Strelsa Heckelman Lording (1925−2012)

Strelsa Heckelman, 1950. J. C. Williamson collection. National Library of Australia 

Strelsa Heckelman Lording, who danced under her maiden name Strelsa Heckelman in several early Australian ballet companies in the 1940s and 1950s, has died in Melbourne aged 87.

Described by friend and dancing colleague Athol Willoughby as ‘a sparkling dancer with a strong technique’, Heckelman began dancing early in her life in her home town of Brisbane. By the time she was thirteen she had passed all her Royal Academy of Dance examinations and shortly afterwards she was invited to take part in classes with Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe during the company’s 1940 Brisbane season. De Basil then invited her to follow the company to Sydney, which she did.

But, despite impressing de Basil, she did not join the Ballets Russes. Instead she continued her training as a full-time student with Hélène Kirsova in Sydney at Kirsova’s studios at Circular Quay and, when Kirsova started a ballet company herself in 1941, Heckelman joined it. She danced with the Kirsova Ballet until the company folded in 1944. With Kirsova she was part of the unique collaborative activities that Kirsova initiated when she commissioned composers, including Henry Krips, and designers such as Loudon Sainthill to work with her company.

Heckelman then joined Edouard Borovansky’s Borovansky Ballet performing in the company’s regular repertoire as well as in musical shows that Borovansky choreographed for the J. C. Williamson organisation. Later she danced with Laurel Martyn’s Melbourne-based company Ballet Guild, and in the early 1950s danced again in J. C. Williamson musicals, including Song of Norway and Oklahoma. Leading performers in musicals in the fifties were almost always brought in from overseas and Heckelman danced to considerble acclaim in both Song of Norway and Oklahoma with star American jazz dancer Matt Mattox.

Her final professional performances before retiring in 1953 to have her children were with the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne. With the National her repertoire included the full-length Swan Lake, the Giselle peasant pas de deux, which she danced with Ray Trickett, and the Head Girl in Kira Bousloff’s staging of Graduation Ball. She also alternated with Valrene Tweedie as Columbine in Tweedie’s 1953 production of Carnaval for the National. 

Strelsa Heckelman in the peasant pas de deux from Giselle. National Theatre Ballet, 1952. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

Athol Willoughby recalls a somewhat incredible feat that took place during a rehearsal for the National’s Swan Lake. He says: ‘Our rehearsals for the 1952 season were conducted in a large church hall in the suburb of Hawthorn. At a rehearsal for “Swan Lake” Act 3, Strelsa was dancing in a cardigan because she had a cold. She began the 32 fouettes of the coda when her nose began to run. Without missing a beat she took a handkerchief from a pocket in the cardigan, blew her nose, put the hanky back in the pocket concluding the series of fouettes without moving from the spot. That seemed to me to be quite an achievement!’

In between jobs with a ballet companies, Heckelman worked in a photographer’s studio and later in the perfume department of the Melbourne department store, Georges. Following her stage career she established her own ballet school and also taught for other teachers in the Melbourne area. She remained active in the dance world in her later years and in 2002 became patron of the Tasmanian Ballet Company.

Heckelman once recalled that she never tired of dancing. She thought of every night as an opening night and always relished the overture starting, the curtain going up and seeing the lights in the theatre. That was the magic of the theatre for her.

Strelsa Heckelman married Jack Carruthers in 1951. After the death of Carruthers, Heckelman married Tom Lording in 1984. He died the following year. Heckelman is survived by a son, Ian, and a daughter, Lynn, from her first marriage.

Strelsa Heckelman Lording: born Brisbane, 20 July 1925; died Melbourne, 28 December 2012

Michelle Potter, 7 January 2013

9 thoughts on “Strelsa Heckelman Lording (1925−2012)

  1. Thank you Michelle for this lovely personal tribute to Strelsa. She’d be touched and pleased, no doubt.
    Strelsa’s God daughter

  2. Thank you for your comment Lisa. I am very grateful to Athol Willoughby for his insights. But I am also pleased to be able to mention two companies in which your Godmother danced: the Kirsova Ballet and the National Theatre Ballet, which have suffered somewhat, I think, by the emphasis that has been given to Borovansky. I hope your Godmother would have been touched and pleased, as you suggest.

  3. Thank you for such a full and kind tribute to Strelsa. Aged 3, she introduced me to ballet (at her school), which lead me to many years and a strong love of dance. Though we had many an argument over terms (I trained in RAD), I will miss hearing the thud of her staff and her great presence in class.
    (Long time family friend and student)

  4. Kara, I enjoyed your comment about the arguments over terminology. I was originally RAD trained too and when I went to take classes with Valrene Tweedie I was at first a little taken aback by some of the terms. I could never get used to dégagés instead of battements glissés!

  5. My great grandmother and Strelsa’s grandmother were sisters.
    I would be pleased to hear from any of her family.

  6. I have known Strelsa since I was a kid. My father had an association with Strelsa through Musical Theatre in Frankston. My older sister took dance class with Strelsa and I was harnessed to a church pew in order to stop me joining the class. When Strelsa was teaching in the Frankston area as Miss Carruthers she also sold Avon and I remember many a time me being about 4 years of age doing the splits for her whilst she was showing my mother various Avon products. Stelsa choreographed a number of shows for Peninsula Light Operatic Society, now know as PLOS Productions and I believe also choreographed with what was then the Frankston Teachers College where my father was the Music Lecturer. My father was also Musical Director for many PLOS shows as well as at Frankston Teachers College. Hence, there was a long association with Strelsa. My father passed away in 1982 and Strelsa was there to keep our spirits bright and she was also pleasantly pleased to see that I had married one of her senior students. Although my father suggested to my mother that I should attend classes with Strelsa, my mother would have none of it. Because of my involvement in musical theatre I eventually found my way to learn dance from the incomparable Calvin Von Reinhold and danced in his Advanced classes until he was no longer able to teach. To me, Strelsa always had a lightness about her, always bright and full of energy.

  7. Thanks for these special memories Patrick. I loved that you eventually managed
    to take dance classes, despite the church pew and other things.

  8. I remember the name Strelsa Heckelman from when I was a little girl. Stories of the beautiful ballet dancer my parents knew. My father Bramwell Burrows met Strelsa during WW2 in Brisbane and they became friends. Strelsa presented my Dad with an opal ring as he was flying RAAF Catalinas right out across the Pacific Ocean right up to China on over 60 secret missions and his was the first plane in to take the POWs from Changaii POW Camp 3 days after capitulation. He flew 5 at a time to hospital in Borneo.
    My parents met at school in Brisbane then remet after the war and married in 1948.
    What a delightful surprise to see Strelsa’s Story and photo..she was a truely very beautiful talented woman.
    My own grand daughter is a ballet dancer at just 14. Her cousin has just won the lead role in Swan Lake in Brisbane.
    Dad’s sister Eva Burrows became the World Leader of the Salvation Army for 7 years.
    My Mum Edna..Dad Bramwell and Eva have all passed away 2014.
    Bless Strelsa and all her family.
    Pauline Burrows-Booth

  9. Thank you Pauline for this reminiscence. I am glad you liked the Strelsa story and it’s lovely to know that ballet features in your life the way it does.

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