Women in History: Anna Pavlova, The Iconic Ballerina

Anna Pavlova was one of the most famous ballerinas of all time. She was devoted to dancing in days where air travel and modern ways of communication was nonexistent – She travelled the world, from Australia to the United States, South America to India and many European countries dancing for audiences who had never heard of ballet. Anna is an inspiration for a generation of children to take up dancing. Here is her story. 

Early Years

‘I always wanted to dance; from my youngest years, I built castles in the air out of my hopes and dreams’ Born in St. Petersburg at the end of the 19th century, Anna Pavlova was drawn to ballet since a very young age. She dedicated her entire youth to training and dancing, obtaining great success among the teachers in her academic years.

Anna attended The Imperial ballet school, directed by the famous Marius Petipa, one of the greatest master of classical dancing. He and his colleagues, aware of her talents, cultivated Pavlova’s talent, firmly supporting her in the transition between school and stage in 1899.  

If one trait could describe Anna’s life, it would be determination. Since she was a student, she never stopped working hard to reach her goals and dreams. ‘No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent, work transforms talent into genius.’ In Anna’s case, a lot of work and incredible talent made her prima ballerina in just a few years after graduation.

The biggest dancing success arrived in 1905 when she danced for the first time a piece composed and choreographed for her: The Dying Swan by Michael Fokine. Her ability to convey the fragility and delicateness of the play allowed her to completely conquer the audience. Her performance of the Swan had to become the defining role of her career.

Once she was able to become the centre of the stage, Anna never left that spot until her death. In 1906, she was promoted to the prima ballerina and she started touring internationally. First time between the central European capitals such as Berlin, Copenhagen and Prague, while a second time visiting the two most important English speaking countries: the UK and the US.

The international tour opened up a new chapter of her career.  


The entrepreneur meets the artist

After her first visit in 1910, Anna was captivated by London and decided to make it her home and base of operation. In fact, she moved to the English capital in 1911 and established her own ballet company.

Her determination was again the force behind this new operation from the dancer. Having achieved great recognition for her talents as a performer, she pushed the boundaries yet further, becoming fully in control of the entire creative and business process.

For over 20 years, Anna never stopped touring all over the globe bringing her signature moves to the masses. Her figure was so dominant at the time, that in the USA, in Australia and in India (just to mention a few of the countries she visited over the years), the general public knew her name before knowing ballet. She became the symbol through which the masses were able to get in touch with the art of dancing.

This was made possible by the ability of her and her company to create connections and business opportunities. The vision of an artist interested in the business aspect of the live performance was ahead of the time in which Anna was living.  

Pavlova’s grit gave her the ability to constantly perform dependently from any external condition neither long distance travelling or the first world war. She did so until January of 1931. After a short holiday in Cannes, travelling from France to the Netherlands her train broke down for 12 hours. The long waiting time in the cold gave her very strong pneumonia. Once she arrived in Holland, her conditions quickly worsened. Even on her deathbed, before her supposed performance in Aja, she retained all her strength and asked for Swan costume.

Anna Pavlova was a woman of courage and passion, that lived her life for her art. She became an ambassador for ballet and a businesswoman that travelled around the globe during one of the worst time in the history of humanity. Beautiful dance plays were created for her and a famous Australian sweet was named after her. A woman, a dancer and an entrepreneur that leaves us with a lesson: “Fight until the end to reach your own goal: that is the secret of success. And what is a success after all? I don’t find it in the clapping of an audience, but in the satisfaction of having realized an idea.”

She was buried in London close to the Ivy house were she was leaving with her husband. Her dancing shoes were put on her grave to accompany her over time.


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