Stanley Holden, 79; dancer who taught for years in Southland

Times Staff Writer

Stanley Holden, who grew up in the slums of London to become an acclaimed character dancer in Britain’s Royal Ballet and a respected teacher to generations of Southern California and internationally known dancers, has died. He was 79.

Holden died Friday of complications from heart problems and colon cancer at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, said his stepdaughter, Mimi Stabile.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1970 to become director of the Academy of Dance at the Music Center but left after a year to establish his own studio, the Stanley Holden Dance Center on Pico Boulevard.


For nearly 30 years he taught classes there that were sought out by such dance luminaries as American Ballet Theatre’s Gelsey Kirkland, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov when they toured the Southland, as well as Juliet Prowse and Mary Tyler Moore.

“Working with him was such a dream,” said Victoria Koenig, co-founder and artistic director of Inland Pacific Ballet, for which Holden revived one of his most acclaimed roles, Dr. Coppelius in “Coppelia,” in 2001 and 2003. “His love, spontaneity and commitment to the work were infectious.”

When her company was having financial troubles, Holden told Koenig, “It’s all about the ups and downs,” and reminded her how as a child he paid for his dance classes by making the equivalent of 25 cents a day playing pool, she recalled.

The youngest of eight children, Holden was born Jan. 27, 1928, in London. He began ballet training at 13 and at 16 was accepted into the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company, which later became the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden.

“My mother pushed me into show biz, and it has been an incredible journey,” Holden told The Times in 2001. “The ’94 Northridge quake caused $250,000 worth of damage to my house, and two weeks later I almost died from a heart inflammation.

“Still, the highs -- performing and teaching -- far outweighed the lows,” he said. “America has been wonderful to me, and I tingle at the thought of what I’ve accomplished.”


At the Royal Ballet, Holden created roles in John Cranko’s “Harlequin in April” (1951) and Frederick Ashton’s “La Fille Mal Gardee” (1960) and “Enigma Variations” (1968). When he retired in 1969, he received a 25-minute standing ovation at the Royal Opera House after dancing perhaps his greatest creation, the travesty role of Widow Simone in “Fille.”

“He has the gift of all great comedians: One always laughs with him and never at him,” London critic Janet Sinclair told Dance magazine in 1995. “Just as with [Charlie] Chaplin, we know quite well that he could at any moment turn our laughter to tears.”

For the last 12 years, Holden had taught at the California Dance Theatre in Agoura Hills, giving classes until seven weeks ago.

He occasionally came out of retirement, dancing Dr. Coppelius with the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1978, Widow Simone with the Joffrey Ballet in 1986 and Coppelius again with Pacific Inland Ballet, for which, last year, he also revived his comic ballet, “Dmitri,” based on a libretto by Woody Allen.

The work was created in 1989 for the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet.

“Translating Woody Allen’s text into steps and gestures is a terrific challenge,” Holden told the New York Times that year.

“But I want to see good, classical dancing,” he said. “The approach I’m taking is to be straightforward and allow Woody’s story line to do most of the amusing.”


Holden cut back his activities after undergoing heart surgery in 1980 and 1996.

He insisted, however, in a 1997 Times interview that he got “more gratification from teaching than I ever did as a performer, and I was very successful as a performer.”

In addition to Stabile, who danced with the Pennsylvania and San Francisco ballets, Holden is survived by his wife of 37 years, MGM dancer Judy Holden of Thousand Oaks; three children from a former marriage, Marcelle, Janine, and Mark, all of London; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Services are pending.