February 1881 – January 1931
Around the world, the 1880’s was a time of great achievement in the arts and humanities. In Europe, artists such as, Renoir, Degas, Monet, Cassatt, and Morisot, stepped away from the traditional Salon style to create what we know today as Impressionism. In France, construction began on the Statue of Liberty, and in the United States, Thomas Edison was hard at work in his New Jersey laboratory, unveiling the first-ever electric Christmas lights.
In Russia, 1881 welcomed the birth of Anna Pavlova, a girl who would become one of the world’s greatest, and most influential, ballerinas of all time. Though her mother and step-father struggled financially, her mother gave her a gift that would forever change the girl’s life. On a cold, snowy, St. Petersburg night, her mother took her to the Mariinsky Theater to see The Sleeping Beauty ballet. Anna was only eight, but that night she set her sights on becoming one of the dancers on that stage.
That year, Anna applied to the Imperial Ballet School in her home city but was turned away as too young. Two years later, she was accepted, rising quickly through the ranks. Anna’s teachers recognized her natural ability and extreme work ethic. By the time she graduated, in 1899, she was at the head of the class, achieving the rank of coryphee, an advanced position for a graduate turning professional.
Ms. Pavlova gained instant fame as her career brought her to the world stage. Her style and body were different from those popular in ballet during that period. For as much as she was praised, however, she too was criticized for her willowy body which some considered to be weak, and her high arches that made dancing en pointe challenging and painful. It was this latter feature that lead her to develop her own en pointe dance shoes, with box toes and a support that ran along the spine of the shoe’s soles. It was the prototype for the en pointe shoes used to this day.
By 1911, Anna decided to start her own ballet company. Along with her husband, they toured the company worldwide, bringing dance and inspiration to people throughout the globe. Coming from meager beginnings, Anna had a soft spot for those less fortunate. She adopted a menagerie of animals that sh took to her new home in England. After World War I, Anna started a home for female, Russian orphans in Paris. She supported the girls and the running of the home with the proceeds of her many performances.
In 1930, at 50 years old, Anna was returning home from a world tour when her train collided with another. Though she was not injured, she did contract pneumonia after standing on the train platform in her nightdress for over twelve hours. It was an illness from which she would never recover. Anna passed away quietly in her home on January 23, 1931. Her legacy lives on in her dance, and the numerous movies, books, and statues made in her honor – and in every little girl who dreams of being a ballerina.