Leslie Nolte

Founder and Head of School

Number of Years in Industry

20 years


Leslie Nolte is a celebrated and seasoned visionary in the realm of performance arts and arts education. Through many avenues, she has enriched the arts community in which she lives. Most notably, Leslie is the founder of The James Theater, a dynamic and accessible performance and event space; a producer and artistic director of many varied productions and ventures from The Nutcracker to Newsies; an award-winning choreographer with numerous professional accolades; an investor in several theatrical productions including the Tony-Winning Broadway musical The Cher Show; an accomplished business leader; and a teacher by trade and by heart.

Under her direction as founder and artistic director, Nolte Academy has grown from a one-woman dance studio to a premiere arts program with 25 specialized instructors and more than 1,000 students. Now in its 23rd year, Nolte Academy’s breadth of instruction spans from dance (ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, tap, acro) to Pilates to visual and theatre arts classes. Nolte Academy students are taught precise technique and have opportunities to share space with professional choreographers, master teachers and numerous guest artists.

With a focus on high-quality productions, students also have opportunities to grow and learn on stage. While studying with Leslie and faculty, students have participated in varied professional opportunities, such as New York Fashion Week and Austin Dance Festival. Numerous Nolte Academy alumni have gone on to immerse themselves in professional programs, including The Juilliard School, Martha Graham Dance Company, the School of American Ballet, Radio City Rockettes, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Joffrey Ballet, Ballet West, Houston Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Florida State University and Point Park University.

Leslie has founded many performance opportunities including: Open Doors Dance Festival, a summer dance intensive which brings world-class performing artists and instructors to engage and perform with her students; Youth Rising, a spoken word/dance co-production; DanceWorks, a production of classical ballet repertoire and original works; Performing Arts Preschool, an innovative on-site arts-immersive preschool educated scores of children during its nearly 10 year duration.

Beyond her studio work, Leslie brings workshop dance instruction to area schools as part of Kennedy Center’s Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program, helping to guarantee access and equity to the arts for all students. Leslie has also been a guest lecturer at The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and was the 2019 recipient of the Larry Eckholt Award recognizing her commitment to Iowa’s Corridor arts and culture community.

Iowa Conservatory is perfect for the student who wants to spend their day doing more of what they love instead of going to traditional high school with traditional passing periods, open hours, and study halls and then going to their craft or their art that they love and are so passionate about in the evenings after a whole day of high school. Students want different. There has to be something different for those student looking for an education they get to shape. ICON is a non-traditional approach putting the arts first, where their dreams can be realized.


The Iowa City arts community provided the support and discipline to prepare me for a career as a professional stage director. Part of why I chose The University of Iowa Theatre Department to study was the vibrancy and diversity of the Iowa City community. I was afforded so many opportunities to grow as an artist, the community was instrumental in shaping the artist that I became.

Over the last ten years I have had the privilege to return and collaborate with Leslie on various theatre productions. She remains one of the most creative, focused, and positive collaborators that I have worked with. Leslie Nolte exemplifies what is best about Iowa City, she is an inspiring arts leader who has cultivated an inclusive array of performers, artists, and educators to train the next generation of artists.

Leslie understands how to train artists for a successful care by personalizing their education to refine their natural abilities and gifts. Leslie empowers her students to embrace what makes them unique, she then trains them to maximize their skills, and cultivate the work ethic to succeed. Coupled with rigorous training in a compassionate and inclusive community, the ICON School for the Arts will empower their students to be successful in the arts and entertainment industry. Part of why I have such enormous respect for Leslie is that she is a dreamer with the skills and enthusiasm to realize her dreams. She instills this determination and passion in her students, which prepares them for the rigors of a very competitive industry.

-Chad Larabee | Director & Creative Producer


Leslie Nolte is the bedrock of the Iowa City arts community. Having worked with Leslie’s students, collaborated with her on creative projects, and having visited the footprint and renovation of the building — ICON will, without question, be a hub for arts education and expanding the next generation of creatives who will influence the field for years to come.

-Brandon Cournay | Executive Artistic Director, Mark Morris Company Member


Iowa City is an oasis in the Midwest. Small town friendliness coupled with an amazing arts and culture scene. Leslie and the entire Nolte team have been instrumental in creating a vibrant and thriving community here in Iowa City and ICON promises to take it all to a whole new level!

-Nate Kaeding | Entrepreneur & Retired NFL Player


Having grown up in Manhattan, dancing for Mr. Balanchine in the NYCB, I am not easily impressed by art scenes in other places. But, Iowa City and all Leslie Nolte has done for the dance and theatre scene in Iowa City has really impressed me.

I love my summers participating in the Open Doors festival. Leslie brings exciting and renowned artists to work with the young aspiring students.

The addition of Leslie and Mark Nolte’s James Theater is a great plus for the city. What an opportunity for smaller scale performances. I can speak from personal experience, my story ballet couldn’t have been performed anywhere else. At the James, the dancers performed to sold out crowds.

I am excited about all that is to come with ICON and I look forward to being a part of it. Such a great opportunity for students from near and far to come and study in this vibrant atmosphere. Bravo Leslie, Nolte, and Iowa City!

-Marjorie Thompson | Pacific Northwest Ballet


My experience working with Leslie Nolte has left me with high admiration for not only her skills as a director and teacher, but as a visionary. The scope of her ambition for young people is broad, yet practical and truly inspired. Leslie knows that the value of art in young lives is priceless. Her mission to enrich those lives through education, nurturing, guidance and motivation has already been successful, as evidenced in the scores of youth who have passed through her school with more confidence, self-worth, empathy for others, physical and mental achievement, and a true love and appreciation for what art is.

The community of Iowa City is immensely lucky to have someone like Leslie with such dedication, wisdom, and integrity.

-Gavin Larsen | Dance Teacher & Writer


My first memories include my time with Leslie, at Nolte Academy, where I began dancing at age two. Leslie’s lifelong mentorship has helped shape my career and my life, and to see the growth of her enterprises makes me so excited as I know she will continue to change lives for many more dancers time and time again.

-Matilda Mackey | Nolte Academy Alum, Juilliard Dance ’20

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