Ballerina Biographies – Dame Margot Fonteyn



Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, was born on May 19, 1919. She was regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time. She spent her entire career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet, and was appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the company by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Margot was born Peggy Hookham was always destined to be a ballet dancer. Her mother, who was Brazilian -Irish, groomed her for stardom from almost as soon as she could walk. When Peggy was aged 8 her father’s work took the family to Shanghai. Peggy and her Mother returned to the United Kingdom when she was 14. Her father stayed in Shanghai and was interned by the Japanese for the duration of the war.

Peggy, at this time was enrolled with the Royal Ballet School just when they were looking for a young British dancer to groom as the new Prima Ballerina. Until then all of the leading dancers in Britain had been Russian or French. Part of the grooming process was to change her name to Margot Fonteyn. She obtained that name from her coach in London, Tamara Karasavina. Her father was a Portuguese man who’s surname was Fontes, the Portuguese for Fountains, which gave her the name Fonteyn

Margot Fonteyn worked with George Balanchine as he staged and choreographed ballet for Sadler’s Wells. She soon showed the natural talents and dedication required of a Prima Ballerina and after many wonderful performances at Sadler’s Wells she went with the Royal Ballet on their 1949 American tour. Her performance as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty on their opening night in NYC wowed the critics and fans alike. Her performance set a new standard for the role. Success followed success and she was soon to become the most famous and most successful ballerina in the world.

Margot married Roberto “Tito” Arias. He was a Panamanian delegate to the U.N. and the son of a powerful Panamanian family. The couple were married at the Panamanian Consulate in Paris in February 1955.

Margot continued her successful career, she was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. In 1962 Margot was thinking of retirement, from ballet when she was 42, until she met Rudolf Nureyev,who had recently fled from the Soviet Union. Margot began her greatest artistic partnership at a time when many believed she was about to retire. Rudolf and Margot first performed together in Giselle. She was 42 and he was 24. Their performance was a great success. During the curtain calls, Rudolf dropped to his knees and kissed Margot’s hand. They created an on-and-offstage partnership that lasted until her 1979 retirement, and were lifelong friends. Young Rudolf revitalized Margot and led to some of her most wonderful performances.

As a dancer she made her last appearance in Nureyev’s 1979 summer season, and in February 1986, when she was 66 years old, she appeared on stage for the last time, as ‘The Queen’ in “The Sleeping Beauty”, for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miami. She subsequently retired to Panama where she and her husband Tito ran a cattle ranch. When Tito died in 1989 Margot discovered that she had cancer. Dame Margot died on February 21st 1991. She was buried in the Arias family plot in Panama. A documentary about Margot Fonteyn, entitled simply “Margot” was made in 2005. It includes interviews with Nureyev and many other dancers as well as Margo’s mother and other relatives of the Arias family.

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