A RESPECTED dancer and choreographer who set up Harlow’s first ballet school more than 50 years ago has died at the age of 92.
Watford-born Leo Kersley was one of the first male ballet dancers to appear on stage with the world-famous Ballet Rambert in the 1930s before going on to secure a place at the Royal Ballet School in 1942.
Three years later he became the lead male dancer at Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, remaining with the company until 1950 when he left the UK for North America with his second wife, Janet Sinclair.
Settling in Colorado with his family, Mr Kersley spent 18 months teaching before moving back to Europe to take up a new post in Holland.
Encouraged to relocate to Harlow New Town in 1959, he moved his family to Ladyshot and set up Harlow Ballet School. Within two years the Kersleys had set up the Harlow Ballet Club, the precursor to Harlow Ballet Association, which is still going strong 51 years later.
With ballet becoming increasingly fashionable, the couple found there was no shortage of Harlow youngsters eager to learn and the fledgling group soon staged its first productions.
The school’s early success led to the staging of the inaugural Harlow Ballet Festival in 1962, which boasted internationally-recognised artists on the bill and put the town firmly on the UK’s cultural map.
Mr Kersley then played an instrumental role in convincing the council to build The Playhouse, where Harlow Ballet promptly took up residence following the theatre’s official opening in 1971.
His skills as a teacher meant that many of his students were inspired to pursue successful careers in ballet, theatre and music. One of his greatest achievements came in 1967, when he saw five HBS members win places at the prestigious Royal Ballet School.
He continued to teach at the school up until the death of wife Janet in 1999, returning 10 years later to take his final class as part of the group’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Mr Kersley is survived by daughter Alexandra – with whom he was living in north London up until his death – son John, two grandchildren and one great grandchild.
See next week’s Star for tributes to Mr Kersley.