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Who is the Chicago Ballerina Anna Ludmilla?

In 1963 Dame Margot Fonteyn took time out of her overly full schedule to write a six-page letter to a curious journalist inquiring about the American woman who was receiving recognition for coaching the famous prima ballerina. “‘She is a wonderful teacher” wrote Fonteyn. ‘with a great sense of real dancing movement combined with a sharp eye for details—and faults!’” Such a tribute, from the internationally renowned English ballerina, was not acquired easily. In fact, such laudatory compliments had required a journey of more than fifty years for the former American-trained ballerina and teacher, Anna Ludmilla, and only after years of disciplined effort and the dues paid.

Jean Marie Kaley was born in 1903. She joined the Chicago-based Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet. She Russianized her name to Anna Ludmilla and at the age of fourteen made her U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall. Ludmilla’s journey to become a professional ballerina began in the early 1900s when women comprised only eighteen percent of the workforce and jobs were mostly low-paying and non-professional, including domestic servant, telephone operator, or secretary. With the odds of becoming a professional ballerina against her, just how did a woman born in 1903 achieve such esteemed recognition sixty years later from the iconic Fonteyn?

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