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DEATH OF EILEEN KEEGAN (article first published : 2000-11-9)

Former dancer and Cechetti teacher Eileen Keegan passed away peacefully at her home on October 22.

Her illustrious career began when she received her first training from Madge Mann and Nancy Hooper in South Africa before moving to London to further her studies in 1932. She studied with some of the most important dance teachers then working there in a variety of dance-disciplines. She toured Europe with Molly Lake's company, going on to tour the world with Dandre's Ballet Company (the husband of the late Anna Pavlova). In Paris the company rehearsed Les Sylphides and Fokine himself rehearsed her in his ballets. In London she became a Cecchetti examiner after being examined by Cyril Beaumont.

In 1936 she returned to South Africa to teach. Joining forces with Dot McNair, she opened her own studio opposite the old Theatre Royal in Durban before moving to Kloof, where she taught in her private studio for over 50 years. She gave recitals in the Durban City Hall and in 1939 presented the first locally-produced season of ballet in the city. In 1940 she formed Durban's highly-successful Ballet Club (based on the Cape Town model created by her friend Dulcie Howes and others), and remained in the forefront of ballet in KZN for many years.

“Eileen Keegan was a seminal figure in the history of ballet in South Africa -- with a distinguished roster of past pupils in major companies around the world,” says Robert Cross, former head of the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company).

Her famous pupils included Nadia Nerina (ballerina of the Royal Ballet); Michael Maule (American Ballet Theatre and later the New York City Ballet); Joy Shearer (who particularly excelled in Spanish dancing); Colleen Scott (a principal at Hamburg), Judy Gale-Brown (who ran a company in Belgium) and many others.

“The South African Cecchetti Society and its dancers are extremely fortunate to have had someone of such high standing throughout the world of dance - as their inspiration, goal and leader,” says former pupil Karen Piro, now a Cecchetti teacher and examiner.

“Each past pupil holds dear their own special memories of their ballet days in her Studio, not only from the dancing aspect but also from the lessons they learnt about life. Failure was never considered to be to one's detriment but seen as a challenge to build and strengthen one's character upon.”

“Miss Keegan recognised people's strengths and talents concentrating and nurturing these to allow each individual to blossom and develop to their full potential,” Karen adds. “Due to her utmost concern numerous talented dancers have emerged into the ballet world to achieve international recognition.”




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