The Joan Lawson Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains records of Joan Lawson's work as a ballet dancer, teacher and dance writer, as well as a collector of dance and theatre ephemera. It includes series of correspondence, illustrations, notes and manuscripts, photographs, publications and programmes.

Correspondence is in the form of letters, greetings cards and postcards, including several hand-illustrated cards and notes from Peter Revitt; correspondence associated with Lawson’s publications, including plans for a book to be entitled Ballet Stories (1977-8); postcards of designs by Sophie Fedorovitch; also postcards featuring the national and folk-dance costumes of many European countries, many of them posted to Lawson from abroad (c.1920-1970).

There are also illustrated booklets about national and folk-dance costumes, and illustrated books of folk tales (in English, French, Polish and Russian, c. 1950-70). Also National Folk Costume Plates and music sheets (undated).

Typed notes by Lawson which appear to be her translation from the original Mariinsky Theatre programmes of Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Petipa/Ivanov’s The Nutcracker (1892). Facsimile pages from John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus (London, 1717).

Typed notes (these teaching materials are unattributed; they may have been compiled by other staff of The Royal Ballet School and used by Lawson when teaching): ballet variations (describing steps and floor patterns) from The Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia, Swan Lake and Les Sylphides; class teaching notes on Mime (dated 14/10/1966); also technical notes for Back and Breathing Exercises (undated); as well as an exercise book of Lawson’s hand-written notes on posture and breathing exercises, and many character dance exercises.

Assorted research notes and related correspondence on: Moreau de Saint-Méry and Danse by Lillian Moore; Jules Perrot by Yuri Slominsky, translated by Anatole Chujoy; transcriptions (in French) of the letters of Gasparo Angiolini held by the Public Libraries in Brighton (1949); the description (in French) of a Catalan dance in 1823, copied from P.J.S. Richardson’s library and sent to Lawson by Richardson (1954); The Ballet d’Action before Noverre by Artur Michel from Dance Index Vol VI, No 3 (April 1947); Puritans and Music by Percy A. Scholes, Oxford University Press (1934); also some essay questions for The GCE June Examination on Ballet, 1974.

A typed 13 page essay on Merle Park by Cormac Rigby (31/07/1986), about her directorship of The Royal Ballet School, from 1983, and the awarding of her D.B.E. in June 1986.

A typed 9 page lecture given by Lawson to the Royal Academy of Dancing Assembly (04/01/1979): Problems of the Growing Child.

Handwritten draft text of Lawson’s book for children, entitled Ballet Stories (c. 1977).

Publications and periodicals, possibly used as reference and research material, including a copy of The Burlington Magazine (February 1922) containing illustrations of 11th century dancing women featured on Byzantine enamels. A photocopied typed manuscript of A Picture Story Book (published 1851) including two chapters entitled The History of a Nut-Cracker.

A photocopied, bound, manuscript textbook: Terms of Reference, What Is Ballet? written by Lawson, as a History of Ballet teaching aid for students of The Royal Ballet School (undated); the bound manuscript of Lawson’s book entitled Choreography (undated), also The Art of Pas de deux, a bound manuscript copy of Lawson’s translation of the book by Nicolai Serebrenikov [Serrebrenikov], with additional technical material by Lawson (c. 1977, undated, Lawson’s translation was published in 1978 by Dance Books, London). The research notes, correspondence and final copy of a pamphlet written by Lawson, entitled Ballet Shoe Fitting, published by the Educational Dept. of Gamba Ltd (London, 1972).

Catalogue (not illustrated) for an Exhibition of Ballet Design, C.E.M.A. (1943-4) with an introduction by Arnold Haskell; illustrated copy of Settings and Costumes of the Modern Stage by Theodore Komisarjevsky and Lee Simonson, The Studio Publications (London and New York, 1933), with some colour plates; bound manuscript copy (in French) of Histoire de la Danse by Germaine Prudommeau, Université de Paris, Panthéon-Sorbonne (1976); illustrated copy of British Achievement in Art and Music by Jack Lindsay, the Pilot Press Ltd. (published c. 1945), featuring C.E.M.A. and the Sadler’s Wells Ballet.

Programmes for the Moscow International Dance Competition (1969, French and Russian versions); magazine of the London Ballet Circle (1981, 35th anniversary edition) with reports on talks given by Ninette de Valois, Pamela May, Travis Kemp, Irina Baronova, Margaret Barbieri among others.

Publication by the British Ballet Organisation (reprint of 1979): Questionnaire and Replies for the Elementary to Advanced Espinosa Syllabus, originally, The basic technical analysis of operatic ballet dancing created in 1908 by Eduard Espinosa. Also technical publications by the Royal Academy of Dancing (later Royal Academy of Dance).

Lawson's personal collection of lithographs and illustrations date from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. Subjects depicted include dancers in national-dress demi-charactère costumes; prominent dancers and actors of the 19th century, including Lise Noblet, Madame Vestris [Lucia Elizabeth Bartolozzi], Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, Joseph Grimaldi, Fanny Kemble and others; also some Pollock's Toy Theatre catalogues for theatrical portraits and toy theatres.

Lawson's private collection of photographic prints features individual dancers and scenes of ballets from the New Soviet Ballet Company and the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Company, as well as other subjects, including Lydia Sokolova and P.J.S. Richardson.

It also includes a selection of programmes, mainly from the Sadler's Wells Ballet and the Sadler's Wells Ballet Choreographic Group (1948-56). Also the programme for the world premiere of the film Tales of Beatrix Potter in London (1 April 1979) which contains an illustrated feature on White Lodge and The Royal Ballet Upper School.

Material kept separately from this collection and incorporated into The Royal Ballet School reference collections includes:

Books housed in the Arnold Haskell Dance Library, White Lodge; these cover a range of subjects, including ballet and theatre history, European and Soviet Union folk dance, and ballet technique. The books are all identified as Lawson’s, and many are inscribed to her by their authors; there are also signed copies of Joan Lawson’s published works in the collection.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joan Lawson (1907 – 2002) was a British dancer, teacher and writer. She trained with Margaret Morris and Serafina Astafieva, later studying in Moscow and Leningrad (Lawson was fluent in Russian and French). She danced in Carl Rosa’s Opera Company, in revues, and with the Nemchinova-Dolin Ballet. Lawson was a teacher at The Royal Ballet School, 1963/4 - 1971, specialising in the classical training of younger dancers, in mime and folk dance, and in the history of ballet. She regularly contributed to The Dancing Times, and was the author of several books which included European Folk Dance (London, 1953), Dressing for Ballet, co-written with Peter Revitt (London, 1958), Classical Ballet, its Theory and Technique (London, 1960) and A History of Ballet and its Makers (London, 1964). Her influential manuals, Teaching of Classical Ballet: Common Faults in Young Dancers (London, 1973) and Teaching Young Dancers: Muscular Coordination in Classical Ballet (New York, 1975), examined how analysis of the dancer’s anatomy is fundamental to ballet training.

Access Information

This collection is open for consultation and can be viewed by appointment only. Please contact White Lodge Museum via our website at The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum

Acquisition Information

Lithographs, illustrations, research notes, correspondence and books: gift of Joan Lawson, date not recorded

Teaching notes of Joan Lawson: from The Royal Ballet School teaching records, date not recorded

Related Material

Related material is held at the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. For further information contact the enquiry service at or telephone 020 7942 2698 with reference THM/251 - Joan Lawson Archive, 1919-33, found here: