A timeline of women at The Royal Ballet School
Our School has been shaped by influential women throughout its history and continues to count inspiring women among its leaders today. During Women’s History Month, we’ve been reflecting on some of the exceptional women in the School’s past and the impact they have had on our heritage.
Ninette de Valois 1898 – 2001 DBE, OM, CH
We begin of course with our founder, Ninette de Valois. De Valois was undoubtedly one of the most notable figures in ballet history, founding not only our School but also The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet Companies. Dancer, choreographer, teacher and director, she had a fierce reputation, driven by her insistence on the highest standards of technique and artistry, and dedicated her whole life to her art. Even after her retirement in 1963, de Valois continued to support the School, visiting frequently and attending performances until her death on 8 March 2001, at the great age of 102. Ninette de Valois’ legacy lives on through the School and will continue to do so for years to come.
We all teach each other, whether it’s dancing, whether it’s singing, whether it’s talking, we all listen to each other. That’s progress. – Ninette de Valois
Ursula Moreton 1903 -1973 OBE
Working alongside Ninette de Valois as her assistant, Ursula Moreton was an important presence during the early years of the School. In her dancing career, she studied with the influential dance teacher, Enrico Cecchetti, and was one of the six founding members of the Vic-Wells Ballet. From 1952, she became Ballet Principal of The Royal Ballet School and succeeded Arnold Haskell as Director (1965-68). Upon retirement, she was awarded an OBE in 1968 for her services to ballet. Moreton’s teaching and directorship was essential in the making of the School. Created in her honour in 1973, the Ursula Moreton Choreographic programme occurs annually, encouraging choreographic endeavour in ballet students at the School.
Julia Farron 1922 – 2019 OBE
Julia Farron was the first student to receive a scholarship at The Royal Ballet School. At the age of 14, she was also the youngest member to join the Vic-Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) in 1936. In an impressive 25 years of dancing, she created many different roles and remained loyal to the company after she left. From 1964, she taught at the School where she was known for her enthusiastic and motivational teaching style. Her career as both a dancer and teacher inspired generations after her and her passion for the arts was inherited by her son, Christopher Rodrigues, who has been Chairman of our School since 2019.
I remember her to be a force away from the stage too with an astute eye for training, an indomitable spirit and a delicious sense of fun. – Kevin O’Hare on Julia Farron
Anya Linden, Lady Sainsbury 1933 – present CBE
From an early age, Anya Linden took a keen interest in dancing. She trained at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and joined the Company after graduating, where she performed leading solo and principal roles. Linden retired from dancing in 1963 when she married John Sainsbury, who shared her love of the arts. Together they formed the Linbury Trust, a foundation created to support organisations within the arts, education, and welfare. Lord and Lady Sainsbury have acted as lead donors on several projects at the School and the Linbury Trust has been a core support for us as an organisation. Anya Linden continues her work in aiding the arts today and still has a close connection with The Royal Ballet School, recently celebrating her 90th birthday with us here at Upper School.
Very often it’s the inspired person who conveys that excitement and commands respect, so that kids feel they can do a bit more and a bit more – and suddenly they feel great. – Anya Linden
Valerie Adams 1935 – 2019 FRAD
Founding director of our Teachers’ Training Course, Valerie Adams was a pioneer in ballet teaching. On graduating from the Upper School, Adams toured the USA with the Sadler’s Wells (now Royal Ballet) Company, performing in over 26 cities in just five months. When she returned to the UK, she discovered her true passion for teaching and worked under the tuition of Ninette de Valois, observing her lessons at the School. Valerie Adams assisted de Valois in developing a new training course for ballet teachers and became the first appointed director of the Teacher’s Training Course in 1971. Her contribution to excellence in ballet training has paved the way for our current teacher training courses at The Royal Ballet School.
Merle Park 1937 – present DBE
Known for her vivacity and technical facility, Merle Park remains a valuable role model to all young dancers. She trained at the School for just a few months before joining The Royal Ballet. After a stage career of over twenty years, Park opened her own ballet school in London and was regarded as a popular teacher, passing the joy of dancing onto her students. In 1983, she became Director of The Royal Ballet School and implemented several changes to the School such as employing elements of the Vaganova Method. Now retired, she still maintains a close relationship with the School and has returned on occasion to coach students. For her innovative work, Merle Park will always be remembered as an essential part of The Royal Ballet School’s history.
My dear, most people couldn’t walk with some of the pains we have to suffer, let alone dance with them. Yet dance we do; dancers come out on stage with three strappings on the left leg, their back in a bandage, and nobody but they know what agonies they’re enduring. – Merle Park
Gailene Stock 1946 – 2014 AM, CBE
Gailene Stock was a fiercely inspiring dancer, teacher and leader. Born in Australia, she had to overcome serious injuries in her childhood in order to pursue her ambition as a dancer and at 16 was awarded a scholarship at The Royal Ballet School. She spent seven years touring with the Australian Ballet before moving to teacher management. For 15 years Stock served as Director of the School and completely transformed the curriculum, ensuring students were more employment-ready upon graduation. In 2013 she was awarded a CBE, an honour which she received in her hospital bed whilst courageously receiving treatment for cancer. The excellent standards that she set during her time as director paved the way to making the School what it is today.
Her drive and passion were the inspiration for a career that touched thousands and her eye for talent and intelligence made her one of our most significant ballet exports to the world. – Kevin McAllister on Gailene Stock
Anita Young 1951- present MBE
Born and raised in Covent Garden, Anita Young has always had a close association with the School. After graduating from White Lodge and the Upper School, she joined The Royal Ballet, dancing multiple soloist roles. This was a proud moment for her dad who worked as a grocer in the Covent Garden market and was delighted that his daughter was performing nearby at the Royal Opera House. After leaving the Company, she not only established herself globally as an esteemed dance teacher but has also coached professional footballers and an American football team. Young taught at the School from 2004, retiring only recently to focus on a freelancing career in teaching, choreography, and coaching. Her energy and passion for dance continue to inspire her students every day.
These are just a small selection of the incredible women who make up the School’s rich history, and we are privileged to know many more who continue their legacy at the School today.