Leonie Urdang was the founder and principal of the Urdang Academy until her sudden death in 2001.
Miss Urdang was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1939. Her increasing abhorrence of the apartheid regime led to her immigration to the UK in 1961. She took with her two passions: one for human rights, the other for Ballet. Even as a child she knew that dance would be her career. She trained at the University of Cape Town, with a particular focus on choreography.
No sooner had she arrived in London than she began to rent space in two church halls where the dream to establish a Ballet school began to take shape, student by student. The nascent school in Golders Green began to grow, until it was clear that bigger premises were needed and she could begin to fulfil her dream to train young dancers full-time. With the foresight and imagination that were among her trademarks, she soon located an old warehouse school in Covent Garden just after the market moved out. The space was converted into the Urdang Academy where it flourished.
Her commitment to equality was a founding premise for the Urdang Academy. Her mission was to ensure that talented young dancers would receive the training they deserved despite economic circumstances. She was determined that diversity would be a mark of the school, so that students of different backgrounds would be able to train there. Fundraising through galas and other means, she established a scholarship program, often adding her own personal resources to the fundraising efforts. There were times when as many as ten full-time students would be living free of charge in her house in Islington.
Miss Urdang will always be remembered for her outstanding generosity, her infectious sense of humour and the personal interest she took in every student that entered the Urdang. She is particularly remembered for the contribution she made to the dance world.