Mary Ann Lee

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Mary Ann Lee (1823–1899) was one of America's first professional ballerinas.[1] She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to theatrical parents, and trained there with Paul Hazard of the Paris Opéra. She made her ballet debut as Fatima in 1837 in The Maid of Cashmere at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Debuting in the same production was the great Augusta Maywood. Night after night, the two girls were showered with applause and bouquets.[2]

Lee studied in New York City with James Sylvain, and made her New York debut in June 1839 at the Bowery Theatre. She did not confine herself to dance, but acted in melodramas and other stage works. She toured the United States, then studied with Ballet Master Jean Coralli in Paris. When she returned to the United States, she brought the directions for several popular ballets with her. She danced the first American performance of Giselle in Boston in 1846.[1]

Lee danced and toured with George Washington Smith. She retired in 1847 at age 24 for health reasons. She married William Vanhook, a Philadelphia merchant. The couple had three children. She made a few returns to the stage, and taught dance in later life. She died in Philadelphia in 1899, and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Critics and ballet lovers alike were unanimous in their praise of Lee. If she had pursued her career rather than retirement, she would likely have become a star of international renown.[2]

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