Plaque dedicated to dancing hero Dame Ninette

One of the world's leading ballet dancers was commemorated on Tuesday when a Blue Plaque was unveiled outside her riverfront house in Barnes.

Founder of The Royal Ballet, Dame Ninette de Valois, lived at 14, The Terrace, in Barnes from 1962 to 1982.

"This was the home she loved best," said Celina Fox, vice chairman of English Heritage's Blue Plaque Panel.

Tuesday's unveiling (June 6) fell on what would have been Dame de Valois' 108th birthday and was also aptly within The Royal Ballet's 75th anniversary year.

Monica Mason from The Royal Ballet gave a short speech before pulling the cord on the small red velvet curtains to unveil the coveted Blue Plaque.

She said: "Madam loved Barnes. She loved popping along to the shops and to the pubs. I think she spent many, many happy years here."

The home now belongs to Major Iain Radford and his wife Jane, who have lived at the residence for 20 years.

Also present at the unveiling were Royal Ballet star, Wayne Sleep, and Kate Firestone who used to be one of Dame de Valois' demonstrators.

Mrs Firestone said: "I would come to visit her here in Barnes. After I retired she would say to me, let me look at your legs'. I would show her and she would say, they look great' and I joked and asked her why she didn't tell me that all those years ago."

Dame de Valois (1889-2001) was born Edris Stannus in County Wicklow, Ireland. She moved to London with her family around 1908 and after discovering a passion and talent for ballet she became the leading dancer in Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in 1923.

In tune with the traditions of the profession the dancer changed her name to reflect old family connections with French royalty.

In 1956 the company and school she had worked hard to establish was granted a Royal Charter and "Madame", as her dancers knew her, fulfilled her ambition to give England a state-sponsored national ballet with the future of her company and dance school secure.

In her lifetime she choreographed more than 100 works, including Job (1931) and Checkmate (1937).

Her Barnes connection resulted from the regular train rides she took from Sunningdale to The Royal Ballet School at White Lodge in Richmond Park. For years she admired the picturesque view of riverfront houses.

When her surgeon husband Dr AB Connell retired in the early sixties the couple wanted to move closer to White Lodge and driving in Barnes, they saw a for sale sign at number 14. Dame de Valois was delighted, but she was soon disappointed when the sign disappeared. In fact Dr Connell had bought the house as a birthday present for his wife and they moved in soon after.

Dame de Valois taught at White Lodge, the lower school of The Royal Ballet School, until she was in her nineties.

When old age made going up and down the stairs difficult for Dr AB Connell the couple moved to a ground floor flat in Elm Bank Gardens around the corner.

Dame Ninette de Valois died in 2001, aged 102.

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