Leo Kersley interview


A Dictionary of Ballet Terms by Leo KersleyPage updated 21st May 2019 to reflect changed URLs at the BL

Find of the day (through the ballet.co forums) was this fantastic  interview with Leo Kersley. It’s an amazing account of ballet in England right from the earliest days of the 20th century, full of extraordinary insights, including the story of the full-length Antony Tudor ballet based on the Kalevala, with music by Sibelius, that never happened because . . well you can read the transcript yourself (though there are quite a few mistakes in the transcription of names, so you have to guess that Kasavner means Karsavina, for example). It’s hosted by the Theatre Archive Project, well worth visiting in its own right.

In case you don’t know, Leo Kersley is amongst other things the author of my favourite ballet dictionary. I love dictionaries, and unlike most people, I tend to read them from cover to cover like normal books, or at least spend rather more time browsing them than normal humans.

That’s how I discovered that my favourite ballet dictionary was the one pictured left. Now there’s a dictionary with real style, personality and humour, and with the kind of insight and knowledge in it that is hard to achieve through normal lexicographic routes. He knows what you need to know as both and insider and outsider, and there are words, concepts and comparative definitions in there that I’ve not seen equalled elsewhere. When I read the interview at the Theatre Archive Project, I recognised the voice instantly. Wonderful stuff, and what a brilliant project the TAP is.

There are only a few other interviews there, but there are three with Gillian Lynne, and others with Gerry Atkins, Joann Hall, Jean Newlove and Jackie Toaduff. The search facility is bizarre: you can search for dance and ballet all you like and Gillian Lynne won’t come up in the results—I only found the interview because I knew it was there. The best way to get to the dance bits is to go to the archive homepage and scroll down to the menu where you can “view by dancer.” 

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5 thoughts on “Leo Kersley interview

  1. Theresa Crumb


    I have just read your write up about Leo Kersley’s Dictionary of Ballet Terms. Leo was my Ballet Teacher since age 7. I was trained by him before going to the Royal Ballet School. He was a wonderful outstanding Teacher who had a way of bringing you into the Ballet world through his personal stories of all the Ballet greats. He instilled in all of us a respect and understanding of Ballet, he gave all of his dancers a vision and made us believe that anything was possible. He changed my life through Ballet, through his teachings and committment as a teacher. He is a living Icon. He had a way of explaining where our arms and heads needed to be, to project the truth about a particular position. He trained us all in the ‘old School’ – precious teachings which are no more to be found.
    His Dictionary of Ballet Terms is just one of the many lagacies he will leave behind, as well as the many memories and teachings of being in his prescence. We all loved him.

  2. Jenny Vetere

    Mr. Leo Kersley was my ballet teacher in 1961. Although I have forgotten many names of former teachers, friends etc. in Harlow, I have never forgotten Mr. Kersley. I did go on to dance ballroom and latin American with the IDTA but my fondest memories are ballet dancing. I was so excited when I “googled” Mr. Kersley’s name and found so much information about how he became the amazing dancer he was. I would love to send him an email or letter if anyone has any details for me. I definately plan on tracking down and buying his book, a lovely memoriy to hand down to my little Granddaughter. My maiden name was Jenny Jackson. Thank you.

  3. Ruth Hunter

    Leo was my ballet teacher from 1963- 1972. He not only taught us ballet but gave us a whole pile of life skills to go along with each lesson. He was a real character, and because of him and his wife Janet I went on to become a professional dancer and loved every minute of it. My condolences and best wishes go to his children Alex and John, of whom I have some very happy memories. Leo is one of the people that made a huge impact on my life in the most positive way, what a very special person.
    Now it’s too late I wish I had taken the time to look him up, but I have many happy memories to look back on.
    RIP Leo
    Ruth Hunter


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