Valerie Grieg (1922–2013)

‘Good dancers love dancing’ (Valerie Grieg, 2011)

Valerie Grieg, who has died in Melbourne on 27 March in her 91st year, was an inspired teacher of ballet whose deep understanding of the classical technique and how it can best be taught are contained in her publication Inside ballet technique: separating anatomical fact from fiction in the ballet class. Inside ballet technique was first published in 1994 by the Princeton Book Company and remains an essential guide to body mechanics and the anatomical laws behind classical ballet.

Valerie Grieg modelling Prestige Ltd fabric, taken during the filming of ‘Fabrics in Motion’, Melbourne, Victoria, 1951. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Reproduced with permission

As a child in Melbourne Grieg studied ballet before going on to work with Elisabet Wiener, proponent of the Central European modern dance style. But ballet, with its strong technical underpinning, was where her interests and commitment lay and in the 1940s she joined Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. It was an extraordinarily creative time at the newly-formed Guild and Grieg’s colleagues at the time represented a roll call of Melbourne-based artists of the day. They included Martin Rubinstein, Strelsa Heckelman, Corrie Lodders, Max Collis, Graham Smith and Eve King. With Ballet Guild, Grieg performed in many of Martyn’s original compositions, including Sigrid in which she danced the title role, as well as in classics of the repertoire such as Serge Bousloff’s staging of Le Carnaval in which she appeared as Chiarina.

Teaching soon became an important aspect of Grieg’s career. In 1950 the Guild established a branch in Hamilton, Victoria, and Grieg became its director. A newspaper report in 1952 claimed Grieg had flown over 40,000 miles to give classes since taking on this role. Later she taught for the Guild on the Mornington Peninsula.

Grieg left the Guild, and Australia, in the early 1950s to work and study in the United Kingdom. In London she came under the influence of esteemed teacher Audrey de Vos whose approach to a number of technical issues Grieg absorbed into her own developing career as an educator.

After returning to Australia briefly Grieg left in the early 1960s to pursue her dance interests in the United States. She studied in New York at the Juilliard School where she especially admired the warmth and strength of Martha Hill, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked with Ohio Ballet. She was also the founding coordinator of the Dance Department at the University of Akron, Ohio. Eventually, Grieg returned to Manhattan where she coached, choreographed and taught master classes. She came back to Australia on frequent occasions to teach and coach. Later she returned permanently to her country of birth living first in Canberra and then in Melbourne.

Grieg’s students continue to teach and perform in the United States, Australia and elsewhere and many continue to develop and expand upon her influential approach to teaching. Her friend and colleague, Janet Karin, recalls Grieg’s influence:

In the 1950s, Valerie was a ballet teacher well ahead of her time. Her experience in modern dance, her anatomical knowledge and her enquiring, analytical mind enabled her to see the fundamental truths behind traditional teaching. As my mentor in my early teaching years, she was always generously encouraging. Her interest in discussing esoteric technical points inspired me then, and was still inspiring me as she reached the age of 90. Valerie helped lay the foundations of my teaching career.

Grieg’s legacy lives on. She is survived by her nephews, Christopher Zegelin in the United States and Peter Zegelin in Australia.

Valerie Grieg: born Melbourne, 4 September 1922; died Melbourne, 27 March 2013.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2013

9 thoughts on “Valerie Grieg (1922–2013)

  1. When I met Valerie while studying in Irene Dowd’s dance “laboratory” in 1983, I felt immediately that we were soul sisters. But little did I know how involved she would become in my life and my company, Ballets with a Twist. She even chose the company’s name! Valerie thought about dance in the most refreshing way — “It’s just plain, ordinary ballet,” she would say. She was determined to dig into the details and deepen the dance world’s understanding of classical ballet technique, to illuminate why ballet is a perfect reflection of the human experience. She invested untold care, energy, and time in her fantastic book, which I was fortunate enough to watch her bring to life over the course of our studies together.

    She taught me more lessons than I can count — secrets of the toes on pointe, how to bow graciously, how to transcend habits of style… But the most important thing she taught me was that as a choreographer, my only job is to make my dancers look good. Valerie never stopped making her dancers look good, and I will always be inspired by that.

  2. Valerie was so beloved, for her kindness, her sense of humor, her wisdom, and her x-ray vision. She could see inside the dancer and explain how proper use of bone and muscle freed the imagination. I was thrilled to see that this beautiful review mentioned her book at the outset. Often challenging, but always right on, it’s a classic that should be in every dance bag. I’m sure Valerie has already been put to work training the archangels.

  3. Last month, a lovely little article on Ballets with a Twist took me on a trip through my company’s history, and naturally, Valerie turned up along the way:

    “Although [Klaus] says she would like to claim that she came up with the name “Ballets with a Twist” because of her “cocktails,” such is not the case. The company’s name was suggested by her dance teacher, Valerie Grieg…” — Bill Nutt for The Daily Record (

    As we wrap up our busiest performance season to date, I’m once again thinking of my mentor and the invaluable role she played in my life. Without her guidance, inspiration and keen honesty, Ballets with a Twist wouldn’t be what it is today — and neither would I.

  4. Thanks Marilyn. I read the article with interest. I think there are people in Australia who continue to feel their loss re Valerie and like you know their lives would have been different without her guidance. I especially enjoyed your comment about ‘keen honesty’ as I often feel that honesty is lacking in much of the dance I see. Happy holidays to you and your team.

  5. Is this the Valerie Grieg that was in Marietta, Georgia USA in the late 1970’s?

  6. I suspect so, although I can’t be absolutely sure. Valerie spent a lot of time in the US. What do you recall her doing in Marietta?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *