The Inspiration of Living Dance International

Rosella Hightower, the famous ballerina and teacher, is the source and inspiration of the Living Dance International wisdom. Her genius in teaching ballet dancers a sophisticated awareness of balance and placement is at the core of the LDI method. Hightower's own training pedigree is traced to Cechetti, Fokine, and Nijinska; the perfect proponents of Russian expertise.

The American dancer and teacher Rosella Hightower died in November 2008, aged 88. Oklahoma-born, she was intensely proud of her native American Choctaw descent and enjoyed enormous fame and popularity, principally in Europe, as prima ballerina of the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas.

Technique & Teaching

Her early studies were with Dorothy Perkins in Kansas City. Perkins had trained with Enrico Cecchetti and Mikhail Fokine, but placed equal emphasis on rhythmics and posture as on ballet training. It was this that laid down the foundations for Hightower's eventual, and renowned, mastery of technique.

Ms. Hightower was often praised for her virtuosity, versatility, and mastery of a varied repertoire. By the mid-1940s, she had delivered with brio all major classical roles such as Odette in "Swan Lake" and "Gaite Parisienne." New York Times dance critic John Martin raved about her debut at the Met as Myrthe in "Giselle," a role she had to learn in five hours after prima ballerina Alicia Markova fell ill in 1947.

During World War II, Ms. Hightower joined what is now American Ballet Theatre. About this time, she met her greatest mentor, Bronislava Nijinska, sister of ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. Reviewers always noted Ms. Hightower's lyrical movement and dramatic intensity, and the dancer credited Nijinska with having the most influence on her stage presence and musicality.

Ms. Hightower performed with ballet's most celebrated partners and had partnered with Rudolph Nureyev in a "Swan Lake" pas de deux in 1961, marking one of his first stage appearances after defecting to the West.

The next year, she founded her Centre de Dance Classique in Cannes and attracted recruiters for the world's top ballet companies. It was later named L'Ecole Superieure de Danse, and its curriculum incorporated classical ballet, jazz, and the modern Martha Graham technique.

Ms. Hightower started her teaching school and took active interest in the youngest to the oldest students. It is a testament to her greatness as a dance leader that she became a director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1980 to 1983. The French government bestowed some of its highest honors on her, and she was the subject of experimental choreographer Francois Verret's documentary film "Rosella Hightower" in 1991.


Ms. Hightower was one of five Oklahoma-born American Indians to emerge as world-class ballerinas. Their remarkable accomplishments showcased American dance and talent to the world when Russian stars still dominated that scene.

Leonide Massine saw her in Kansas City in 1937 and invited her to join his Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with which she danced until 1941 taking on many roles.

With the outbreak of war, the Ballet Russe moved to New York, and in 1941 joined the newly formed Ballet (now American Ballet) Theatre, where she received encouragement and inspiration from the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska. In 1946 Hightower joined the rival troupe, the Original Ballet Russe. She created roles there in ballets by Jerome Robbins and Nijinska, and won deserved plaudits for her brilliance.

Her next move, which was to prove the decisive one, was to accept the prima ballerina role in the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas being formed in Europe, from 1947 until its demise.

With Cuevas, Hightower danced classic roles - including several Massine ballets and staple one-act ballets from the international repertory - and formed a remarkably happy working relationship with the choreographer John Taras. (She once said that a relationship between a dancer and a choreographer was like a happy marriage: "You miss it when it ends.") Her versatility and skill peaked in exotic and modern roles such as this one in "Piege de Lumiere", in which she was a giant blue tropical butterfly leading escaped prisoners astray.

The marquis, the last of the wealthy patrons able to finance a classical ballet company, died in 1961. The company ended with a spectacular, over-elaborate production of The Sleeping Beauty, staged by Nijinska and Robert Helpmann, and designed by Larrain. It was in this production that Rudolf Nureyev made his first appearances with a western company, in Paris. Hightower danced the ballerina role.

After the demise of the Cuevas company, Hightower continued to give guest appearances (she partnered Nureyev in his first appearance in London) but her energies were now increasingly concentrated on her school, the Centre de Danse Classique, which she established in 1962 in the Residence Gallia in Cannes. She served at various times as director of companies in Marseille, Nancy and Milan, and finally the Paris Opera Ballet, where she worked from 1980 to 1983.

Hightower was married to the French artist and designer Jean Robier, with whom she had a daughter, Dominique - herself a dancer who made her name in the company of Maurice Béjart.

• Rosella Hightower, dancer and choreographer born January 30 1920; died November 4 2008