Margaret Graham Hills (née Margaret Hampson), Shrewsbury, England, 1935. Photograph courtesy of Margaret Graham Hills.
During this National Dance Week, the UCLA Library Special Collections highlights dance s/heroes who are represented in our collections. Today we feature the dance career of Margaret Graham Hills and the tremendous impact she’s had on dancers across three continents: the UK, the U.S., and reaches into the Middle East.
The UCLA Center for Oral History Research is fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture Margaret’s career history and personal reflections in the form of an oral history interview conducted in 1997-98, and that is available online.
Oral histories often fill gaps in historic knowledge and provide primary source documentation of a person’s personal experience and reflection, rather than other forms of documentation often found in archival collections, such as photographs, printed ephemera, letters and other forms of writing or documents. They are not meant to be randomly-captured excerpts, but are generally well-prepared interviewers questioning an interviewee. In the case of Margaret’s oral history, it helped a lot that she seems to have a photographic memory—a facility that may have been a gift, but was clearly one that she continued to develop throughout her life in dance.
In LSC, curators of archives and oral historians work together to build resources. Sometimes LSC is able to acquire both the archives and oral histories of individuals. Those are ideal complements for research.
“I get a tremendous joy from getting people who love to move, love to do ballet, to do it to the very best of their abilities.”
Margaret studied at the Sadler’s Wells (now Royal) Ballet School, from a very early age, moved on her own at age 15 to study there full-time, and became a member in 1945, at the age of 17. Her talents were recognized, and only a few months into joining the Company she suffered a terrible knee injury for which no significant repair was possible. Following what might have been a devastating event for most dancers, Margaret was enlisted to teach by Dame Ninette de Valois, founder and director of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, and the rest is herstory.
Some of Margaret’s extraordinary achievements, and a few of the topics you can delve deeper into by reading her oral history, are mentioned below.
- SADLER'S WELLS ROYAL BALLET:
○ The youngest Senior Ballet Mistress of The Royal Ballet School in 1955, (age 27). **and then there's Kitty Felde’s KPPC story on Margaret teaching at age 85In 1950-51 (age 23) being sent by Mme. De Valois to Ankara, Turkey, to establish and co-found
○ The National Ballet of Turkey.** Read about banquets at the British embassy and making costumes for the Turkish students – Tape III, Sides One and Two
○ Working with famed choreographers such as Sir Frederic Ashton, Kenneth Macmillan, and Léonide Massine, and training the dancers in productions such as The Sleeping Beauty performed at Covent Garden, creating syllabi for the schools, and working with dancers from all over the world, including South Africa.
- Performing on military bases during World War II
- Ballet mime (Margaret is one of the few who are trained in this language - **see her acceptance “speech” of the Stanley Holden Award for Distinguished Teaching, June 3, 2006
- American vs. British vs. Russian views on ballet training and testing
- Teaching in professional studios vs. academic settings (taught at UCLA, Santa Monica College)
- Teaching in L.A.: Stanley Holden, Tania Lichine, Irena Kovsmoska, Roland Duprée
- Professional dance in Los Angeles associated with the television and movie industries
- Dance injuries and kinesiology
- Music for ballet classes
Margaret has been honored by The Royal Ballet: in 1980 at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A., in 1996 at the Royal Ballet Opera House in London at the 50th Anniversary Gala Performance, and in 1997 at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Sadler’s Wells School.
Margaret recently retired from teaching at the Westside Academy of Ballet. In a KPCC interview, at age 85, she said:
“I think I’m probably a better teacher than I would have been a dancer, looking back. And, I love it!”
Tending The Flame: Teaching Ballet in Three Continents Oral History Interview with Margaret Graham Hills. https://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/catalog/21198-zz00097q4d
Stanley Holden Award for Distinguished Teaching. June 3, 2006. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGPpTgpKesA (embedded below). Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.
Oral History Association: https://www.oralhistory.org/about/do-oral-history/. Accessed 4/20/20.
Kitty Felde, “Margaret Hills, 85, still teaching ballet.” KPCC / Off-Ramp. July 31, 2013. https://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/2013/07/31/33007/margaret-hills-85-still-teaching-ballet/