Who Is Anna Pavlova?

But first: the next two giveaway winners:

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Email me, ladies (stephc at 3hourspast dot com) and I’ll get your sample packs to you in the post!

Anna Pavlova

The Pavlova Wrap Top & Skirt from Cake Patterns is named after a beloved Antipodean meringue and fruit dish.   It’s a controversial issue Down Under, and tomorrow I want you all to tell me what’s the best way to make them. But first, I’d like to take a look at Anna Pavlova- the dessert’s ballerina namesake.

click for source

click for source

Anna Pavlova was born in St. Petersberg Russia in 1881 and died in 1931.   Her performances enraptured crowds of people from Russia to Peru to Sydney and inspired countless people to also take up dance.  It’s tough to come to grips with the star quality of legends who lived and died outside of film from the vantage point of 2013.  I sifted through various writings about Anna and discovered this quote from her first choreographer:

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“You must realize that your daintiness and fragility are your greatest assets. You should always do the kind of dancing which brings out your own rare qualities instead of trying to win praise by mere acrobatic tricks.”

This is interesting.  I’m no scholar on the history of ballet (chime in if you are!), but I discovered that at the time ballet dancers were strong.  Acrobatic.  One article uses the word “meatball” to describe the characteristics of ballerinas at the time Anna began dancing.    We take fragile, dainty ballerinas for granted, but not back then!  How things change…

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click for source

Anna took the advice of her choreographer.  Rather than trying to imperfectly emulate “le mode,”  Anna threw her passion for dance into ballet performances done her own way.  Crowds adored her for it- the expression of her love of dance and of motion on stage, presented in her own individual manner.

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click for source

Over the course of her career, Anna racked up 350,000 miles traveling the world. Without an airplane!  This was also peculiar at the time, and set her apart from other performers.  She’d have to be pretty adventurous and tough to handle that kind of touring.

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click for source

No doubt weakened by her punishing work schedule, Anna succumbed to pleurisy at the age of 50.  Tellingly, some sources say the doctors could have saved her but she resisted because the operation would leave her unable to dance.  She lived and died for her art, inspiring unknown numbers of people through her passion.

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She was wise, too:

“What exactly is success? For me it is to be found not in applause, but in the satisfaction of feeling that one is realizing one’s ideal. When, a small child rambling over there by the fir trees, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away.”

Anna Pavlova

Read more about Anna’s life at the V&A and also here at Great Russian Women.  Both excellent articles.

Have you met Anna before?   How do you express your individuality through your occupation?


  1. The pointe shoes at that time weren’t that great (compared to the ones we have now anyway), so being able to dance on your toes in the early twentieth century was a superhuman feat! Dying Swan video (one of my favourite Russian ballerinas): http://youtu.be/-T2UeKKac-s

    • Wow. When I read up on Anna, for whatever reason hadn’t made the jump over to Youtube. Wow. Her arms are like wings…. Her legs… The desperation..

  2. I had heard of the dessert, but never about Anna. How interesting and what a dedicated person! I don’t have the type of occupation that lends itself to expressing individuality (that sounds sadder and more boring than I mean it to). I mainly express myself in my hobbies.

    • Hobbies keep you occupied, and so they’re an occupation. :) I think so, anyway. And thank goodness for that! Not everyone can be an impassioned, talented, globe-trotting ballerina who dies for her art… If only, right?

  3. I had a book, “The Dancing Swan” when I was a kid, which told the story of Anna Pavlova. I loved it, and everytime I got to the part whe she died, rather than have the potentially life saving treatment, I got all snivelly. I did ballet for a while, but I am the exact opposite of my ballet hero, so it didn’t last. ;)

    • Thanks for that, I’ll add it to Lila’s library. :)

      I never did ballet, though for the last few months I’ve enjoyed barre workouts. Not the same at all, but nice.

  4. There are a few films on Youtube of Anna Pavlova dancing:
    The Dying Swan ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMEBFhVMZpU ) — this was really her signature dance.
    The Dragonfly ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyDiLBSbKio )
    California Poppy ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4i95gRz1ow )

    The last two open with a short photomontage, followed by film footage. There appear to be more videos on Youtube, I didn’t search too hard. It’s amazing that snippets of video like these have survived!!

  5. Wow, what an amazing woman! I’m looking forward to reading more about her and the dessert since I didn’t know either existed. What a great reminder to focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses.

    • Yes! Ooooh and the dessert is sooo good. And very very beloved to Aussies and Kiwis, and rather contentious… :) The first time I ever tried it I thought “oooh this is the perfect way to finish a meal…” And when I discovered it was created for and named after a legendary ballerina, well, it made complete sense :)

  6. Thank you for the lovely write up. I really enjoy when you learn us about people back when. :D What beautiful pictures too. I don’t know how she didn’t break/fall over in that last one, but wow what a gorgeous picture!

    • Hhehehe. I love to dig around and dream, it’s fun to share… Such beautiful pictures! She was very careful about her image, and it shows in the hundreds and maybe thousands of photos of her out there… I think she must have gone blonde during the 20’s, she’s blond in the dragonfly costume but it’s definitely her…

      I think that’s her appeal. Her fragility, the human fragility we all recognize and feel?

  7. My mother loved Pavlova, so I’ve known of her since I was a small child, and I must say, I love ballet. Amazing life! And to think she set the standard for what constitutes a ballerina – light, airy and fragile. Loved your links. Thanks for posting!

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