If you’re a dance lover or enjoy seeing a live performance here and there, you’ve most likely heard of the Royal Ballet, one of the world’s most esteemed ballet companies.
Do you know the story of the woman who founded it?
Her name was Ninette de Valois, and she was not only a dancer but a teacher, choreographer, and director. She lived to be 102 years old and worked until the day she died.
Ninette was born Edris Stannus in Ireland in June 1898. She moved to Kent, England, to live with her grandmother as a little girl. When she was 10-years-old, she started taking dance lessons.
By the time she was 13, she was able to train professionally and joined the Lila Field Academy for Children. The academy had her dancing throughout venues in London, and she got to learn from some of the period’s most famous dancers. Many dancers had French or Russian stage names, so she changed her name to Ninette de Valois.
When she was 21 in 1919, Ninette became the principal dancer at the Beecham Opera. A few years later, she became a soloist for the Ballets Russes and performed all over Europe. She learned a lot about dancing and how to run a dance company.
Unfortunately, her time with them was interrupted in 1924 when doctors discovered her body had suffered damage from an undiagnosed case of polio during her childhood.
Ninette decided to go down a different path and used what she had learned during her years performing to establish the Academy of Choreographic Arts for Girls in London in 1927. She also opened the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet in Dublin.
Students at Ninette’s school not only received impeccable training but also fantastic opportunities. They were invited by Lilian Baylis, the owner of the Old Vic Theatre, to perform in productions at the theater. Ninette and Lilian formed the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and the Vic-Wells Ballet Company in 1931.