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All of our students are stars in their own right but some spend every bit of their free time with us. They've taken hundreds of classes, several workshops, and have even danced on stage at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. But which of these thousands of students stand out above the rest? 

As 2016 comes to an end, the final numbers are in... join us as we celebrate the top students!

#1. SHARON MACK, 32 Years Old 

Lawyer Sharon Mack has been taking Extension classes since 2009. She started dancing here with Afro-Cuban dance legend Pupy Insua. “He first introduced to me to African-based dance, and I became attached to the spirit of it. When Pupy passed away, I was searching for something to fill that absence.”

Sharon continued taking classes here and her interest in West African dance grew quickly. Now she’s been training in this genre for over five years. “Dancing is a wonderful way to end a stressful day. It allows me to reset my mind, enjoy time with friends, and take care of my health,” she explained. “It has become a lifestyle that I’m very happy in. It’s also a community.”   

Sharon takes Maguette Camara’s class most often and feels there's always more to learn. “Just when I start thinking I know what I’m doing, there’s something new to figure out.  He has an amazing ability to give a good class to everyone in the room, no matter how diverse the ability levels are.” 

Though Sharon is devoted to Maguette, she makes time to learn from other Extension instructors as well. “I’ve also greatly enjoyed Vado Diomande and Yah' Ya Kamate’s classes. They are incredible, dynamic dancers who are very kind teachers and great at breaking down complex steps. Their classes are extremely fun and have great energy.” 

Among her best memories at the Extension are the times when she has performed in the World Dance Performance Showcase. Check her out on stage in the photo above.

#2. VASA NESTOROVIC, 32 Years Old

While recovering from a neck injury, someone at the physical therapist’s office mistook Vasa for a dancer. That incident sparked a light in the former model and he found himself at the Ailey Studios taking class.

“I took Intro to Ballet with Dawn Hillen, and I instantly fell in love with this (for me) completely new and magical dance technique. Shortly after that, I was introduced to my male ballet teachers Finis Jhung and Peter Brandenhoff, and it is thanks to the inspiration and wisdom I get from these outstanding teachers that I continue to take classes at Ailey Extension.”

Vasa took ballroom dancing as a child but hadn’t taken any classes consistently until ballet at the Extension. “With ballet teacher Finis Jhung’s absolute beginner class, I basically learned everything I had to know about the dynamic of movement,” he explained. “Every class I take with Finis, I know I'll be in the company of the most gracious and beautiful dances,” Vasa said referencing his classmates Mayumi and Ari. “I look up to these dancers - they give me strength and courage to continue my education.” 

And Vasa plans on taking Extension classes non-stop. “Someone smart said that if you do a routine, let’s say like a particular dance move, and you repeat that movement with your undivided focus and devotion for at least 1,000 times - you will master that movement. I believe in this idea and am proving it correct." 

#3. ELAINE GEORGES, in her 30s at heart

Elaine Georges, an administrative director in the performing arts world, has been dancing at Ailey Extension for more than 10 years. 

“Dance is the way I communicate the best. My body naturally responds to tonality and rhythms, and I was fortunate so many talented teachers are found at Ailey Extension,” she said. “I also am thrilled every day I walk through the Ailey doors and know that I am surrounded by people who share the same passion as I do.”

“Though I always loved dance and studied as a young child, being 250 pounds when I was a teenager halted any dreams of pursuing a career in dance. (Maybe talent too?),” Elaine contemplated. She studied music at university but her passion for dance never left her heart. “I saw a small segment on TV featuring the National Ballet of Senegal and it inspired me to continue my dance journey. I am forever grateful that the universe sent me that sign. It was also the way in which I finally started to lose weight.”

Elaine swears that she doesn’t have a favorite instructor at the Extension and prefers to take a range of techniques to keep her dance schedule interesting. “Currently, I take Ailey Barre with Sarita Allen; Zumba Fitness and Horton with Karen Arceneaux; and Intermediate Samba/Afro-Brazilian dance with Quenia Ribeiro. I am also thankful to have been taught by both Maguette Camara and Babacar M'Baye.”

In summer of 2016, Elaine took her Ailey Extension dance career to the next level. “I got to work with legends of dance: Matthew Rushing; Renee Robinson; company members from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II; and some of the most talented students from The Ailey School. I'm still amazed I got to breathe the same air as these special people and it will always inspire me to continue in our special world of dance.”

#4. SUSAN FOX, 67 Years Old

Dr. Susan Fox first discovered Ailey in the early 1970s while attending a performance on a date. “I got rid of him, but Ailey touched my soul, brain, and feet, and I have been there with all of you ever since.” 

Susan began taking classes at Ailey's former building, when Mr. Ailey was still alive – before Ailey Extension was created in 2005.

She was in medical school at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and while she’d studied ballet as a child, decided to try some new dance techniques with one of her medical school friends. “I knew I could only go to Alvin Ailey and we ended up in Nat Horne’s jazz class in 1977. Mr. Ailey would often walk through our second floor studio with Judith Jamison, and scan the room with encouraging (sometimes discouraging) looks! I was even there that hot steaming night in July 1977, when NYC had the blackout.”  

Susan completed school, got married and raised children, all while opening her own practice. Unfortunately, she lost her husband along the way. “I faced a brand new empty apartment with a full-service gym. There was no way I could face a treadmill, and I remembered Ailey.” 

She turned to the Extension, at the new Ailey building, with her 22-year-old ballerina daughter Kelly. She took Zumba Fitness and was hooked. “I loved it SO much, that I went back - I bought a 10-class card. A mistake during registration accidentally landed her in Quenia Ribeiro’s Beginner Samba/Afro-Brazilian class which I loved even more. “I would have never faced going across the floor without such a fateful coincidence, and wonderful welcoming Quenia.” 

Susan has had a knee replacement which hasn’t slowed her down a bit. “Beyond being transported to my dream of being a dancer, the friends I have met at Ailey Extension have given me a sense of community I cannot imagine living without.  No matter my day, my mood, the occasional gloom of NYC survival, the minute I walk through the revolving glass door and hear the music, see the faces inside the lobby, I am transformed, and for at least 90 minutes, I AM A DANCER!” 

Interviews conducted and article written by PennyMaria Jackson.


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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