Joan Lawson Archive

Scope and Content

Materials relating to Joan Lawson's career as a dancer, teacher and writer including cuttings, promotional materials, teaching materials, book reviews, draft manuscripts, notes, a variety of published materials by various authors, contracts, correspondence, photographs and financial records.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joan Lawson (born 30 Jan 1906, died 18 Feb 2002) was a British dancer, teacher and writer. The daughter of the Fleet Street journalist, Rob Lawson, Joan trained from the age of six with Margaret Morris with whom she performed as a child in the West End and then with Serafina Astafieva at the Pheasantry, Chelsea. She later studied in Moscow and Leningrad (Lawson was fluent in Russian and French) and became an expert on Soviet ballet. In 1922 she danced in Carl Rosa's Opera Company, in revues, most notably the touring version of Brighter London (1926-17) and with the Nemchinova-Dolin Ballet. She appeared as principal dancer in a number of pantomimes and formed the quartet of Joan Lawson Dancers who appeared in summer shows, revues and in conjunction with film screenings in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1934 she appeared in variety with 'Hepburn, Stewart and Lawson', described at South London Palace (11 Jun 1934) as 'Sensational Step and Adagio Dancers' and at the Chelsea Palace (2 Jul 1934) as 'Allegro Dancers'. Between 1935 and 1939 she arranged the dances for a series of pantomimes at the Palace Theatre, Plymouth. She later specialised in national and folk dance.

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 (indeed anonymously contributed reviews to the 'Sitter Out') and was the author of several books including European Folk Dance (London, 1953), Mime: the theory and practice of expressive gesture with a description of its historical development (1957), Dressing for Ballet co-written with Peter Revitt (London, 1958), Classical Ballet: Its Style and Technique (London, 1960), A History of Ballet: Common Faults in Young Dancers (London, 1973), A History of Ballet and Its Makers (London, 1973) and Teaching Young Dancers: Muscular Coordination in Classical Ballet (New York, 1975) which examined how analysis of the dancer's anatomy is fundamental to ballet training. Lawson played an important role in the establishment of the National Dance Faculty of the ISTD and played an important role in the development of remedial work. Her interest in remedial dance and dance related injuries was awakened by Margaret Morris, which led her to participate actively in clinical diagnosis and treatment. She had a genuine ability to pin-point a dancer's faults and the root of problems and after her 'retirement' she helped many dancers return to the stage after injury. She also appeared on BBC Radio 3's 'Woman of Action' on 18 Dec 1976.

For further biographical details see 'Obituary Joan Lawson', Dancing Times, April 2002, pp. 24-25.


This collection is arranged as follows:

THM/251/1 - Materials relating to Joan Lawson's career as a dancer

THM/251/2 - Materials relating to Joan Lawson's career as a teacher

THM/251/3 - Materials relating to Joan Lawson's career as a writer

THM/251/4 - Soviet ballet materials

THM/251/5 - Correspondence

THM/251/6 - Published material by various authors

THM/251/7 - Photographs

THM/251/8 - Financial records

THM/251/9 - Greek dress collage

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Given by Joan Lawson, 1998.

Separated Material

Photographs of Vera Nemchinova and Toni Lander and post card photographs of Olga Spessitseva and Astafieva have been seperated from the archive and can be found in the Department of Theatre and Performance collection of photographs of individuals.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with collection management policy.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

There is a complimentary Joan Lawson Collection at The Royal Ballet School Collections, see Archives Hub:

The Ruth French Collection (THM/435) contains material on the Hippodrome original production. Many of Joan Lawson's books are in the V&A Theatre and Performance Library.

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to Joan Lawson and The Royal Ballet in general may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.

Personal Names