Peggy van Praagh

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(Dame) Peggy van Praagh (DBE)
Margaret van Praagh

1 September 1910
Died15 January 1990 (aged 79)
  • ballerina
  • choreographer
  • teacher
  • repetiteur
  • producer
  • director
  • advocate

Dame Margaret "Peggy" van Praagh DBE (1 September 1910 – 15 January 1990) was a British ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, repetiteur, producer, advocate and director, who spent much of her later career in Australia.

Early life[edit]

Peggy van Praagh was born in London and was of Dutch, Scottish and English descent. Her father, Harold John van Praagh, was a British physician with a Jewish background and her mother was Ethel Louise née Shanks.[1] She was educated at King Alfred School, London where she meet A.S. Neill who heavily influenced her passion for dance through artistic thinking and creativity which aided her in the dance community. Throughout the course her schooling, she was involved in a series of plays and productions.[1]


She began dancing very early in London at the age of 4. One review stated: "At last night's concert a dainty extra was a very charming dance by little Peggy van Praagh ... Peggy is only six but she is quite a clever little artiste and is booked again for Saturday's matinee by request."[2]

Late in 1929, van Praagh was offered a two-week position at a small company formed by (Sir) Anton Dolin. Despite the brief engagement, it allowed her to become a student of Margaret Craske where she studied mime with Tamara Karsavina, repertoire with Lydia Sokolova, modern expressionist dance with Gertrud Bodenwieser and ballet history with Cyril W. Beaumont.[3]

Van Praagh joined Ballet Rambert in 1933. Later she also danced with Antony Tudor's London Ballet. Van Praagh performed in some of Tudor's ballets such as Jardin aux Lilas (otherwise Lilac Garden), Dark Elegies, Gala Performance, Soirée musicale and The Planets.

In the early years of World War II, she was heavily involved in staging lunch time ballet shows called Ballet for a Bob, which attracted large audiences of civilian and military personnel. In 1941, she was employed by Ninette de Valois largely to teach company classes for Sadler's Wells Ballet, although van Praagh also danced in a number of company productions including Les Patineurs, Comus and Coppelia in which she danced the leading role of Swanilda.[citation needed]

Choreographer and teacher[edit]

In 1945, van Praagh became a teacher at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School. She worked there until 1956. During this time she maintained a long, fruitful association with choreographer Antony Tudor. From 1956 until 1960 she undertook freelance teaching and producing in Germany, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and the US.[citation needed]

Artistic Director of the Borovansky and Australian Ballet[edit]

In 1959, on the recommendation of Ninette de Valois, van Praagh was appointed Artistic Director of the Borovansky Ballet in 1960. Following the demise of the Borovansky Ballet in 1961 and its subsequent reformation as Australian Ballet, she became its founding artistic director in 1962, where she remained until 1974, and was invited back again for the 1978 season. From 1965–1974, van Praagh held the position jointly with Sir Robert Helpmann.[4]

Under van Praagh's direction, the Australian Ballet made the first of many overseas tours, developed a repertoire of ballets that included works from the established international repertoire as well as commissioned works from Australian and overseas choreographers, and hosted guest appearances by a number of notable dancers including Sonia Arova, Erik Bruhn, Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. While with the Australian Ballet, she also nurtured the development of Australian choreographers including Graeme Murphy, Ian Spink, John Meehan and Leigh Warren.[citation needed]

Marilyn Rowe, a protégé of van Praagh, and later Director of the Australian Ballet School said of her mentor: "Peggy had a five point plan for the development of the Australian Ballet:"

  1. A company of dancers engaged on annual contracts. Such contracts were heretofore unknown,
  2. A repertoire of established classics together with the best works by contemporary choreographers, designers and composers
  3. To present, as guest artists, the world's best dancers and teachers
  4. To tour the company internationally
  5. To establish a national ballet school"[5]

Dance advocate[edit]

Van Praagh was an advocate for dance education. During her career in Australia, along with Bernard James of the University of New England's continuing education program, she was instrumental in organising a series of summer schools in dance that had a long-lasting influence on dance in Australia. She also helped establish the advocacy body, Ausdance (formerly Australian Association for Dance Education). In 1982, van Praagh was coordinator of dance studies at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth.[citation needed]

On 15 January 1990, she died in Melbourne.[6][7]




  1. ^ a b Sexton, Christopher, "van Praagh, Dame Margaret (Peggy) (1910–1990)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 20 March 2019
  2. ^ "Peggy van Praagh at AustraliaDancing". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2007.
  3. ^ Sexton, Christopher, "van Praagh, Dame Margaret (Peggy) (1910–1990)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 20 March 2019
  4. ^ "The Australian Ballet: History". Archived from the original on 8 April 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2007.
  5. ^ Marilyn Rowe OBE, The Sixth Dame Peggy van Praagh Memorial Lecture, 18 November 2000 Archived 20 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Dance Council
  6. ^ "Dame Peggy van Praagh | British dancer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Founding Dame who set the barre honoured". 24 June 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women Volume 1 2001" (PDF).
  9. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women" (PDF).


  • Sexton, Christopher, "Peggy van Praagh – A life of dance", Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1985
  • Van Praagh, Margaret (Peggy), How I became a ballet dancer, Nelson, London, 1954
  • Van Praagh, Ballet in Australia, Longmans, Melbourne, 1965
  • Van Praagh, The arts in Australia – Ballet, Longmans, Melbourne, 1966
  • Van Praagh and Peter Brinson, The choreographic art; an outline of its principles and craft, Adam and Charles Black, London, 1963

External links[edit]