Elizabeth Hester Wilmington school of ballet

Elizabeth Hester


Elizabeth Hester  was a founding professional and soloist in the formative years of the Carolina Ballet. Anne Vorus grew a youth company (Raleigh Dance Theater) into a thriving professional company (Carolina Ballet).  Anne was Elizabeth's mentor and guide in both ballet and company development. Elizabeth danced leading roles in Giselle, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pas De Quatre, and Les Sylphide under Anne's direction. Elizabeth attended NC School of the Arts, Walnut Hill School of the Arts, Richmond Ballet, and Atlanta Ballet (on full scholarship).  Elizabeth trained and lived at East Carolina University as a high school student in order to perform as a soloist for the premier opening of Mcginnis Auditorium. Elizabeth founded Wilmington Ballet Company and Wilmington School of Ballet in 1999. Her visionary approach to collaboration attracted dancers, choreographers, and directors of many companies to participate in her works. Project collaborators include prestigious companies such as Joffrey Dance Ensemble, North Carolina Dance Theater, Raleigh Dance Theater and Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble. Dancers and choreographers from many companies have been drawn to her work. Such companies include Joffrey Chicago, Washington Ballet, Nashville Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Columbia City Ballet, Columbia Classical Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, New York City Ballet, and Richmond Ballet. Elizabeth has a remarkable history of bringing diverse audiences and performers together. Diversity in choreography, staging, and casting are key to her success. Integrating diverse populations into performing is a foundational principle for Elizabeth. Performer populations have included rural, inner city, special needs, diverse ethnic groups, seniors, circus artists, live musicians, and preschoolers. Integrating special effects and circus arts with cutting edge choreography has built a following that has sold out theaters for over two decades. In 2017, Elizabeth founded US International Ballet based on the belief that dancers should be healthy and that there was not one body type for ballet. Dancers flocked from around the world. The first year USIB opened with 27 dancers from 5 countries. Elizabeth began mentoring Aunika Browne in 2020 to be her predecessor. In her first year, Aunika faced a global pandemic. Despite this hardship, USIB performed a full length Giselle and Nutcracker (all live streamed from theaters) despite the COVID crisis. Elizabeth will continue to mentor Aunika Browne to be her predecessor so that USIB can flourish long into the future.

Elizabeth is also a Civil Engineer (NC State Alumni) , the founder of Wilmington Preschool of Arts, and a serial entrepreneur (owning multiple The UPS stores).

Read more about Hester in our Studio History.

Stella Johnson Wilmington School of Ballet

Stella Johnson


Stella, studied with Nicholai Morosov and Ludmila Morkovina, both graduates and professors of the Vagnova Institute and Maly Theater (Mikhaylovsky) in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Madame Morkovina also taught at Kirov Academy of Ballet and currently still teaches at the City Dance Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD. Mrs. Johnson also danced under the direction of Francoise Adret, Paris opera, French ballet dancer, teacher, choreographer, and company director of the National Ballet of Panama. She studied under Estrella Kadiaj, who had danced with Bejart. She studied with Henry Danton from the Royal Ballet as a guest Margot Fonteyn from Panama. Stella performed professionally with the National Ballet of Panama and Ballet Concierto. She performed in the following ballets:Swan Lake, La Bayadere, Les Sylphides, Paquita, Dying Swan, and many more.In addition to Mrs. Johnson's extensive ballet background, she acquired a B.S in Ecomomics and a Masters in Human Resources, which opened an opportunity for her to work for HR Information Systems with the Navy and Office of Personal Management for 30 years. Married with three children, Mrs. Johnson now resides in Wilmington and teaches at the Wilmington School of Ballet and Dance.

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Katherine Hotinger


Katherine started dancing at a local studio in her hometown of Lexington, VA and later went on to study dance at Mercyhurst University. She spent her summers training at the Richmond Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. For the 2018-2019 year Katherine danced professionally as a soloist with Connect the Dots Dance Company in Washington DC. She has performed lead roles including Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, White Cat in Sleeping Beauty, and Russian Princess in Swan Lake. Additionally, she has taught dance at Connect the Dots School of Ballet, Ballet Petite, and the YMCA.


Aunika Browne

Executive Director

Aunika fell in love with dance at age three after participating in a summer ballet camp. Her mom quickly enrolled Aunika in regular tap and ballet classes at the Tapestry Performing Arts Center in Boone, North Carolina. After moving to Sneads Ferry, NC at age ten, Aunika began dancing at Dance Theatre of Jacksonville, where Aunika expanded her training to include jazz, lyrical, tap, musical theater, hip hop, and contemporary. During this time Aunika began assisting other instructors and after teaching classes of her own fell in love with dance again, but this time as a teacher. Aunika was also one of the original dancers in the Dance Theatre of Jacksonville Ballet Company and danced soloist roles in the first two annual productions of The Nutcracker. After high school, Aunika went on to study Dance Performance and Choreography at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. After returning home to North Carolina, Aunika began teaching dance full time and traveling to competitions again, but this time as an instructor.

Aunika opened Studio A of Wilmington in 2017. With the vision of a studio that accepted kids of all backgrounds and levels, Studio A began to thrive in a family friendly atmosphere. After working with US International Ballet and Wilmington School of Ballet in USIB's production of The Great Wilmington Nutcracker, Aunika quickly fell in love with their mission of acceptance, as well.


Aunika is excited to bring her passion for dance and business experience together as she continues to share her love of dance within the next generation of students!

Debra Berger Dance Instructor in wilmington nc

Debra Berger


Born and raised in New York City, Debra began her dance training at The School of American Ballet.  As a young dancer she performed with The New York City Ballet Company in The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Harlequinade.  Her musical theater credits include A Chorus Line, Carmelina, and West Side Story, to name a few.
Throughout her career Debra has taught Master Classes nationally and in Brazil. Having recently moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, Debra is looking forward to contributing in the dance community.
As a Teaching Artist with Dancing Classrooms, she is very excited to pilot the program here in Wilmington and surrounding counties.  She also teaches and choreographs for Take the Lead Academy, a youth ballroom performance group.


Alycia Fell

Office Manager

Alycia is the the office manager of WSB.  She has been a part of the Studio A family since it opened in September 2017. Over the past three years, she has become more involved in working closely with Aunika Browne, the owner, and now works as the office manager. She is the mother of two girls: Alexis who cheered with All Star Cheer at Studio A and Brianna who competes on the company Dance team there. As a young child she took dance in a small town in New York where she grew up. Alycia has worked in some form of management for the past 20 years and looks forward to supporting and helping the parents and dancers here at WSB.   


Rachel Taylor


Rachel Taylor has trained in classical ballet for over 10 years, she began her classical training under Brantly Shapiro in Winston Salem. Rachel has performed with Ohio dance theatre in Oberlin, Ohio and with Gary Taylor's Winston Salem Festival Ballet. In 2016 Rachel graduated  Magna Cum Laude from The University of North Carolina in Charlotte with a BA in Dance performance. She is thrilled to be a part of the Ballet Company this season.

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Rachel Sanford


Rachel Sanford is originally from Dallas, TX. She began her training at age 4 at the Ozsoy School of Ballet in Duncanville, TX, under Ballet Master Ceyhun Ozsoy. Rachel attended many summer intensives including the American Ballet Theatre Collegiate Program, the International Ballet Competition Intensive, the Joffrey Ballet, and Houston METdance Professional Intensive In 2016, Rachel graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance and a Business Foundations Certificate from the McCombs School of Business. She has performed in professional pieces by artists including Sidra Bell, Merce Cunningham, Andrea Beckham, Mark Morris, Shen Jun, and Joe Celej. She has choreographed multiple contemporary ballet works for the Dance program at UT Austin and for the McCallum Fine Arts Academy in Austin, TX.