Teacher Spotlight: Ballet Instructor Deborah Wingert

Posted January 29, 2015

Known for her graceful presence and gracious demeanor, former professional ballet dancer Deborah Wingert is no stranger to the Ailey organization. For several years, she has taught company ballet classes for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and at The Ailey School, and now she brings her expertise to the Ailey Extension. Read on to find out how performing, choreographing and teaching for decades have influenced her both in and outside of the studio.

Deborah Wingert knows what it means to be busy. She jokes that she has been going full steam since the day she started dancing. By the time she was fifteen, her hard work was realized when George Balanchine asked her to become an apprentice with New York City Ballet (NYCB). By age sixteen, she was dancing long hours as a company member. During her fifteen years with NYCB, Deborah danced over twenty-five principal, soloist and featured roles. A principal and soloist dancer with numerous nationally acclaimed companies, she has also performed for film and television and is a prize-winning choreographer.

"I like to keep busy, and I think it’s helped my daughter because I have shown her what a career is about," she says of her aspiring actress teenager. "It’s not a job for me. It’s a career, so I’m really blessed.”

Deborah teaching ballet class.

Having already lived a very full life by the age of sixteen, Deborah remarks on how the experience influenced her career as teacher. “I stayed at City Ballet my whole career, and what that allowed me to do is become a specialist. I didn’t intend to, but it allowed me to specialize in Balanchine. So now, I am beginning to study the Ailey repertory, and see what makes an Ailey ballet tick besides Revelations and all the rest.” From an early age, Deborah’s self-motivation to learn more about the influence of history on dance led her to become a teacher.

Deborah makes sure to bring her knowledge of dance history, experience, and technique into all of her classes, whether she’s teaching some of the best dancers in the world with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, pre-professional students at The Ailey School, or open class takers at the Ailey Extension.  She explained, “I’m interested in the historical nature of it all. I like knowing where it all comes from. For me, the overlapping [of dance history] allows me to prove the relevance of ballet. I don’t want to do it anymore if it’s not relevant. I keep finding here at Ailey that they ask me questions in a Company class – experienced, learned dancers say, ‘Ok, Ms. D, when you’re doing this, what about this?’ I like to explain to them how things relate.”

Left: Deborah performing with New York City Ballet. Right: Deborah teaching, photo by Philip Gardner.

Beyond her historical focus, Deborah emphasizes her teaching mantra: “There are no shoulds or coulds. If it’s ugly, it’s okay. Part of the process is ugly.” Deborah’s inspiring outlook points to her character. “One thing that I’ve heard from people since I’ve been teaching here is about how positive I am. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be. First of all, people are paying me for the class. They are coming here to exercise or energize their soul, whether it is the beginning of their day or a break in the middle, a way to start the morning, an escape to have their child with the babysitter for a bit.” Perhaps Deborah’s positivity comes from her inspiration to teach and give back. “I think giving back is really important. Someone once said to me, ‘You give so much. Don’t you worry that people are just taking?’ I said, ‘No, that’s the great thing about teaching – you’re constantly giving, and your reason to dance changes a little. It’s not so much a job or striving to get to the next thing.’”

When Deborah is not teaching, choreographing, or performing herself, she makes time to experience the arts with her sculptor husband and daughter in New York City, as well as on their travels abroad. “We love to travel. We have a trip to Europe planned. She’ll be sixteen, and I’ll be fifty. We’re going to go to Spain, Greece, and parts of Italy…especially Venice, since I’ve never been. I thought that’d be kind of magical. Then, we can meet up with my husband in Belgium to see his gallery. That’ll be nice to see. Every day is fun for me. I don’t feel like there isn’t a day that I don’t learn something.”

Deborah outside the Ailey Studios. Photo by Christina Daniels.

Inspired to take a class? Take Advanced Beginner Ballet with Deborah Wingert on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10-11:30am. Learn more about all the dance and fitness techniques offered at The Ailey Extension.

TICKET TO DANCE: Trade in your Ailey ticket stub for one FREE class at the Extension for first-time students, or one FREE class with the purchase of a 10-Class Card for returning students.


Interview conducted by Christina Daniels. Blog article by Chandra Jackson.

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