezquita:

Nieya graduated from the University of Georgia with a BFA in dance and a BS in psychology. Dance has given Nieya the opportunity to perform nationally and internationally, showcase choreography at ACDA, work for the Joffrey Ballet school, and teach dance within her communities. She currently works with Threads Dance project, Concerto Dance and Rhythmically Speaking. She hopes to continue to be a part of works that generate conversations about the social, racial and psychological state of our society today.

Rae Charles:

Rae Charles, BFA New York University, M.Ed University of Michigan, was selected as an “up and coming young choreographer” at the 2012 Young Choreographer’s Festival in New York City. She joined Threads Dance Project as a full-time company member and Development Manager in 2014, and went on to become a Dance Instructor PiM Arts High School in Eden Prairie. Charles is currently pursuing her Ph.d in Arts in Education at the University of Minnesota, researching dance education, educational reform, culturally relevant pedagogy, anti-racism, equity, and social justice. raedances.org.

Doug Hooker:

Doug graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelors in Dance. He has had a variety of professional performing opportunities, including with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, touring with Broadway show Blast!. Local works of note include Dancing People Company, ARENA DANCES, Paula Mann, The Minnesota Opera, Threads Dance Project, and Shapiro & Smith. doughooker88.wix.com/doughookerdance.

Amy Jones:

Amy graduated with a degree in Theater/ Dance from Luther College and has performed concert and commercial contemporary, jazz, hip-hop and ballet in NYC and Minneapolis. She is also a pilates and aerial fitness instructor.

Sara Karimi:

A native of Wisconsin and a graduate of University of Iowa (BFA in Dance Performance, BA in English), Sara has danced and toured nationally and internationally with Kayle & Co., 10,000 Feet Dance Company, The Architects and Threads Dance Project, among others. Upon relocating to the Twin Cities seven years ago, she has worked with regional and local choreographers; and is in her sixth season with Threads Dance Project and her seventh season with Borealis Dance. Sara is also a 400 hour certified yoga instructor and has taught workshops and classes in Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Kelli Miles:

Kelli is a Minneapolis-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and arts manager. She graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the Spring of 2018 with a BFA in Dance and a minor in Leadership. Throughout her training, she has spent time dancing in New York City, San Francisco, Nashville and Israel. She has had the honor of performing works by Ohad Naharin, Banning Bouldin, Uri Sands, Gina Patterson and Angharad Davies. Kelli is constantly inspired by way in which this movement form sparks conversation, invokes visceral reactions and creates community. miles104.wixsite.com/kellimiles.

Kathleen Pender:

Kathleen Pender is a Minneapolis-based performer, dance educator, and arts administrator with a B.A. in Dance from St. Olaf College. She teaches for the Northfield Arts Guild and Young Dance, where she also works as Communication Assistant. She has performed in works by local choreographers Erinn Liebhard, April Sellers, Julie Warder, Taja Will, and Pat Taylor/JazzAntiqua (LA), among others. Kathleen is passionate about community and relationships cultivated through movement exploration, education, and performance.

John Surber:

John Surber is a professional dance artist and teacher out of the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area who graduated Cum Laude from Gustavus Adolphus College with a B.A. in Dance in May of 2017. John started dancing in college, training primarily in modern, and dabbling in the areas of jazz and hip hop. John has performed with Rhythmically Speaking, Arbeit Opera Theatre, 16 Feet, Kinetic Evolutions and the Christopher Watson Dance Company and 8:20 Dance Company. He also teaches for Reflections Dance Academy in Shakopee. johnsurber.wixsite.com/johnsurber.

Crissy Tolson:

Crissy Tolson has worked with numerous Twin Cities companies and artists such as Rhythmically Speaking, Alternative Motion Project, Loom Lab, Borealis Dance, Pedro Pablo and Laura Selle Virtucio. She is also a founding member of Painting the Room, a Minneapolis based music/dance/text improvisation group. Her performance has been highlighted by the Star Tribune: “She commanded such presence… articulating emotions with precision …downright terrifying”. Off the stage, she’s co-produced and directed three shows for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Crissy holds a BFA in Dance from George Mason University and recently went to Amsterdam to study improvisation composition under Katie Duck.


  • “What a truly amazing show you have put together! It brings all the parts about jazz dance that make it so unique – it’s sense of community, the essence of cool, the communicative use of call and response, the improvisational elements, and of course it’s connection to the music! You and the roster of guest choreographers have put together something so magical, it had me moving and grooving in my seat, not to mention wishing I was on that dance floor!” – Crystal Secor, Audience Member for The Cohort (2019)
  • “I am so glad that I got to know you this summer/work with you. Seriously, keep doing what you are doing. You have a great mission, amazing work ethic, and you are creating some amazing opportunities for artists out there. I feel lucky to be a part of the Minnesota family.” – Rohan Bhargava, Choreographer for The Cohort (2019)
  • “Saw this last night… it was fantastic! There’s so much diversity with the various dances and music. I loved how some dancers shared insights into their creative process/motivation using spotlight/ voiceovers. I also loved the live JAZZ. It all flowed effortlessly! Thanks performers for a great evening.” – Colleen Schaefer, Audience Member
  • “Congrats on a wonderful performance! It was lush, polished and generous. It was clear from the opening curtain speech the love, care and passion that was poured into the evening.” – Carl Flink, Dept. of Theater Arts and Dance, University of Minnesota
  • “Thank you Rhythmically Speaking for your support of rhythm-based choreographers and your work to bring this diverse community of unique and passionate artists together.” – Karla Grotting, Past RS Choreographer
  • “Erinn was very interactive and had great questions that made our residents think about how to engage with jazz music and dance. I think residents would benefit from more of this kind of interactive programming! We hope to have Rhythmically Speaking back again soon.” – Molly Stoltz, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Sholom Home West Senior Care
  • “Thank you so very much for the great experience this past week. From start to finish, the show was run impeccably. You have a truly fantastic thing going here. The show is eclectic, professional, and currently provides a vital foray into otherwise uncharted territory in this community. Bravo. You’ve allowed me to continue a crucial aspect of my personal technical and creative journey, and present that to an audience. Thank you again for a fantastic experience.” – Jeffrey Peterson, Past RS Choreographer