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DAME MARGOT FONTEYN

Fun fact: When Dame Margot Fonteyn was a little girl she saw a picture of a dancer and

asked her mother, ‘Who is that lady?’ Her mother replied, ‘That is Anna Pavlova, the greatest

dancer in the world.’ Margot said, ‘Then I’ll be the second greatest!’


Born Margaret Hookham in England in 1919, she was called Peggy in her childhood. She

began dance lessons at the age of four and moved to China with her parents at the age of

nine. Margot had no real dreams of becoming a dancer but continued lessons in China with

an ex-Russian dancer. She was a reluctant student but was competitive. Her Mother

believed Margot had the ability to do well so at the age of 14, she returned to London to

pursue a ballet career and was invited to join the Vic-Wells Ballet School (known today as

the Royal Ballet).


In 1934 she danced as a snowflake in The Nutcracker and over the next five years,

performed the principal roles in Giselle, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. At the age of

20, she became the Company’s Prima Ballerina and her performance in Swan Lake had

convinced critics that a British Ballerina could successfully dance the lead role in a full-length classical Russian Ballet. A year later she changed her surname to Fonteyn for which she was known for the rest of her professional life, based on her Grandfather’s surname “Fontes” which means “fountain” in Portuguese.


In 1946 the company moved to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden where Margot

danced the character of Auroa at a command performance of The Sleeping Beauty. This

would become one of her most distinguishing roles. Another role which would become one

of her most greatest achievements was the “Firebird” due to her ability to use her jetes to

simulate flight of the bird.


During her wonderful career on stage, Dame Margot partnered for ten years with Australian

dancer Sir Robert Helpmann and in 1964, they toured together in Sydney and Melbourne

with the Australian Ballet, performing in Giselle and Swan Lake.

In 1962, at a time when many people thought Margot was about to retire, she began a dance partnership with Rudolph Nureyev, the star of the Kirov Ballet. She danced with him in his debut with the Royal Ballet in Giselle. They immediately became an international sensation; a partnership that would last for the next 19 years.


Dame Margot retired in 1979 at the age of 60 and will be remembered as one of the greatest dancers in the history of ballet, receiving Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 Queen New Year Honours List for her services to ballet.

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