Willamette Ballet Academy

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Willamette Ballet Academy's facilities in downtown Woodburn, Oregon

Willamette Ballet Academy is the only ballet school in the small town of Woodburn, Oregon. It was founded in 1982 by Rick and Deborah van Winkle (now known as Deborah Higginbotham). Classes are structured in accordance to the Vaganova and Cecchetti ballet techniques. The academy provides a serious program for pre-professionals and also serves the recreational student. It has through its outreach program, reached thousands of people with lecture demonstrations in the schools, free performances, and scholarships for students in need.

Students from Willamette Ballet Academy have been accepted at all the major ballet schools, many with full scholarships: Schools of New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Royal Ballet, Martha Graham, Pacific Ballet Theatre, Eugene Ballet, Houston Ballet, Ballet Magnificat, Oregon Ballet Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Universal Ballet, Goh Academy, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and American Ballet Theatre (NY). Its dancers have gone on to professional careers in dance, musical comedy, and theater.

In 2004, Willamette Ballet Academy student Adrianne Newton was chosen Oregon's Best Dancer by American Dance Awards. Willamette Ballet was once listed in the 100 Things to Do and See in Woodburn, and was featured article in the 'Living' section of the "Oregonian" newspaper.


Willamette Ballet performance of The Nutcracker.

Deborah Higginbotham received her ballet training from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet in New York City, and the International Ballet Studio in Los Angeles, California. During her dance career, Higginbotham performed as a soloist and/or principal dancer for San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, Mercury Ballet, a Touring Unit of "Tribute to Pavlova", and as guest artist for national regional ballet companies. Higginbotham was a featured extra in the movie The Turning Point starring Anne Bancroft. Higginbotham appeared in regional television commercials, PBS ballet specials, and worked for Sid and Marty Krofft, Productions in Hollywood. She was the assistant choreographer for television sitcom Sugar Time! Aside from her work at Willamette Ballet Academy, Higginbotham's teaching experience includes six years of work at Roland DuPree Dance Academy, one of Hollywood's most famous schools for the movie and theatre industry, as well as director of National Ballet Academy (Pasadena, California) and American Ballet Academy (Salem, Oregon). Higginbotham was invited to teach at San Francisco Ballet School by former director Willam Christensen and at the California State University, Long Beach. Higginbotham has choreographed for musicals and community theatre productions in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon, and has worked with Olympic ice skater contenders out of Costa Mesa and Burbank, California.

Rick Van Winkle (far left) rehearses Academy students before performance.

Rick van Winkle (July 28, 1947 - September 29, 2002) received his dance training in Dayton, Ohio under Josephine Schwarz, and later danced with Dayton Ballet. Rick studied on full scholarships at North Carolina School of the Arts, School of American Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre School. He was a member of SAG and AGMA performer unions. He danced with Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Hannover Ballet, Washington Ballet under ChooSan Goh. He was the director of Mercury Ballet, in Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, he taught a wide range of students, including Toni Basil (best known for her early 1980s hit pop song Mickey). He worked with olympic ice skater contenders, Lisa Marie Allen (silver medalist) and Chris Bowman, and worked with Barbara Rowles students in Costa Mesa, California, who were national contenders. In 1982, together with then-wife Higginbotham, Van Winkle founded Willamette Ballet Academy. In 1993, van Winkle choreographed Variations for Four Plus Two for The Jefferson Dancers, which was performed by company students (both of whom were trained primarily at Willamette Ballet Academy) on the PBS program A Musical Encounter: The Dance Program. He also directed American Ballet Academy in Salem, Oregon. Rick Van Winkle died in 2004.

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Coordinates: 45°08′36″N 122°51′29″W / 45.14322°N 122.857967°W / 45.14322; -122.857967