Margaret Dale’s Canadian connection

By Selma Odom

Ballet dancer and television producer Margaret Dale died January 28th, 2010 at the age of eighty-seven. Revered for her roles as soloist with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, she joined the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1954 to pursue the new medium’s potential. She made over 100 programs, bringing dance to millions of viewers and recording the artistry of the great dancers of the mid-century. Dale excelled in studio productions of ballets by the Royal, the Bolshoi, the Kirov and other companies, and she pioneered the television feature as a format, documenting the work of John Cranko, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Norman McLaren, Marie Rambert, Gene Kelly and Anna Pavlova, among others.

Grant Strate invited her to give an overview of her work at York University in 1974, and in 1976 she followed him as chair of the Dance Department. She organized an unforgettable public lecture by Dame Ninette de Valois and introduced us to Sir Frederick Ashton and other dance luminaries who came during the National Ballet’s 25th anniversary year. Though she bonded with colleagues and students, she disliked academic administration and soon left. She opted for freelance research, lecturing and writing from her base in England, returning to Canada often over the years. In guest seminars at York, she shared vividly her way of “finding the shape” for each project. In 2007, partially paralyzed after a stroke, she attended screenings of a major retrospective of her work given at the National Film Theatre. “Maggie,” friend and mentor, will be missed by many.



I knew of Margaret Dale years before I came to York. As a teacher of dance history I was grateful to have her work available (on 16mm film) for the enrichment it provided to my courses and students. I was honoured to meet her and talk with her about her ideas and the process of putting dance on television. I’d like to see more of her films available in modern formats. She will not be forgotten.

~ Dianne L. Woodruff

I met Maggie Dale in my first class at York, when Selma had her as a guest, even before I registered as a master’s student. Here was living history, and I couldn’t get enough of hearing how the early days of British ballet worked (especially the way they held up their tights before stretchy fabric–an arcane system with coins and string!). Later, I had photos made from Pavlova negatives at the Museum of London and found it was Maggie who had had the negatives made from originals Dandre had donated to the museum. This was for her Pavlova documentary, and years later, I benefited from her work. She was always fun–and a great example of using her dancer’s brain to make even more permanent contributions to the dance world after she retired from the stage.

~ Jennifer Fisher

I first met Maggie Dale at a dance research (CORD) conference in Hawaii in the late 1970s. Her presentation of her creative process in film, how she documented Petrouchka by adapting the sets to allow the camera to move through the crowds while capturing the accuracy and feel of the choreography from both the dancers’ and audiences’ perspectives, was thrilling. She and I connected over her love of Indian dance, as she shared her stories of her time spent in north India filming Mrnalini Sarabhai’s school . It was inspiring to see her carrying on her research on Beryl de Zoete, working meticulously in libraries, at the University of Waterloo and in the Toronto Reference Library. Her lectures were timed to the minute, showing a discipline in pacing which came from her years as a filmmaker. For me as a dancer turned towards academia, Maggie was a shining example of someone who continually transformed her energy, intellect and enthusiasm in new ways. She was a delightful guest on her visits to Toronto, keeping us on our toes with her keen questions and observations. She left a great legacy and I will always treasure her friendship.

~ Rosemary Jeanes Antze

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