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Remembering Thalia

Richard Philp
Editor in Chief Emeritus, Dance Magazine

Dancer, teacher, author, and organizational genius, Thalia Mara’s numerous legacies are rich and varied. When she died in Jackson, Mississippi, at age 92 in October 2003, she had retired several years before from her beloved USA International Ballet Competition, of which she had been a founder and artistic director.

As a teacher, her passionate ideas about dance are spelled out in her eleven books. Steps in Ballet (Princeton Book Company, 2004), a new edition, combines three books by Mara into one volume.

It is intended as an aid for students in practicing at home and includes a foreword to parents about choosing a teacher. In a day when those who were training dancers were not as knowledgeable as they are now, she was a fierce advocate for raising standards of instruction.

She studied and performed with the leading teachers and dancers of her time: Adolph Bolm, Olga Preobrajenska, Nicholas Legat, Kurt Joos, and Michel Fokine. She married her dancing partner, Arthur Mahoney, and together they founded the national Academy of Ballet Arts in New York in 1962. At that time, she felt contemporary ballet had declined into “sharp, cold movement,” and she emphasized a return to “lyricism, romanticism, classicism, and musicality…[in which] the expressiveness of the individual must be encouraged.”

At the invitation of the Jackson Ballet Guild, she moved to Jackson in the mid-1970s in order to create a professional troupe. Recognizing what she felt was a strong local interest in sports and competition, she instead developed the USA IBC, which is now among the formost ballet competitions in the world.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine, October 2004 -- a companion piece to the article covering the USA International Ballet Competition’s 25th Anniversary Gala Celebration.

Richard Philp is Editor in Chief Emeritus of Dance Magazine and served as chair of the USA IBC National Advisory Committee for the 1994, 1998, and 2002 competitions.