The Wilmington School of Ballet has a dance history that dates back to the origins of ballet in the Cape Fear Region and it speaks volumes about the mission and purpose of our dance studio.
Dance Theater of Wilmington (Joann Burnett) and The Wilmington Civic Ballet (Community Arts Center) were the first non-profit ballet performance companies in our coastal town. These two organizations were historical trail blazers in what was then a very rural southern city.
Prior to these two organizations, Wilmington had never produced a full length ballet nor was there a ballet training facility for local dancers. The leaders of these organizations brought dance culture and opportunity that was unprecedented in eastern North Carolina. Luckily for us, Elizabeth Hester (our Founder) got to be a part of that change as a student and dancer in both organizations in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
WWAY Story about founder Elizabeth Hester:
Elizabeth began her training at age 8 in 1974. At that time, it was not only unheard of to take a dance class for just ballet but to even see a performance of locally produced ballet. Wilmington was the center of a very agriculturally based region and Ballet was a classical art that was simply next to impossible to access in all of the rural regions of our country. So, Elizabeth made the very difficult decision as a child (in 9th grade) to go away to a dance boarding school to further her training beyond what was available at that time in Wilmington, NC. After a successful dance career, she decided to attend NC State University to become a Civil Engineer. However, even during her engineering years, dance was always on her mind. She vowed that if she ever returned to Wilmington, she would help ballet develop so that other children would not have to leave home to train pre-professionally.
During her time in Raleigh, Elizabeth had the unique opportunity of being intimately involved in North Carolina Dance History. With Ann Vorus (founder of Raleigh School of Ballet, Raleigh Dance Theater, and Carolina Ballet) as her dance mentor, Elizabeth became one of the first professional dancers in Raleigh. At that time, Carolina Ballet was in the fledgling days of formation and the Raleigh Dance Theater (Carolina Ballet’s predecessor) had created a professional division and established a professional contract with the NC Symphony.
Eventually, family demands brought Elizabeth home to Wilmington in 1997. Upon her return, Elizabeth discovered The Dance Theater of Wilmington and The Wilmington Civic Ballet fought a hard battle to create a ballet culture in unchartered territory but both organizations eventually closed due to the fiscal strain inherent in arts and education. She also discovered that in the late 80's Ann Goodrum took the reigns and formed The Ballet School of Wilmington out of the remnants of the Civic Ballet. So, in addition to her engineering work with McKim and Creed Engineers, Elizabeth began teaching ballet one night per week at the Ballet School of Wilmington.
At that same time, Elizabeth became a single mother and her toddler son was struggling with gross & fine motor delay due to a premature birth and the early signs of ADHD. Engineering simply did not offer the type of flexibility that her child’s needs demanded. So, when The Ballet School of Wilmington closed it’s doors in the summer of 1999, Elizabeth was presented with an opportunity. She took a 6 month leave of absence from the engineering firm to see if she could follow her dreams of making a business out of ballet and supporting her family. From the inception of The Wilmington School of Ballet and Creative Arts Center, Elizabeth Hester’s mission was to create an arts center that would give fiscal legs to a student and professional ballet program. She wanted to create an arts education and performance center that would last past even Elizabeth herself.
Being a part of the formative years of Dance in the Eastern North Carolina Region gave Elizabeth an education in board organization, community building, dance management, and fiscal frugality, which all served as foundational skills to building The Wilmington School of Ballet and the professional Wilmington Ballet Company. However, She knew (as an engineer and business person) that ballet alone would not be able to accomplish her goals in a rural southern community. This eventually led her to found The Wilmington Preschool of Arts, Zfitness Wilmington, Creative Arts Music Together, Skittles Afterschool and Summer Camp, and Glitz & Glam Parties.
Today, Wilmington School of Ballet occupies 10,000 commercial square feet in the Wilmington Arts Center and both The Wilmington School of Ballet and The Wilmington Ballet Company have the fiscal support of a broad educational center allowing the Wilmington Ballet Company to accomplish unparalleled feats in Wilmington. With an annual full lenth production of Nutcracker, a scholarship program for full time dance study, a professional division, and partnerships with North Carolina Dance Theater (NC’s oldest professional ballet Company) and the Wilmington Symphony, Elizabeth has accomplished what seemed impossible. She founded a successful Ballet company that has helped lay the foundation for dance to grow throughout the Cape Fear Region and made it easy for young dancers today to follow their dreams.