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Dancing through the war

An exhibit of photos and reminiscences, Dancing Through the War: The Royal Ballet 1939-1946, opens at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, London SW1, on Feb 16-May 20. Jean Bedells, a 15-year-old in 1939, remembers the fun and the danger as the company toured Britain to keep up morale during World War II. From the Telegraph,

Her most frightening night of the war years was April 29 1942 when she was with the company in Bath during the ferocious bombing raids when 400 people were killed. She was sleeping in makeshift lodgings underneath the Theatre Royal at the time, and rushed upstairs to find Lambert and Henry Robinson, the stage manager, hosing the back of the stage so that it would not catch fire. "They saved the Theatre Royal," she says, today.

She also recalls makeshift costumes, sleeping in luggage compartments on trains and in massage parlours at Harrogate Baths, and feet bleeding because ballet shoes were in such short supply. But she adds: "It was an amazing time to have lived. You knew what you were doing was a very valuable war aid.

"We were a group of friends working jolly hard but doing what we loved doing. I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

The great ballerina Margot Fonteyn, a young dancer then but already flawless, lyrical, passionate, and charming, toured with them. The exhibit is based in part on the letters she wrote about dancing through the Blitz.

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