The following biography was written for the Wikipedia article “Margaret Craske” by Claude Conyers, a retired reference book publishing professional (and my editorial mentor) and, before his editorial career, a ballet dancer. Among his many projects were the International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen (Oxford University Press, 1998), and the Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade (Macmillan, 1987). Claude’s Wikipedia contribution was insistently rejected by another editor, so he kindly gave permission for it to be adapted here. I have added links and tiny changes for this site. —Kendra Crossen Burroughs
Margaret Craske (26 November 1892 – 18 February 1990) was a British ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, and writer.1 She is most remembered as a leading authority on the Cecchetti method of teaching ballet and as a disciple of the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba.2
==Early life and career==
Margaret Mary Craske was born in Norfolk,3 a low-lying county on the eastern coast of England. The daughter of Edmund and Hannah Craske,4 she was an athletic child who became interested in dance. She began her ballet training with a local teacher in 1908, when she was sixteen.5 In 1918, when the celebrated maestro Enrico Cecchetti opened his ballet school in London, Craske was persuaded by a friend to join his classes. Under his tutelage, she flourished, becoming a proficient dancer and a committed devotee of his method of teaching.
In the early 1920s, during a London season of Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes, he called on Cecchetti for English students to augment his company of mainly Russian dancers.6 Craske, dubbed Margareta Krasova for the occasion, was one of Cecchetti’s pupils who danced for a short time with the company. Thereafter she choreographed ballet numbers for various musical shows and toured the English provinces in a small troupe, including Ninette de Valois, that played in music halls and variety theaters. Her stage career was a short one, coming to an end when a serious foot injury forced her to give up performing. Upon Cecchetti’s retirement in 1923, Craske took over teaching at his studio7 and began the career as a pedagogue for which she would become widely known.
After Cecchetti’s death in November 1928, Craske and her friends Cyril Beaumont, Stanislas Idzikowsky, and Friderica Derra de Moroda decided to codify his method so it could continue to be used by ballet teachers to perfect the technique of their pupils. The publications that resulted from their collaborations included two books on allegro technique by Craske and coauthors as well as other important technical manuals.8 These books are the basis of the Cecchetti method still used today to train dancers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.9
After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Craske formed a partnership with Mabel Ryan to open the Craske-Ryan School at 46 West Street, off Cambridge Circus, in London. Ryan was also a former pupil of Cecchetti’s and, like Craske, was totally dedicated to his method and memory.10 Their school quickly became a center for aspiring dancers as well as professionals. Ryan taught the classes for children and for elementary and intermediate students, while Craske taught the popular morning classes for professionals. A diminutive woman, with an austere manner but a sharp sense of humor,11 she was known for the consistency and clarity of her classes. Many well-known dancers of the time studied with her, including Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Anton Dolin, Peggy van Praagh, Mary Skeaping, Keith Lester, and the young Margot Fonteyn.
In 1931, at Eastertide, Craske went to a retreat in Devonshire in search of quiet and rest. There she learned about Meher Baba, the silent spiritual master from India. Several months later, she was invited to meet him at a private home in London. On first glance, she saw him as “a vision of gentleness, grace, and love that touched the heart immeasurably.” Soon won over to his personal manner and his non-denominational teaching, she became a devoted follower, viewing him as “the embodiment of Love and Life.” Years later, she recalled this meeting as “the most important moment of my life.”12 Not long after their meeting in 1931, Craske traveled to India to study with him, remaining there for some months. In 1939, just before England declared war on Nazi Germany, she returned to India13 to continue her spiritual training at an ashram in Nasik that Meher Baba had established for his Western disciples.
Craske spent the next seven years in Meher Baba’s ashrams in India,14 in Nasik and Meherabad, south of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. As part of her spiritual training, ordered by Meher Baba, she did her ballet barre exercises every day, clinging to a pole holding up the roof of a dung-covered porch.15 Then she did “center practice,” the second half of all ballet classes, of enchainements from the syllabus of the Cecchetti method. Meher Baba, who called Craske by a Persian name, “Zuleka,” valued her dancing talent. “Dancing is a very good art if expressed rightly,” he once remarked. “It has divine qualities, and if properly expressed, it will have a wonderful effect. If expressed wrongly, it has the opposite effect.”16
Craske remained in India until 1946, returning to England only after World War II was over in Europe and peace had been declared. Meher Baba had directed her to go to the United States and teach ballet. She was unsure how to accomplish this, but she was determined to follow her master’s order. For the rest of her life, she believed in two masters: Enrico Cecchetti, her dance master, and Meher Baba, her spiritual master.17
==Later life and career==
Upon her return to London, Craske contacted Ninette de Valois, who asked her to teach some company classes at the studios of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet). There she met some of her former students, including New York–based choreographer Antony Tudor, who was in London on tour with Ballet Theater (now American Ballet Theater). At his suggestion, Craske was invited to become the company’s ballet mistress and teacher. Mindful of Meher Baba’s direction for her to become a “link” in America, she promptly accepted the invitation, viewing it as a synchronistic fulfillment of his order.18 She moved to the United States soon afterward, in 1946, and in 1947 began teaching and coaching the company, working with Alicia Alonso, Jerome Robbins, Nora Kaye, and other members of the ensemble.19
In 1950, the directors of Ballet Theater and the Metropolitan Opera decided to collaborate in opening a school at the Met, and Craske went there to teach. When it was formally named the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, she became its director and remained there for nearly the next twenty years. Like Cecchetti, she stressed exact technique and attention to detail in her teaching, encouraging her students to attend to the quality of movement and the anatomical mechanics of the body. When the school closed in 1968, she joined Manhattan Festival Ballet as ballet mistress. She also served on the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Dance, and, for many summers, the School at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. When the Manhattan School closed in 1983, she went to Ballet School NY, where she taught until her retirement, at age ninety-four, in 1986.20
During all these years, many professional dancers and choreographers were students of Miss Craske, as she was always called in class. Among the dancers who appreciated her analytical teaching style were such famous stars as Carolyn Brown, Melissa Hayden, Hugh Laing, Bruce Marks, Carmen Mathe, and Sallie Wilson. The choreographers influenced by Craske were even more numerous, including Gerald Arpino, Agnes de Mille, Viola Farber, Pauline Koner, Ron Sequoio, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley, and James Waring.21 Besides benefiting from her technical training, many of her dance students learned about Meher Baba from her and became adherents of his spiritual guidance. Among them were Marie Adair, Jean Cebrun [one of the “carriers,” dancers who were privileged to carry Meher Baba in a lift chair in 1958 at Meher Center, following Baba’s second auto accident], Cathryn (“Skipper”) Damon, Joe Fabian [a carrier], Viola Farber, Sura Geshen, Loren (“Tex”) Hightower [a carrier], Helen (“Bunty”) Kelly, Cynthia Mays, Donald Mahler [a carrier], Ella Marks, Brynar Mehl, Zebra Nevins, Peter Saul [a carrier], Naomi Westervelt,22 and Audrey Williams.
Craske spent her final years at Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she had been on the board of directors for many years. Although feeble, she still gave ballet classes in her living room. Upon her death in 1990, her ashes were interred at Meherabad Hill in India,23 in a grave chosen for her, close to Meher Baba’s own tomb shrine. The inscription on her gravestone reads: BABA’S DANCER.
The Theory and Practice of Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method). With Cyril W. Beaumont as coauthor. London: Beaumont, 1930.
The Theory and Practice of Advanced Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method). With Friderica Derra de Moroda as coauthor. Edited and with a preface by Cyril W. Beaumont. London: Beaumont, 1956.
The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba. North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980.
Still Dancing with Love: More Stories of Life with Meher Baba. Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Foundation, 1990.
- Horst Koegler, “Craske, Margaret,” in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (Oxford University Press, 1977).
- Gloria B. Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen and others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 268-269.
- Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell, The Oxford Dictionary of Dance (Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Public Record Office, East Suffolk County, England. Reference: RG 13/1802, p. 17.
- “Margaret Craske,” Cecchetti International Classical Ballet: Pioneers. http://www.cicb.org/pioneers/margaretCraske.htm. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). Reissued by Da Capo Press in 1998.
- Peggy van Praagh, “Working with Antony Tudor,” Dance Research 2.2 (Summer, 1984) 56. Available online at http://www.jstor/stable/1290635.
- See, for example, Cyril W. Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski, The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet: Theory and Technique (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2003). A reprint of the 1932 edition.
- Cecchetti International Classical Ballet, http://www.cicb.org. A reprint of the 1932 edition.
- Margaret Valentine, “Mabel Ryan,” Cecchetti International Classical Ballet: Pioneers. http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- Jennifer Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary, New York Times (23 February 1990).
- Margaret Craske, The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980), p. 4.
- “Margaret Craske.” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary (1990).
- “Margaret Craske.” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- Meher Baba, quoted in Naosherwan Anzar, ed., The Answer (Bombay: Glow Publications, 1972), p. 3.
- Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), vol. 2, p. 268.
- Margaret Craske, The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980), pp. 169-170.
- “Margaret Craske.” http:>//www.cicb.org/pioneers. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
- Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary, (1990).
- Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), vol. 2, p. 269.
- Bhau Kalchuri, “Western Sahavas, 1958,” in Lord Meher, revised online edition, page 4397. http://www.lordmeher.org. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- “Margaret Craske,” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 27 January 2015.