Lauri-Michelle Houk began her formal training with Marjorie Tallchief and George Skibine at the Dallas Ballet Academy. She spent her summers studying at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City and with Suzanne Farrell and Paul Mejia at the Cedar Islands Ballet Camp in upstate New York. At age 15 Lauri-Michelle was invited to be a winter student at SAB where she completed her ballet training and graduated from the Professional Children’s School. After an apprenticeship with the Dallas Ballet, Ms. Houk joined the Chicago City Ballet under the direction of Maria Tallchief and Paul Mejia where she danced for four seasons. While at Chicago City Ballet she danced many soloist and principal roles and had several works created on her by Mr. Mejia, most notably Rhapsody Espanol and the pas de deux Serenade Melancholique. Lauri-Michelle can also be seen in the PBS documentary Balanchine’s Ballerinas being coached in the Four Temperaments by the legendary Maria Tallchief.
From 1987-1994 Lauri-Michelle had the opportunity to dance for Kent Stowell and Francia Russell at the Pacific Northwest Ballet where she was honored to perform a full repertoire of roles. While at PNB, she danced in many of the masterpieces of George Balanchine including soloist and principal roles in Apollo, Chaconne, Concerto Barocco, Divertimento #15, Rubies, The Four Temperaments , Who Cares? and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ms. Houk also performed principal roles in works created by Kent Stowell including Duo Fantasy, Hail to the Conquering Hero, the Russian Girl in Swan Lake, and the Peacock in The Nutcracker among others. During her time at PNB Lauri-Michelle was also fortunate enough to be taught and coached by Francia Russell in many ballets, most memorably in Paquita, Symphony in C, and Agon. She also expanded her repertoire in original works created by noted choreographers such as Lar Lubovitch, being featured on the front page of the New York Times for his Kennedy Center premiere of American Gesture, Mark Dendy, and Clark Tippet to name a few.
From 1996-1998 Lauri-Michelle was a principal dancer with the Nashville Ballet under the direction of Benjamin Houk where she excelled in the utmost of roles including the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Odette/ Odile in Swan Lake, the Russian Girl in Balanchine’s Serenade, and as the Firebird in Paul Vasterling’s premiere of The Firebird. Lauri-Michelle also taught on the Faculty of the Nashville Ballet School, and later on the Faculty of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet School. While in Fort Worth Ms. Houk had the pleasure of being the Children’s Cast Director for the Dallas cast of FWDB’s Nutcracker, and of assisting Kent Stowell in his staging of Carmina Burana for the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet.
From 2012-2016 Ms. Houk had the distinct honor of joining the Faculty of one of the nation’s most highly regarded ballet institutions, the Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle, Washington. Presently Lauri-Michelle is continuing to share her love of ballet with all ages as the director of San Elijo Dance & Music Academy and West Coast Ballet Theatre in North County San Diego, co-founded in 2001 with her husband Benjamin Houk.
Benjamin Houk began his career in New York City with Joffrey II and later joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet where he performed as one of their most beloved principal dancers for thirteen years. Adept at both contemporary and the great classical roles he was applauded as Siegfried in Stowell’s Swan Lake, Albrecht in Giselle, Prince Desire’ in Sleeping Beauty, and the Prince in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella and the Nutcracker. Ben also performed in a wide range of works by such choreographers as Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Lucinda Childs, Nacho Duato, Anne Reinking, Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley and Anthony Tudor among others. Mr. Houk was a frequently requested partner of many leading ballerinas, and he quickly became an audience favorite as well, earning appreciative reviews in roles ranging from the Moor in Jose Limon’s Moor’s Pavane, to Johnny in Paul Taylor’s Company B, and most notably as the original Romeo to Deborah Hadley’s Juliet in Kent Stowell’s highly acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet.
During his time at Pacific Northwest Ballet Ben was mentored by Francia Russell as a lecturer for the Bravo! Ballet series in Seattle. Throughout his career Mr. Houk became thoroughly experienced in Arts in Education programs, sharing his enthusiastic love for dance with thousands of children in various cities. Additionally, Mr. Houk has spoken as a Guest Lecturer in such notable venues as Vanderbilt University, Microsoft, and The Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration. Mr. Houk also had the honor to serve as a grants panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts during the Clinton administration. Ben has been popular in the press, and has been pictured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal partnering Patricia Barker in Agon, as well as being reviewed both as a dancer and a choreographer in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, and Dance Magazine.
After retiring from the stage with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mr. Houk was invited to lead the Nashville Ballet as Artistic Director from 1996-1998, followed by accepting a position to direct the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet from 1998-2001. As Artistic Director of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, Ben’s dynamic leadership and programming helped earn the company’s first and only invitation to perform in New York City at the Joyce Theater. Mr. Houk’s new production of The Nutcracker at the beautiful Bass Hall in Fort Worth doubled sales projections – complete with ticket scalpers! Houk has shared performances with many great artists of the stage such as Maxine Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, Patricia Barker, George Chakiris, Thordal Christensen, Li Cunin of Mao’s Last Dancer, Jeff Fahey from Lost, William Forsythe, Jodie Gates, Alexander Godunov, Deborah Hadley, Gregory Hines, the Koslovs, Colleen Neary, Fayard Nicholas, Rudolf Nureyev, and Juliet Prouse. As a choreographer, Mr. Houk has enjoyed popular and critical successes for over 40 works including The Nutcracker, and Open Water. He has also choreographed for opera, musical theater, flash mobs, Hip Hop TV commercials and TV, and has been featured on PBS’ Bill Nye the Science Guy. Ben has taught extensively as a master teacher at ballet and modern dance companies, schools, and universities, and was recently on Faculty at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle teaching Boys Classes and Pas de Deux.
Together we have enjoyed many performances, not only at Pacific Northwest Ballet where we met, but also as Guest Artists, most notably at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In 2001 we moved to California and embarked on a new journey. We gathered all of our knowledge from our wonderful teachers who forged the paths before us, and we turned our vision of founding and directing our own school into a reality. Thanks to the incredible sustained support of our surrounding communities and families, San Elijo Dance & Music Academy has grown into the preeminent Dance Academy in San Diego North County.
Together a special debt of gratitude is owed to Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, Artistic Directors of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Their unsurpassed level of artistic sensibility, creativity, and inspiring guidance continues to nurture our development, both artistically and personally.
Together our greatest achievement will always be our five amazing children, Madeline, Katherine, Elizabeth, Michael and Alexandra.