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August 9: The Prima Ballerina

August 9, 2012

Toronto-born Melissa Hayden (Mildred Herman), prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet from 1955 until her retirement in 1973, died at 83 on this date in 2006. Hayden began her career in the ballet corps at Radio City Music Hall, then joined the American Ballet Theater, led by Jerome Robbins. After a brief stint with Cuban choreographer Alicia Alonzo, Hayden was invited in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirsten to join their new New York City Ballet , where she often partnered with Jacques d’Amboise. Hayden was the dance double for Claire Bloom in Charlie Chaplin’s film Limelight (1952). After retiring from the stage, she became artist-in-residence at Skidmore College, directed the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, and wrote several books. In 1983, she joined the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. To see her dancing as Claire Bloom’s stand-in in Chaplin’s Limelight, look below.
“To dance Balanchine’s ballets successfully, we must subordinate our personalities and blend with all the other dancers onstage. To do this means that the audience will not see us as individuals. In ballets of other choreographers and especially story ballets, the opposite is true.” —Melissa Hayden