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.