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Harlow mourns death of ballet school founder

By Harlow Star  |  Posted: July 05, 2012

Comments (12)

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.

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  • Harlow Star  |  July 21 2012, 11:40AM

    Here's remebering many happy times at the Kersley Ranch xx

  • Harlow Star  |  July 17 2012, 2:16PM

    My condolences to Alex and John.

  • Harlow Star  |  July 15 2012, 12:20AM

    I have put a little video together in memory of Leo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpvXdUm7vhM&feature=youtu.be

  • Harlow Star  |  July 15 2012, 12:15AM

    A very sad day for ballet, Leo was not only a great ballet teacher he was a lovely person. He inspired the children from their very first class with him. I have such happy memories of the years I spent with Harlow ballet, we all loved you Leo god bless x

  • Harlow Star  |  July 12 2012, 4:10PM

    Dear Leo, You will be missed by so many but always remembered

  • Harlow Star  |  July 12 2012, 1:34PM

    Leo - The personal legacy you instilled in us is priceless. Thank-you for giving so much opportunity to so many and for your dedication and wisdom. God Bless you heaven.

  • Harlow Star  |  July 08 2012, 12:01PM

    dear leo thank you not just for teaching us the joy of dance but also for being an inspiration for all corners of life. always in my memory.

  • Harlow Star  |  July 07 2012, 11:34AM

    When is Leo Kersley's Funeral, and where? I presume Harlow?

  • Harlow Star  |  July 07 2012, 11:07AM

    Leo Kersley was an inspiration. He was my ballet teacher from the age of 7 to 16. In that time he was supportive and inspiring. With his own unique style of teaching that I have never come across since. Leo and his wife Janet worked tirelessly to get funding for me and set up a trust fund. to attend theatre school once I left secondary school. And succeeded in raising enough money to get me there. I still thank and love them dearly for that to this day. And try to share everything I learnt from him in the dance classes that I now teach. Thankyou Kelly Brice (Moffett)

  • Harlow Star  |  July 06 2012, 3:19PM

    Leo was a kind and gentle man who, as my ballet teacher was also inspirational and had a huge impact on my life. Those outside the ballet community may not have known of him, but his death truly is a great loss to harlow and the surrounding Areas.