Marie Hale, Founder and Artistic Director of the Original Ballet Florida, Has Died

September 21, 2020

Marie Hale passed away on Friday, August 21, 2020, at home in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was 87. She was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on January 29, 1933. Growing up in Greenwood, Marie studied dance from the age of 2. She trained in the studios of Whitford Price and Jean Pepper, and taught her own dance and charm school classes to other children in the summers. Equally talented on the piano, she won several pageant titles, and a piano scholarship to the (now) University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. After two years in college, Marie moved to Chicago to study at the Allegro School of Ballet—with Richard Ellis and Christine Du Boulay, former principal dancers of Sadler’s Wells (later The Royal Ballet) in London—where she was soon asked to lead classes herself.

After moving to West Palm Beach in 1961, Marie began teaching ballet at Imperial Studios in Palm Beach, and gradually became co-director of the school. She and fellow teacher Lynda Swiadon later took over and soon moved to a larger studio space in West Palm Beach. In 1973, Marie formed the Ballet Arts Theater of Palm Beach with other community leaders. The school and company grew to offer four full-length productions every season. By 1983, Marie’s training programs included 300 students, with graduates moving into professional companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Milwaukee Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Houston, Stuttgart and Frankfurt ballet companies. Others appeared on Broadway, national Broadway tours, film and television.

In 1986, Marie took the core of their most talented dancers, and renamed the company Ballet Florida. The original Ballet Florida became one of a few fully professional dance companies in Florida. Marie’s vision was to create a dance company that presented the world’s finest along with new choreographers to stage or create new work for the company while presenting the classics as well. The company soon attracted exceptionally talented dancers from all over the world including Australia, Canada, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, France, Japan, Israel, Russia, Spain, Venezuela and the United States of America. The company also toured extensively in the U.S. and appeared as part of several dance festivals, including twice in Biarritz, France.

Over the next 26 years, a tireless Marie led the vision and growth of Ballet Florida, commissioning and performing works including an impressive list of full-length and half-evening ballets. Choreographers include Vicente Nebrada, Ben Stevenson, OBE, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Lar Lubovitch, Jerome Robbins, Daniel Ezralow, Val Caniparoli, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Glen Tetley, David Parsons, Thierry Malandain, Peter Martins, John Butler, Mauricio Wainrot, William Soleau, William Forsythe, Sean Lavery, Lou Conte and many more. And her own creation, the annually produced Marie Hale’s The Nutcracker was a beloved seasonal highlight for audiences.

Everyone whose life was touched by Marie can still hear her saying, “I don’t know why I dance, I only know I must.”

For more information about Marie Hale and her legacy, please visit—A. George Cripps