The city of Victoria in the early 20th century had a thriving ballet scene thanks to the influence of a number of incredible women who taught and performed there. It began, perhaps, when two French women, Madame Fay and Madame Valda, arrived in the city and taught dance, bringing with them their excellent Paris training that they would then pass on to their pupils. But the city’s classical dance boom exploded after Anna Pavlova’s dance company visited twice from Russia. As a result of these performances alongside the sensational training that Fay and Valda provided, Victoria parents were eager to sign their children up for classes, and a strong ballet culture in the city flourished.
This image, found on a Christmas card from the 1930s, demonstrates the profound impact ballet had on Victoria’s culture in the early 20th century. The card shows Dorothy Wilson, one of Madame Fay’s students and the woman who would go on to train many of Victoria’s young dancers at her dance school, the Russian Ballet School, which she founded and for which she became the principal.
Dorothy had come to Victoria from Dublin when she was 10. She had gained a love of dance upon taking a few classes during childhood, prior to coming to Canada, but her mother had discouraged her interest in dance, and as a result she only began taking classes seriously after she married. Despite her relatively late start, Dorothy became an enormously influential and successful teacher. She went all over the world to train formally in ballet instruction, and she amazed Victoria audiences for both the dancers and the productions that she produced.
Beginning modestly by teaching her daughters and their friends, Dorothy eventually transformed her home into a dance studio that accommodated over 400 students. Her school was responsible for putting on popular productions at the Royal Theatre, and even at the Empress Hotel. Her ambitious production of Coppélia, for example, included dancers she had trained who went on to work in professional companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and who would themselves go on to train hoards of professional dancers in the years to c