Doris Niles; American Concert and Ballet Dancer


Doris Niles, American concert and ballet dancer known for her Spanish numbers and large repertory of ethnic dances, has died. She was 94.

Niles died Nov. 15 in Santa Paula, Calif., where she lived with her husband and longtime dance partner, Serge Leslie.

A native of California, Niles studied here and in New York and in 1921, when she was only 17, she was hired as a specialty and ballet dancer at the Capitol Theater there. She danced Hindu and other Asian numbers and appeared in ballets by resident choreographer Alexander Oumansky.


In 1926, Niles went to Seville, Spain, to study Spanish classical and folk dancing with Jose Otero. Her new Spanish repertory made her famous in the United States and Europe, and she performed regularly in France, England and Spain until 1940, when the onset of World War II forced her to return to America.

She danced frequently in Los Angeles during the 1940s, often with Leslie, at the Embassy Auditorium and the Assistance League Playhouse.

A Times reviewer evaluated her 1941 solo dancing at the Embassy favorably, writing: “She possesses an encompassing technique which renders her effective in both comedy and abstract forms such as the witty polka from Shostakovich’s ‘The Golden Age’ and the Debussy ‘Clair de Lune.’

“Her talent for nationalistic choreography,” the reviewer continued, “was shown in a Chinese interpretation of Delius’ ‘Summer Night on a River’ and Spanish dances from Massenet’s ‘Le Cid’ and Ravel’s ‘Alborada del Gracioso.’ ”

When Niles danced at the Assistance League in 1950, another Times reviewer praised “her gentle charm, which never failed to communicate across the footlights,” and added, “her forte lies in projecting a lyricism expressed through well-balanced and carefully measured gestures and steps.”

Niles also choreographed several dances between 1924 and 1939 and continued improvising Spanish dances until her retirement.