Joan Ravenscroft obituary

Ballet dancer who used her knowledge of breathing and stretching to develop stress reduction techniques

Our aunt, Joan Ravenscroft, who has died aged 97, devoted her early life to ballet, dancing with various prominent companies in the 1930s before deciding to end her career in order to raise a family.

Born in Coulsdon, Surrey, to Sidney Kent, a businessman, and Emily (nee Pullen), Joan went to St Martin’s high school in central London before training at the Cone School of Dancing in the capital. She first performed in public, aged 12, as a costermonger in a cabaret at the Dickens and Jones tearooms in Regent Street in 1930.

At 13 she won a prize in the Sunshine Babies competition at the Scala theatre in London, greatly impressing Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, who invited her to join the Vic-Wells Ballet. Joan reluctantly declined after her mother insisted she should complete her education.

Eventually, in 1935, at the age of 17, Joan joined the Markova–Dolin Company, formed by the British stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. As the company toured all over England, Joan shared “digs” with Markova’s younger sister, Bunny Marks, and danced many roles in the corps de ballet. When Markova and Dolin moved to the US, Joan joined Molly Lake’s company, Ballet Intime (1938-39) and from 1939 until 1941 she was part of the Arts Theatre ballet company in London.

When the second world war broke out, Joan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where she choreographed and performed in revues. In 1942 she married Tony Ravenscroft, a soldier who became an oil company executive, and began to raise a family.

Later she taught dance but soon branched out into developing breathing, stretching and stress-reduction exercises based on her knowledge of dance disciplines. This led her to work with what is now the Stress Management Training Institute. Having appeared in videos and other training materials for the charity, she was still helping out at the age of 88, giving tips to nurses on how to help rehabilitate patients in hospital.

Although Joan had given up dancing, she maintained an interest in ballet and theatre throughout her life and, until fairly recently, attended performances of the Royal Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet, when they visited London. An exhibition of previously unseen photographs of Joan by Angus McBean was shown at the Oxford Playhouse and at the Pegasus theatre, Oxford, in 2011.

Joan was much loved and admired by her family and friends for her kindness, independent spirit and irreverent sense of humour, which set the tone for many happy family gatherings.

She is survived by her three children, Richard, Paul and Mary, by five grandchildren, and by five great-grandchildren.

Gillian Beetham and Jenny Lewis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rona Hart obituary
Other lives: Dance teacher who set up her own school in London

Maggie Strutt

29, Nov, 2016 @12:12 PM

Article image
Gailene Stock obituary

Other lives: Director of the Royal Ballet School, she produced young dancers who were 'a joy to watch but a pleasure to know'

Antonia Douro

22, May, 2014 @1:57 PM

Article image
Helen Werner obituary
Other lives: Trained ballerina, and fluent German-speaker who worked for Bletchley Park

Ann Eatwell

23, Nov, 2014 @4:38 PM

Article image
Nesta Macdonald obituary
Other lives: Meticulous researcher who challenged received wisdom about the history of the Ballets Russes

Jane Pritchard

23, Jan, 2015 @3:57 PM

Article image
Brenda Averty obituary

Other lives: Ballerina and choreographer who danced alongside Fonteyn and Shearer and worked on television and stage shows from the West End to Australia

Gerald Masters

03, Jan, 2013 @6:26 PM

Article image
Frederic Franklin obituary
A major star of the post-Diaghilev Ballets Russes, he was celebrated for his romantic roles

Judith Cruickshank

07, May, 2013 @12:57 PM

Article image
Yvonne Chouteau obituary
Dancer with ‘an ethereal quality’ who helped establish classical ballet in the US

Judith Cruickshank

09, Feb, 2016 @12:27 PM

Article image
Jean Babilée obituary
Charismatic dancer and choreographer much admired for his athletic brilliance

Judith Cruickshank

09, Feb, 2014 @4:31 PM

Article image
Milorad Miskovitch obituary
Elegant ballet dancer and choreographer who formed his own company in 1956

Judith Cruickshank

07, Jul, 2013 @4:18 PM

Article image
Jonathan Ollivier obituary
Dancer with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company who combined masculine power with emotional delicacy

Judith Mackrell

10, Aug, 2015 @6:18 PM