International Ballet


Dedicated, collaborative team cultivating an environment aimed to preserve and promote classical ballet and the arts.

Lena Forster

Founder, President

Lena Forster trained at the prestigious School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, under George Balanchine. She was one of a specially selected group to attend the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music in their first class of dance majors, also later performing with the Cincinnati Ballet. She taught in numerous schools in New York and has been executive director and ballet instructor with the Greenville Ballet and Ballet Spartanburg, acting as Host Coordinator with Greenville Ballet for the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association (SERBA), held in Greenville in 1990.

Lena and her husband, Jurgen, founded the International Ballet Academy and International Ballet in 2003.  She has been awarded the Barbara Stone Foundation award for her work as director and instructor in the International Ballet Special Needs program, which provides a weekly adapted dance class for Special Needs adults in partnership with the Greenville County Disabilities and Special Needs Board (now Thrive Upstate). 

Sarah Shoemaker

Executive Director

Sarah Shoemaker brings 25 year of experience in dance, education, business, and film acting and production to her role at International Ballet. In 2015 Ms. Shoemaker began production on a film about the special needs dance class at International Ballet. Titled Invitation to the Dance, the film is set for completion in 2018. As a dancer, teacher and choreographer Ms. Shoemaker has worked in numerous professional companies, private studios and private schools in South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Since arriving in the upstate in 2014, she has been the choreographer for TD Bank’s Annual Wow! Awards tour.

She enjoys public speaking and acting, and has been seen in commercials, independent films, television, and web series’. She and her husband have two children, one of whom is a student at International Ballet Academy.  Ms. Shoemaker holds a B.S. in Business Administration from The College of Charleston.

Liz Acker

Academy & Company Manager

Liz grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina Upstate. She has a background in business administration and also serves as the office administrator for International Ballet. Liz and her husband, Doug, who is the International Ballet Production Manager, have twin daughters, Lydia and Logan, who are students in the Honors College at the University of South Carolina majoring in Dance Performance.

Liz has extensive knowledge and experience in the ballet “parent” perspective of everything from pointe shoe purchasing to summer program auditions and is the organized face of the International Ballet Academy studios.

Emily Paluszak

Career & College Guidance Program Director, Social Media Coordinator

Emily has over 25 years of teaching experience and has worked in a variety of school settings. She received a Master of Education degree from Converse College and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/ Accounting from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She is the owner of Seat of Wisdom Educational Services, which, since 2005, has contracted with an international, accredited, classical independent study school with over 5,000 students in grades K-12 in 50 states and six continents, serving as a guidance counselor, middle and high school teacher, and trainer/ supervisor of faculty. Many of her former school clients are currently dancing in professional companies, attending university college dance programs, and teaching dance in schools around the country, and one placed in the Top 12 at the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in NYC in 2018.

Emily has 21 years of experience homeschooling her six children, three of whom now have careers in the arts and one who is a vocal performance major at Furman University.  Her son, Gabriel, is International Ballet’s Professional Artist-in-Residence and ballet and contemporary instructor with IBA; and her daughter, Emma, is a dancer with IB’s Senior Company. Emily founded the IBA Career & College Guidance Program in 2014, and she runs IB’s social media accounts.

Gabrielle Prairie

Marketing & Administration Assistant

Gabrielle grew up in the Chicago area and attended Paula Aubrey School of Dance, dancing with the company and also serving as an assistant teacher. She received a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from Bob Jones University, where she had multiple opportunities to choreograph. She also performed in Shakespearean roles, such as Lady Percy from Henry IV, Part I, and Cordelia from King Lear, as well as Ismene in Antigone.

Doug Acker

Facilities & Production Manager

Doug has been a familiar, friendly face for many years at IB. He is everyone’s “studio dad,” and always has a kind word to the students. He can frequently be seen fixing the broken, encouraging the weary, and organizing the chaotic. Splitting his time between IB and the Peace Center, he is the man behind the scenes who makes the magic happen. He had a vision for the Somerville Center, IB’s new home for pre-professional training, years before it became a reality, and he served as Project Manager when the time came to build it. A South Carolina native, Doug is married to Liz Acker, Academy & Company Manager, and is the actual ballet dad of Lydia & Logan Acker, alumnae of IB.

Michelle Brown

Executive Assistant & Costume Coordinator

 Michelle is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania and located to Greenville with her family in 2015. She received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Allegheny College and a Master of Business Administration from Penn State University. For the last ten years, she has worked in higher education helping college students focus on the transition from high school to college and then to career, first at Penn State Behrend in Educational Equity as  Disability Services Coordinator and then at Greenville Technical College as Adjunct Faculty in the School of Academic Advancement. She has served on the board of Glenridge Montessori, served as coordinator of the community garden at Belle Valley Elementary School, and has volunteered as a youth soccer coach. Her hobbies include watching her two girls, Gabrielle and Sophia, both IB company members, perform, gardening, and playing with dogs. She is married to Steve Brown.

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