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Gillian Lynne is a choreographer, who began her career as a ballerina. Her mother took her to the doctor as a child, feeling she was hyperactive. As the author says, if such a thing happened now she would undoubtedly be given a named condition, but, luckily for her, the doctor suggested dance class for all that excess energy. So, Jill (as she was then) headed for Miss Madeleine Sharp's class for young ladies at the Bell Hotel ballroom in Bromley. At ten, she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dancing, but life was interrupted by the sad death of her mother in an accident (her supporter and greatest champion) in 1939 and then the outbreak of war, which led to her father being recalled to the army (he had also fought in WW1).

Without her mother, Jill could not attend the Royal Academy for classes and ran away when evacuated. However, with the help of family members and the support of her father, she auditioned for the Cone Ripman school. This was a theatre school, strong in dance, but weak in other ares of the curriculum. Bombing meant the school had to move at least twice. A chance concert in London, led to her working with Molly Lake at the Ballet Guild. At the end of 1942 she gave up academic education for ever and was asked to change her name. A professional career was beckoning.

This, then, is the story of one girl during wartime. A girl who dodged bombs to make her way across London from her aunts house to dance class. Who was often noticed and approached by those who recognised her talent - she was appalled when her aunt turned down an approach by Ninette de Valois to join her company (Sadler's Wells Ballet and Opera), but they agreed to wait until she was eighteen and ask again. In 1944 she did join Sadler's Wells and danced in the same company as Margot Fonteyn, where she went back to the bottom rung of the ladder and had to make her way up again.

The company suffered along with the rest of the country - bad housing, rationing, broken sleep and danger. Yet, the author claims that her love of dance was so great that she felt no fear as she sat in trains waiting for the bombs to pass. The company were dancing on stage when a doodlebug passed over them and they all stood, poised on stage and listening, until the explosion happened outside and they were able to breath again. There are also tours, to Belgium and France, and later to Germany, to entertain the British and American troops. The author was shocked at the devastation in Germany, despite having lived with bombing for so many years.

This is a story told with no self pity and in a very no nonsense way, much as you imagine the author herself to be. She copes with everything life throws at her and simply gets on with things. It is a fascinating account of those years and of the dedication involved in becoming a dancer. At the end of the book you feel how proud her mother would have been of how far her daughter had come from those early dance lessons to the great dancer, and very sensible young lady, she had become. I read the kindle version of this book which did contain illustrations, but they were quite small and hard to see. If you feel that might be an issue, then you might prefer to buy the book. However, I really enjoyed it, felt privileged to read about this remarkable woman's life and recommend it highly.
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on 13 May 2013
This is the part autobiography of the dancer and choreographer Gillian Lynne - part in that it tells the story of just her early life from her birth in 1926 through her late teens. Gillian describes what can only be thought of as an idyllic childhood. Sadly that was to be interrupted in 1939 when her mother was tragically killed in a car accident. Her father was a serving officer in the War, so she was brought up a series of proxies - kindly and caring - but proxies nevertheless. Her mother was fortunate at least to witness and encourage Gillian's early talent for dance, but it is unlikely she would ever have imagined her spectacular progress in the years immediately after her death, from minor dance companies, through Sadler's Wells and to the Royal Opera House, dancing with and for famous names such as Ninette de Valois, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann and Frederick Ashton.

In later years of course, Gillian blossomed as a choreographer and I so vividly remember my visit to see Lloyd-Webber's musical 'Cats' in the 1980s, which she so brilliantly mastered.

Normally, I would never have been drawn to this book, but I was recently given it by an uncle, who remembered my telling him many years ago that a childhood friend of mine was a cousin of Gillian. I had no idea whether that was true, but I am a keen genealogist and have now traced the connection via my childhood friend's father (Phil Kirby) who was a clarinetist in Victor Sylvester's Dance Band. My friend was in fact a step-cousin, Gillian's father later marrying Phil's sister. But that, I must confess is a diversion which nobody reading this will have any interest in!!

'A Dancer in Wartime' is a charming book - not spectacular literature - but told by a great lady with great talent. And a story of someone who despite early tragedy, and the ravages of wartime, but with the love and support of her father, uncles and aunts and friends, achieved spectacular success in her early years
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on 7 June 2013
Wonderful story. As with many tales of the rise to stardom - a bit too "gushy" about all the stars of ballet she met on the way. Illustrated perfectly and with poignancy what hardships have to be undergone to get to the top.
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on 9 September 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable account of the early days of Ballet in the UK, and during the war for (what is now) the Royal Ballet. I have a programme of The Sleeping Beauty at Covent Garden Royal Opera House for May 1946, where I saw Gillian Lynne as the Lilac Fairy, (when I was age 6.) I wish now I had not purchased the paperback version of this book, as I believe the numerous and fascinating photographs in it, would have been larger in the hardback.
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on 4 February 2014
This is a lovely story, which tells of Gillian's, sometimes difficult rise in difficult times, to the top in the Ballet world.
Despite everything fate throws at her, ballet becomes her life, and she witnesses the dawn of a new era for English Ballet.
It is interesting to hear about the early days of those rising stars who became household names, and there did not appear to be any of the 'bitchiness' in the dance companies that I'd expected to read about. Maybe Ms Lynne is too nice to mention it!

An enjoyable read for those who love ballet.
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on 6 February 2014
New of all the ones in book mentioned, would have like more mention of Moira as I knew she was very active at that time but not much mention, Margot was mentioned more and not sure why as I learnt Moira was also at the top then a lot.
I do not read much but I enjoyed this and wish I still had my old ballet books with all these stars and ballets in it.
Me being born also during the war gave even more interest.
Well written.
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on 17 June 2013
I loved this book. Having danced myself, it took me back to the wonderful obsession & freedom it evokes. That together with the lengths the dancers were forced to go to in order to maintain their training during the war I found riveting. I read it as slowly as I could because I didn't want it to end, so Gillian - more, more, more please. There is so much you have yet to share. Wonderful stuff.
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on 18 September 2013
I know the author very well but had not really realised the trials and tribulations she grew up with. But through it all, she had the love and devotion of her remaining family. This is a very touching story of a girl growing up in war-torn Britain having lost her mother far too early.
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on 22 December 2012
An only child with a dedicated mother, Gillian's life changes with the death of her mother in a car crash and the start of war but she pursues her ambition to be a ballerina with determination and success, so that she ends the book taking solo roles in the Sadlers Wells Ballet 1946 production of The Sleeping Beauty. That and her ENSA tours of Europe were the most interesting sections. The rest is a litany of her successes, littered with the names of ballet dancers, just a few of which remain familiar today, and ballet steps for which a glossary would have been handy! The war itself was kept firmly in the background and for me the book lacked atmosphere throughout. The small illustrations in this paperback version were another annoyance. A book for knowledgeable ballet devotees, with too much theatrical hyperbole for me.
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on 24 December 2012
Excellant story and well written. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this-good insight into wartime life and how one girl got through it.
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