Founder: Thalia Mara

Born in Chicago, Thalia Mara enjoyed an extensive career as a performer, teacher, educator, author and artistic director. She trained as a ballet dancer under the tutelage of Russian ballet stars of the Diaghilev era in the United States and France. She danced professionally with various ballet companies around the world.

Mara was known internationally as a teacher and ballet educator. She authored books on ballet that were translated and published in Spain, Germany, France, Egypt, Japan and England, as well as in the United States.

Author of 12 published books, Thalia Mara will long be remembered for her role as a teacher. Many students found their love of dance through her, and many went on to careers in prestigious ballet companies.

In 1947, she started the School of Ballet Repertory, a professional school of dance in New York City that was attended by students and teachers from many countries. Over the next decade, she was president of the Ballet Repertory Guild, a teaching and certifying organization for ballet teachers. In 1962, she closed the School of Ballet Repertory to establish the National Academy of Ballet and Theatre Arts, an elementary and secondary school that combined academics and the performing arts. Chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and based on the principles of the state-supported schools in Europe, the academy operated until 1973.

In 1975, Mara moved to Jackson, Mississippi, at the invitation of the Jackson Ballet Guild, to teach and direct Mississippi’s first professional ballet company. She arrived in Mississippi with a passion to further the arts in the South, not only educating students but also building audiences. Her vision of Jackson hosting the first International Ballet Competition in the western hemisphere grew from her desire to expose Mississippians to the best in classical ballet. Ten competitions later, the USA IBC continues to draw top young dancers from around the globe.

Mara was the recipient of numerous awards throughout her career, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Professional Dance Teachers Association, Dance Teacher Now magazine’s Circle of Dance Award for Lifetime Contributions to Dance Education, the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Vaslav Nijinsky Medal of the Government of Poland and others. Together with Margaret Walker Alexander and Eudora Welty, she received one of the first Arts Achievement Awards presented by the mayor of her Jackson, her adopted home town. In 2002, a year before her death, she received an honorary gold medal from the USA IBC for her lifetime of contributions to the arts. In 2016, she was posthumously inducted into the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame.

Thalia Mara and the USA IBC have been recognized as “American Masterpieces” by the National Endowment for the Arts, through the Mississippi Arts Commission. To view the American Masterpieces video on her life, click here. Read Ms. Mara’s obituary in The New York Times.


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