Woman van Praagh, Margaret (Peggy) (1910 - 1990)

Dame, OBE, DBE

London, England
Camberwell, Victoria, Australia
Artistic director, Choreographer, Dance Administrator and Dancer

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Margaret van Praagh, always known as Peggy, was born in London in 1910 to John van Praagh, a doctor, and his wife Ethel (nee Shanks). She started dancing lessons at the age of four and had her first public performance at seven. She was educated at the King Alfred School at Hampstead after which she pursued a career in classical ballet. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, she achieved a great deal of success as a ballerina with various companies, including the Ballet Rambert, of which she became a full-time member in 1937. She also studied under Margaret Craske, a former Diaghilev dancer, and ran her own ballet studio.

In the late 1930s, van Praagh joined the London Ballet, of which she became chief organiser. She moved to Ninette de Valois' Sadler's Wells Ballet (later the Royal Ballet) in 1941, where, when the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet was formed in 1946, she became ballet mistress and producer rather than a performer.

During the 1950s, van Praagh left the company to become a freelance producer. In 1962, she was invited to become the first artistic director of the Australian Ballet. She was to hold the position until retirement in 1974, returning for a year in 1978. During this time, she attracted and encouraged young ballet stars such as Marilyn Jones, Kathleen Gorham and Garth Welch and, with Robert Helpmann who shared the role with her from 1965, steered the company to become respected internationally, known for its high artistic and professional standards and a centrepiece of Australian culture. While a proportion of the company's repertoire was devoted to ballet classics, van Praagh also ensured new Australian works and the work of leading contemporary choreographers were equally represented.

Peggy van Praagh remained in Australia after her retirement from the Australian Ballet. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1987 and died in a nursing home at Camberwell, Victoria in January 1990. Her leading contribution to ballet in general - but particularly Australian ballet - were recognised by many awards. She received a Queen Elizabeth II coronation award from the Royal Academy of Dancing in 1965 and was appointed OBE in 1966 and DBE in 1970. She also received honorary doctorates from the University of New England and the University of Melbourne. In 2000, she was posthumously inducted into the Australian Dance Awards Hall of Fame.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Dame Peggy van Praagh, 1912-1986, 1912 - 1986, MS 7223; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Brown, Ian F (ed), The Australian Ballet 1962 - 1965: a record of the company, its dancers and its ballets, Longman, Melbourne, Victoria, 1967. Details
  • Sexton, Christopher, Peggy van Praagh: a life of dance, Macmillan, South Melbourne, Victoria, 1985. Details
  • van Praagh, Peggy, How I Became a Ballet Dancer, Thomas Nelson, London, England, 1954. Details
  • van Praagh, Peggy, Ballet in Australia, Longman, Melbourne, Victoria, 1965. Details

Online Resources