Many little girls proclaim that they want to be ballerinas when they grow up—most are drawn to the sequined tutus, the rhinestone tiaras, the shiny satin pointe shoes, and the chance to wear make-up. (Leaping and twirling to music are bonuses.) As a little girl, I was not immune to these charms, and I began studying ballet at the age of ten. Perhaps unlike most girls who take up dance, however, part of ballet’s appeal to me was that it fed my growing fascination with names. Read the program at just about any ballet performance, or pick up a book on dance history, and you will find an array of beautiful ballerina names of many different nationalities.
A hundred years ago, the Ballets Russes began presenting their first performances in Paris. Comprised predominantly of expatriate Russians, the fledgling company became wildly popular, and interest in dance soared. Touring companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo were offshoots of the original Ballets Russes, and they brought ballet to small towns all across the United States. Additionally, Russian choreographer George Balanchine honed his talent with the Ballets Russes, and eventually immigrated to America, where he began what was to become the New York City Ballet. The glamour of these dancers who had traveled the world before showing up in places like Lincoln, Nebraska was matched by their exotic, “Russified” names. For instance, Lilian Alicia Marks, an English girl who danced with the original Ballets Russes, became Alicia Markova.
These days, most dancers keep their own names, but that hasn’t made reading the roster of a company’s performers any less exciting or exotic. The American Ballet Theatre in New York, for example, has dancers from the Ukraine, Italy, Cuba, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Uruguay, South Korea, England, France, China, Byelorussia, Australia, Finland, Portugal, and (of course) the United States in their ranks.
The language of ballet is French, but really, dance itself is the language that is spoken within ballet companies. I myself have had more Russian and Chinese ballet teachers than American ones, and the fact that most of these teachers spoke little English was rarely a problem. The international flavor of dance was enormously attractive to me as a young girl. I grew up in Florida and my family never traveled anywhere. I longed to see more of the world, but I settled for hearing about Beijing and St. Petersburg from my beloved teachers.
Reading magazines and books on dance, and seeing performances of different companies on television, I began to despair that I’d ever become a famous ballerina with a name like Heather Brown. My favorite dancers had names like Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, and Sylvie Guillem. It seemed that you couldn’t be a ballerina without also having a lovely, feminine, and somewhat unique name. That isn’t entirely true, of course, but reading about ballet could be a goldmine to expectant parents looking for underused girl names with a touch of the theatrical and glamorous .
Here are some intriguing names of dancers, past and present, along with the company with which they are most associated. Some of these are stage names, but surprisingly, most are not:
We looked at trailblazing women in Part One of this blog yesterday—bold and courageous achievers who would prove worthy namesakes for a daughter. Now we turn to those with major accomplishments in the arts—a varied mix of writers, artists, and musicians of the far and fairly recent past—many of whom seem to have appropriately creative names—whether they were born with them or not.
APHRA Behn (also seen on the trailblazer list)