Who was Anna Pavlova, the Inspiring Ballerina?

ballerina dances her dream

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Who was Anna Pavlova, the inspiring ballerina and what is the significance of her name?

Pavlova is a familiar word to Australians and New Zealanders, as it is the name of one of our favorite desserts, a fluffy meringue confection smothered in whipped cream and tropical fruit. There are over a million recipes online for this, so take your pick, but all you need is about six eggs and a cup of white sugar and something to beat these with. So healthy, but it is Christmas!

Christmas is the time when pavlovas emerge from food laden fridges to follow the turkey, prawn, ham and salad main course. This year I had two attempts at perfecting my version. Even the first attempt was deliciously edible, but not fit for family scrutiny. A dozen egg whites later, I was happy with pavlova number two. Just what do I do with all the egg yolks? Maybe scrambled eggs and cream caramels are on the menu?

Pavlova, more than just a yummy dessert

This year unlike previous years, I gave a thought to the woman behind the dessert. Because this past year, 2022, I became a blogger. How it happened is a strange, serendipitous story but here I am a ‘women in history’ blogger for our (I’m not doing this alone, that’s part of the story) whispering encouragement.com blog.

You are not feeling encouraged yet? Oh, sorry, I am rambling on. Well, you will feel a tad inspired once you hear about Anna Pavlovna Pavlova. A cool name, hey. I like the Pavlovna Pavlova tongue twisting part of this Russian name. Try saying that with a mouthful of pavlova.

Anna Pavlovna Pavlova was a Russian ballerina born in 1881 to a father who was a soldier and mother who worked as a laundress. Her family were poor, and one would not expect her to become famous. But if you have been reading our blog posts, you will not be surprised that a girl with few opportunities could achieve amazing things.

Pavlova, a little poor girl with a dream

That’s what we write about, amazing women who confound limitations. Maslow was wrong. This is encouraging for the majority of us who are not born with a silver spoon in our mouth. In case you are not familiar with this saying it means ‘born rich and with opportunities to succeed.’

Those who are most gifted financially don’t always make an effort, and can lead lack lustre lives dedicated to self. Anna Pavlova was not like that.

Her mother took her to a ballet, Sleeping Beauty. Anna at eight years old was so mesmerised by the spectacle that she dreamt of becoming a ballerina. You would think this was an impossible dream for a poor girl living in wintry 19th century Russia. But Anna did not listen to such talk, most sensible of her. Dreams are powerful if you have the courage to reach out and follow them.

She pursued her dream. With the encouragement of her widowed mother, Anna auditioned for a ballet scholarship. After two attempts, a year apart, she won free tuition at the Imperial Mariinsky ballet theatre in Saint Petersburg. Fortunately for her, Tsarist Russia offered opportunities for the poor if they showed promise like Anna did.

Anna defied her limitations

Anna must have made an impression because she physically wasn’t the classic ballet type. She had long limbs, arched feet and thin ankles, a combination that meant she often had to dance with bent knees. Somehow, Anna pulled the whole thing off and was a success. History notes that her extra tuition under the famed Enrico Cecchetti did the trick. His methods are still used today and can transform talent into genius. But the hard work, determination and the dream, were all Anna’s.

After a successful debut at the theatre, Anna performed in many ballet productions. She was popular for her unique romantic style of dancing that was not technically correct. In 1905, choreographed by Michel Fokine, she created the role of The Dying Swan in a solo, to accompany Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. It would remain her signature role. A year later, she was declared prima ballerina for her dancing as Giselle.

Anna Pavlova made her dream happen

Part of her skill set was being very competitive, but not in a vindictive way. She sought out roles that suited her peculiar talent and by 1912 was confident enough to strike out from The Imperial Ballet, and performed all over the world. Anna made history when she performed in the first ever Royal Variety Performance in London and had ten curtain calls at the Palace Theatre. The audience loved her.

Wealthy now, she purchased Ivy House in Golders Green and made it her home. With large gardens and a pond full of swans it was the place for her. No doubt she watched those swans and perfected The Dying Swan dance. Hopefully, no swans had to sacrifice their life for her ballet.

Bringing ballet to the Masses

Anna formed her own company with herself as the star. The mission statement for the company was to share and promote ballet to the masses. Her husband, Victor Dandre, another Russian emigrant, managed her touring schedule.

To make ballet relevant and enjoyable for all, she learnt national dances and the customs of each country she would tour in. This led to a surge in interest in classical ballet, especially in India and Japan. This led to a virtual Renaissance of Classical ballet when it was usually patronised only by the wealthy.

Anna gave back to other little girls

Along the way, on her worldwide tours, she sponsored and encouraged, even financed, rising ballet students. Remembering her own dream as a child, she knew the importance of the visual. Always her appearance was immaculate. She wore make up to accentuate her expressive dark eyes and wore her hair in tight chignons to highlight her delicate features.

Despite her long limbs, she was the quintessential dainty ballerina that you imagine. Some say her figure inspired the ballerina music boxes that became popular for little girls in the early twentieth century.

Anna toured the Antipodes and inspired our national dessert, the pavlova. The meringue puffs on top of the meringue base are symbolic of her tutus.

Her last tour as the dying swan

Unfortunately, Anna’s dream-run in life ran out suddenly and prematurely. On one of her European tours, her train was delayed for hours and biding time on a chilly railway platform, she caught cold. By the time she reached le Hague, she had a case of confirmed pleurisy. Refusing surgery, she succumbed to the lung condition and died shortly before turning 50. Her last words implored her husband to get the dying swan costume ready.

Her next scheduled appearance on stage was substituted with a single light spotlight where she should have danced. This great dancer was mourned the world over not just for her ability but also for her humanity and personal understanding of little girls with big dreams.

Anna Pavlova an Inspiring Ballerina

As I said at the beginning, Anna Pavlova has inspired a delicate dessert. However, she is not the only famous person to inspire food, or have food, or places named in honour of them. There is the drink, Shirley Temple for an aperitif. The dessert Peach Melba is named after the singer, Dame Nellie Melba.

Sandwiches are probably the most everyday item named after a person. The Earl of Sandwich in this case who requested his meat to be served between two pieces of bread. What a good idea!

Then Eggs Benedict has many well-known Benedicts contesting for the origin of this famous brunch dish. There is a champagne that is named after Ernest Hemingway and Sir William Gage is said to have introduced the greengage to England and named in honour of him. Oysters Rockefeller is named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world at that time.

There are many dishes named after the chef who created it or for the person the chef prepared it for. Omelette Andre Theuriet is named after the French novelist and poet. Giovanni Bellini has a cocktail named after him, just as there is a Julius Caesar cocktail, besides a Caesar mushroom and Caesar salad. Ronald Reagan has a hamburger soup named after him, and there is Veal Sinatra. The list is endless with many things in your local grocery store named after people and there are also foods named after places. What an honour to have a food named for you!

Strange that there is a lot more food named after men to honour them? What happened to all the world changing women?

Photo Source

Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

Check out other posts at Whispering Encouragement. We are here to inform and encourage. Talk to us. Tell us of any person, business, or incident you would like to see highlighted. Subscribe for free, so you can keep up to date with topics that interest you.

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