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The Cullman Ballet Theatre School was established by Elaine Brown Willingham in 1973. Due to continued growth, the school is now in its third location.


Ballet Theatre School teaches three methods of ballet: Russian, Vaganova, and American Ballet (as taught by George Balanchine). Ballet Theatre School specializes in instruction in ballet, but also includes jazz for enhancement of the ballet student.


Ballet Theatre School highly stresses summer studies for serious students, Master classes with guest teachers of title are planned throughout the year for Intermediate to Advanced students.

Students who have studied with Elaine several years have acquired skills that allow them to take classes and perform with renowned places. Some of them include The Rock School in Pennsylvania; AL. High School of Fine Arts; School of the AL. Ballet Company; and Satellite School of the "Kirov" in D.C.; American Ballet Theatre Summer intensive; University of South Carolina Conservatory and Harid Conservatory in Florida.


All are invited to visit Ballet Theatre School and observe classes at anytime. There is an excitement in observing these talented young dancers in class. The excitement only grows in attending stage performances. The more one watches, the more the observer learns and appreciates the Art of Ballet. There is then an understanding of that for which the dancers strive.


Ballet Theatre School also offers more performance opportunities for the serious student by yearly auditions to the "Cullman Ballet Company."

Founder & Director


Elaine Willingham

Elaine is the owner and Artistic director of the Cullman Ballet Theatre School, 

and the Cullman Ballet Company and founder of the Cullman Ballet Society.

Elaine teaches class levels 5-7 Ballet technique, pointe and Variations.

Elaine Brown Willingham, a native of Cullman, has studied classical ballet from some of the best teachers in the United States and abroad. Starting her training at the age of 11 with Anita Burbage of Cullman, Elaine's love of dance took her to the Birmingham Civic Ballet School. She then auditioned and was accepted into the Alabama Ballet Company at age 14 to begin strenuous training with such famous teachers and dancers as Richard England, Gage Bush, John Kritza, Patricia Wilde of American Ballet Theatre (from New York), and Yuri and Vicki Chatal.


Elaine performed lead roles in full length ballets including Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, & Coppelia while touring the southeast with the Alabama Ballet Company. Also, during her association with the Alabama Ballet Company, she studied with the Alabama School of Fine Arts.


While performing in the Southeastern Regional Ballet Festival, Elaine was one of five girls from Alabama to be given summer scholarships to George Balanchine's "School of American Ballet" in New York City. Elaine was then offered and accepted a full scholarship for the next three years.


Elaine performed in New York at Lincoln Center and with Memphis Ballet Company, The International Academy of Dance in Portugal, and Ballet West in Colorado. Elaine has taught at Athens College, Huntsville Ballet School, Snead Junior College, Auburn University, in Paris, France, and Cullman Ballet Theatre School since 1973. In 2016 at the age of 61 Elaine was asked to be in her first pageant and won the title of Ms. Senior Cullman County the at age 62 won the title of Ms Senior Alabama which took her to the national pageant and Elaine won second place in the Ms. Senior America Pageant held in Atlantic City. Elaine performed a contemporary ballet on pointe that she choreographed.

Elaine is married to Attorney Dan J. Willingham and has three children: Jason, Anna, and Daniel and four beautiful grandchildren: Clara, Liam, Esther, and Violet.

Our Director

Our Faculty


Anna Willingham Lanier


owner of "Dance With Us", Cullman's only dancewear specialty shop.
Anna teaches pre-ballet class levels

A, B, C and community ballet classes, which is the multi-level Ballet technique for  dancers age pre-teen and above. She is also the director of the newly formed Cullman Junior Dance Company.

Anna studied ballet from her mother, Elaine Willingham, from age 5 until graduation from high school. Anna took summer workshop classes from Mira Popovich at age 13.
While at the University of Montevallo, Anna taught ballet for Pamela Merkle Sayle at The Alabama Academy of Dance and also continued her training with Mira Popovich.
Anna graduated from the University of Montevallo with a bachelor's  degree in Retail Merchandising and a minor in Business. Anna is also the manager for S & D Properties real estate & owner of Heritage Learning Center & Daycare and a Rodan & Fields Consultant since 2015. Anna is married to David Lanier and homeschools their children Clara, Liam, Esther, and Violet.

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Ciara Parker


Ciara is from Cullman, Alabama and

is 24 years old.

She started dancing at three years old.

Ciara has traveled around the country competing, choreographing and participating

in conventions ever since.

She began teaching tap, ballet, hip hop and contemporary soon after high school.

Ciara was an instructor at The Factory Dance Productions for 7 years and this fall is her 4th season with Showstoppers Dance Company.

She is so excited to join the CBT School faculty!

Ciara will be teaching Hip Hop A & B

and Tap A, B & C. 

Jesse Jovanovic


Jesse is a native of Cullman, Al. She received her dance training at Cullman Ballet Theatre School and was a former member of the Cullman Ballet Company through high school. She later continued her studies at Birmingham Southern College where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree and the Mira Popovic award for Excellence in Dance. After college she performed with the Atlanta Dance Connection under artistic director, Allyne Gartrell, and performed works by choreographers such as Tracy Vogt and Ray Mercer. Jesse later worked for Royal Caribbean Productions as a performer and traveled much of the world dancing on the Royal Caribbean ships. She has taught & performed multiple dance genres, such as ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, modern, and ballroom. She met her husband, Marko, on her travels and they have settled back in Cullman and have a daughter, Mila and son, Luka. Jesse will continue to assist the CBT School director in ballet level 7 technique classes and be a jazz and ballet substitute teacher when needed.

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Cynthia Oden Hill


Cynthia has been dancing with Cullman Ballet Theatre since 2014 and was a member of the Cullman Ballet Company for 4 years. Cynthia has also been a recipient of summer scholarships from the Cullman Ballet Society.

Cynthia teaches ballet Level 2, 3 & 4. She also assists CBTS School director with the Nutcracker rehearsals.


Clara Lanier Barksdale


Clara is a 2012-2017 Cullman Ballet Company Alumni. She owns and operates Emerald Oasis an event venue in the historic Stieflemeyer Building in downtown Cullman, Ala.  Clara has been dancing since the age of four and began teaching jazz at sixteen. Clara is the oldest daughter of Anna Lanier and also granddaughter of Elaine Willingham.

Clara will teach Ballet Level 1, Jazz C & D and be assistant to the director of the Cullman Junior Dance Company. She also assists the CBT School director with Nutcracker rehearsals.

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Andrea Austin


Andrea started dancing at the age of 9 with CBT School and has been a member of the Cullman Ballet Company for 5 years. She recently received a scholarship

from the Cullman Ballet Society to attend the USA IBC International Dance School. She has also enjoyed participating in the Youth American Grand Prix ballet competitions.

Andrea has trained in tap, jazz, ballroom fusion and hip hop but ballet is her favorite. Andrea is excited to be teaching ballet Level 2 especially because she was first placed in ballet Level 2 when she first enrolled in classes at CBT School. 

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Esther Lanier


Esther is a first year teacher at CBT School and the proud granddaughter of director Elaine Willingham and second daughter of Anna Lanier.

Ballet has been an integral part of Esther`s life since she was 4 years old.

She joined the Cullman Ballet Company in 2016 and now Esther eagerly wants to share her passion with a new generation of aspiring dancers.

Besides ballet Esther has trained in tap, jazz, hip hop and ballroom fusion.

Her deep appreciation for the art makes Esther an inspired and dedicated teacher, nurturing the dreams of young dancers at the very institute that shaped her own journey.

 Esther will be teaching Jazz A & B.

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