by Rachael Getzels
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A celebrated ballerina who set up a top dancing school in Hampstead has died aged 100.
With a passion for life that pushed her to pursue a career her father frowned upon and saw her survive the Nazis, Stella Mann was not one to give up.
She passed away at the Royal Free Hospital 19 days short of her 101st birthday on January 5.
And, like the rhythmic choreography that she based her life around, her funeral will take place on the same day as her birthday next Thursday (January 24).
As a young teenager Mrs Mann trained with the dancer Gertrude Kraus, who went on to become a world-famous dancer and pioneer of modern dance. Mrs Mann turned professional at the age of 17, but was forced to flee her home town of Vienna, to avoid Nazi persecution.
During World War II, she lost both of her parents and her sister was killed in a car crash.
But the young dancer, who was left alone in the world, conquered her solace through dance.
In 1946 she married ballroom dancer, Derrick Ashby-Mott, and the pair moved to Hampstead where they established the House On The Hill dance school in Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead, and later, the Stella Mann College of Performing Arts, which was based in Finchley Road and has now moved to Bedfordshire.
The school has seen hundreds of professional dancers through its doors and has earned itself an international reputation, with students going on to perform all over the world.
Five years ago, Mrs Mann was decorated by the Austrian Minister of Culture for her achievements.
However, most moving to her was the difference she made to her students’ lives.
At her 100th birthday she spoke of her pride when one of her best ballerinas was accepted at the Royal Ballet, and said she was also very touched to discover that a studio in East London had recently been named in her honour.
Carolyn Naish, who knew Mrs Mann for more than 40 years and taught at the school, remembers her school ma’am sense of humour combined with the unyielding enthusiasm that she inspired.
“We never quite got her jokes,” she said. “Somehow she would laugh hoots and hoots at someone slipping on a banana, and you’d say, actually Stella, that’s not that funny, but it would make her laugh!”
She added: “She had total commitment to dance and she believed that it could change people.
“Stella understood the enormous marriage between dance and music, and how important it is for all dancers to have that innate feeling for music.”
In the mid 1980s Stella sold the dance school and retired to Mallorca where her love for the arts never waned, as she took up painting and learned how to play percussion instrument, the castanets.
Mrs Mann had no children but the skills that she taught to a future generation of dancers live on.
“In a funny sort of way, Mrs Mann had thousands of children,” explained Mrs Naish.
All of the people that went through the school and became part of dance, owe enormous amounts to her.”