Ilona Kessell - Retired Faculty & Staff - McDonogh School

Ilona Kessell

When Ilona Kessell arrived at McDonogh in 1989, she had one singular mission in mind: make dance a significant part of the student experience. Thirty-two years later, she has not only fulfilled that mission, but she has also used dance as a vehicle to unite our community in many ways. Students, faculty, staff, and parents alike relish opportunities to come together to enjoy an Ilona Kessell dance event such as McDonogh Dances or the All School Holiday Assembly, where Middle School dancers clamor to wear the red tie-dye dance pants she lovingly purchased almost 30 years ago.

No matter the occasion, those who have had the pleasure to be part of Ms. Kessell’s circle of excellence can certainly attest to the dance magic that happens in her presence. She can turn chaos into creativity. Over the years, Ms. Kessel has trained hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers as professional dancers. She has also found a way to make dance one of the most accessible and bucket-list-worthy arts disciplines on campus. Ms. Kessell has relished the opportunity to teach all students.

Her reach extends beyond the dance studio, and she has often served as choreographer for our theatrical productions including West Side Story, Into the Woods, Guys and Dolls, Pippin, and The Drowsy Chaperone. Ms. Kessel has also been a choreographer for productions at The Kennedy Center, Toby’s Dinner Theater, and Imagination Stage, where she has been nominated twice for the Helen Hayes Award. Her connections in the Greater Baltimore dance and theatre community are no small feat. The talent, professionalism, and cutting humor Ms. Kessel brings to any rehearsal always leaves a lasting impression.

It will be hard to imagine our dance studios without Ilona Kessel in them, but the imprint she has made will be forever remembered. Ilona, thank you for sharing your artistry with our school. Brava!