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Mary Day, 96; Teacher Created Dance School and Washington Ballet

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Mary Day, 96, whose name was synonymous with ballet in the nation’s capital for more than six decades, died of complications from heart disease Tuesday at her home in Washington.

Day co-founded the Washington School of Ballet, one of the nation’s premier training grounds for classical dancers, and created the internationally renowned Washington Ballet company.

She made her reputation as a teacher who could spot and develop world-class talent; her former students dance in virtually every sizable company in the nation.

A Washington native and only child, Day began formal ballet training at 11 and studied in New York and Europe. She taught ballet individually until 1944, when she and dancer Lisa Gardiner started the school.

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In 1961, Day began staging annual performances of “The Nutcracker,” which became so financially successful that they supported her other enterprises.

She retired as the ballet’s director in 1999 and stepped down as the school’s director in 2004.

Day, who never married, resisted revealing her age.

“Dancers are ageless,” she insisted.

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