THE 1920s

THE 1930s




Alison Sutcliffe was not alone in her quest to educate young Torontonians in the art of dance. This gallery provides an indication of the dance and movement classes that were offered in Toronto in the 1930s. Click on each thumbnail to reveal the full photo. Scroll down in the pop-up windows to view full image.


Brochure, Dimitri Vladimiroff Russian Ballet, c. 1929

Dimitri Vladmiroff was a Cossack who fled Russia with his pianist wife during the Russian Revolution. Arriving in Canada in 1921, the Vladimiroffs were required to put in time as labourers at a farm in Chatham, Ontario, but the farmer they worked for learned of their history and relieved the Vladimiroffs of their duties so they could move to Toronto and establish a dancing school in a larger city. Having arrived after several of Anna Pavlova's performances, the Vladimiroff's timing was perfect for satisfying Toronto's hunger for Russian ballet. The studio offered classes in Russian ballet, character dancing (specifically Russian, Gypsy, Oriental and Spanish including castanet playing), musical comedy, acrobatic, tap and "team training" such as the tango, apache and waltz. Over the years, Vladimiroff staged a number of benefit concerts to raise money for charity. His studio really thrived after 1930 when he moved into the top floor of the Hermant Building near Dundas and Yonge Streets.


Brochure, Sternberg Studio of Dancing, 1929/30

By the time this brochure was printed, Amy Sternberg had been teaching for thirty-five years starting when she was fourteen years old. She began by teaching dancing and physical culture with her older sister, Sarah, but as trends in social and theatrical dancing changed so did the list of courses at Sternberg's school. By the 1929/30 season, Sternberg offered classes for pre-school children to adults that included acrobatic, tap, toe, ballroom, classical and national dances. She also provided a two-year teacher training program, which set her apart from other Toronto teachers who did not offer such training. The teachers' course included ballet technique, interpretative studies, nature studies, characteristic national steps, folk dances, dance history, pedagogy, waltz technique definitions and explanations of technical terms, and "a comprehensive and practical teaching repertoire" for the various dance forms taught.


Brochure, The Art of Dancing Studio, Toronto, c. 1931

The Art of Dancing brochure provides a fine example of art deco design. Run by Margo Olesnikova, the school was located at 554 1/2 Yonge St. and offered lessons in "Ballet, Classic, Character, Spanish, Oriental, Gypsy, Routines, Tap and Acrobatic". Aleksander Darcovitch is listed as an "Assesor Teacher". According to the brochure, Olesnikova had danced at the Russian Imperial Theatre of Petrograd and claimed that learning from a professional dancer with stage experience was the key to a successful stage career. The brochure also states, "No financial problems need delay you. We have a plan which solves any money difficulties" - perhaps she was addressing the public's reluctance to spend money on dance lessons during the Great Depression. Olesnikova also boasts that her Russian ballet school is the "only one of its kind in Toronto" apparently unaware of Dimitri Vladimiroff's school.


House program, Elisa Lopez's Spanish Dancing Studios, Eaton Auditorium, June 5, 1931

Elisa Lopez is a mysterious figure in Toronto dance history. She was teaching Spanish dance at least as early as the mid-1920s and into the 1940s, but the record concerning Lopez before and after these decades is hazy. Her school was called the Spanish Dancing Studios, but she offered lessons in ballroom and tap taught by J. Russell Keenan and Cecil Lemon respectively. Among her students is Barbara Beck who, as Conchita Triana, established a name for herself as a solo Spanish dancer in Toronto in the 1930s through the 1950s performing in many benefit concerts, revues and after-dinner shows.


Brochure, Fanny V. Birdsall School of Classic Dancing, 1931/32

Fanny Birdsall established her school in 1923 after studying physical culture at The Somers School of Physical Training under Mrs. Harry B. Somers. Fanny's sister Helen taught with her and their school was located on Yonge Street just south of Bloor Street and the Uptown Theatre. The main course taught at Birdsall's school was Russian ballet technique, described in her brochure as having "the same relation to dancing as grammar does to language." She continues, "It is the foundation upon which all other steps are built." Other techniques taught include Grecian, toe, novelty, acrobatic, tap, eccentric, national and interpretive. There was also a course in "Proper Dancing", which is difficult to decipher based on the description provided: "Proper Dancing is composed of certain definite steps, positions and movements known by name and number, which, when properly named and co-ordinated, form the dance, just as a composer of music arranges his notes to a certain definite and harmonious expression." The Birdsall sisters taught until 1983.


Brochure, Edith M. Giles School of Classical Dancing, 1931/32

Edith M. Giles had studied with New York-based teachers Michel Fokine and Constantin Kobeleff. She appears to have had three studios in Toronto - the east end near Coxwell and Danforth, downtown at Bay and Bloor, and the west end near Jane and Bloor - and yet she taught all classes herself. Her studio offered a variety of courses including baby dances, which was basically creative dance for pre-school children; musical comedy, tap, step and specialty dancing, which grouped techniques such as soft shoe, buck dancing, waltz clog and tap; characteristic and national dancing to express "the temperament, history and patriotic emotions of a nation"; a business girls' class for those who aspired to the "heights of the industrial world"; interpretive dancing, which emphasized self-expression; toe dancing, "the aim and ambition of every dancer"; and acrobatic dancing where one could learn "the most up-to-date tricks".


Brochure, Nellye Cohan School of the Dance, 1932/33

Nellye Cohan's background is currently a mystery. She taught a variety of dance forms including Russian ballet, interpretative and modernistic technique, German work, musical comedy, acrobatic, toe, tap, ballroom dancing as well as a business girls' class and a women's slimming class. "German work" is a curious title and perhaps refers to German Expressionism and the work of Mary Wigman. The brochure states, "Miss Cohan's work is based upon an endless variety of themes. The pupils become familiar with the best music of the different periods, and learn to interpret the spirit and action of music." Programs from recitals reveal Cynthia Barrett to be one of Cohan's students. Barrett is an early proponent of modern dance in Toronto who studied Wigman-influenced technique with Saida Gerrard in the mid-1930s. Barrett directed the Neo Dance Theatre at the United Jewish People's Order in the 1940s and staged her own concerts as well as participating in the 1949 Canadian Ballet Festival in Toronto.


Flyer, The Women's League of Health and Beauty, opening of the first branch in Canada, September 25, 1935

The Women's League of Health and Beauty was created by Mary Bagot Stack in London, England, in 1930 and offered classes in remedial exercises and expressive dance. The League was designed for women of all ages and abilities and within three months of opening, its membership had reached 1000 women. A teacher training program allowed The League to grow; branches were opened in Ireland and Scotland and by 1934 its membership stood at 47,000. On September 25, 1935, Prunella Stack opened the first Canadian branch of The Women's League of Health and Beauty in Toronto. Stack was the daughter of Mary Bagot Stack, and she took over the leadership of The League when her mother died prematurely of cancer in 1935. Natalie Platner, the national organizer for Canada, was on hand for the official opening. Under the direction of teacher Honor Davey, the group held its first annual demonstration at Varsity Arena on May 16, 1936 and further demonstrations were given that summer at the Canadian National Exhibition. Davey then went on to open a branch in Montreal and by the spring of 1937, there were additional branches in Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver, with over 5000 members nationwide.


Brochure, Dalcroze Eurythmics Department, Toronto Conservatory of Music, 1936/37

The Dalcroze Eurythmics Department at the Toronto Conservatory of Music was run by Madeleine Boss Lasserre who introduced Eurythmics to Canadians shortly after her arrival in 1924 from Switzerland. Lasserre had studied in Geneva with Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, the creator of this teaching method which uses movement to explore concepts of music. Sir Ernest MacMillan, director of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, states in the brochure, "Dalcroze Eurythmics is in my opinion one of the best means of learning to live music, of developing concentration and physical grace, and of illuminating the study of musical form." Receipts indicate that Lasserre took dance lessons from Sutcliffe and it is quite likely that Sutcliffe also attended Lasserre's classes. Another local dancer from this period, Saida Gerrard, also studied Eurythmics with Lasserre and Lasserre took Gerrard's modern dance classes in the mid-1930s.


Brochure, Bettina Byers Academy of Ballet, 1939/40

Bettina Byers was a long-time student of Alison Sutcliffe and eventually opened her own school in Toronto in 1939. Byers was the first organizer for the Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) in Canada and worked with the Academy's London office to arrange examinations, lectures and demonstration classes. With Sutcliffe's encouragement, Byers had spent a few summers studying the Royal Academy's teaching methods in the mid-1930s and then spent two years doing more intensive studies with RAD teacher Phyllis Bedells, who had also taught Sutcliffe. Byers also began a summer dance program at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, which she ran with her partner Marjorie Haskins. In 1975, Byers was the first Canadian to receive and RAD Fellowship, the highest honour given by the Academy.











1930 - 1931


1932 - 1933


1933 - 1935


1935 - 1936


1936 - 1937


1937 - 1939