The History of Vacani
Founded in 1915 by Marguerite Vacani (aunt of Betty Vacani) the Vacani School of Dance originally taught the sort of dancing and social etiquette that was a necessary accomplishment for young ladies and gentlemen of quality. Pupils were taught the ballroom dances of the day and debutante ladies learned the curtsy needed when presented at court.
The Royal History of Vacani
The young Earl of Harewood’s attendance at the school led to an invitation from the future Queen Mother to give private classes to the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Every week during the war, Betty Vacani and her aunt would visit Kensington Palace, and later Windsor Castle to teach the princesses and other children of the royal household. Later, Prince Charles apparently excelled at the Highland Fling. In the late 1970s, Lady Diana Spencer studied ballet and briefly taught at the Vacani school.
Betty Vacani (1908-2003)
Born in Bombay, the daughter of a British engineer, Betty lost her mother when only a few years old and, with her two brothers, was sent to boarding school in England and the care of relatives. On leaving school, she begged to be allowed to work with her aunt as a dancing teacher, and rose from being a young assistant until she finally took command.
She continued Marguerite’s policy of arranging charity matinees, at which her smallest charges performed in their best party frocks before being collected, first by nannies and, later, by fond parents. The first matinee had been at the Savoy hotel in 1915, in aid of the Royal Waterloo hospital; others followed at the Ritz, St James’s Palace, and in various theatres. Betty chose to use the name Miss Vacani throughout her career, although she was born Elizabeth Burch and her married name was Hankinson (she was married in 1938, but soon divorced). Vacani, as she was well aware, carried enormous social cachet, thanks to the connection built up by her aunt Marguerite and mother Pauline. Under Betty Vacani the Vacani School of Dancing, became the foremost social dancing school in England.
The Vacani school in Betty’s day (she retired in 1980) did not train professional dancers, but if she noted a natural aptitude, she was quick to encourage a transition to a vocational school. With the need for proficiency on the ballroom floor, let alone court curtsies, waning, the school strengthened its connections with the Cecchetti Society, entering pupils for examinations, courses and competitions – but maintaining its social status.
Vacani Under Miss Eden and Miss Stassinopoulos
(1980 – 2003)
Betty Vacani introduced Elfrida Eden to Mary Stassinopoulos (Cecchetti Fellow and Enrico Cecchetti Diploma) in 1980.
Miss Eden had known Miss Vacani since she was a child, and had also studied with her. Miss Stass had first met Miss Vacani when she took her daughter for classes, and then in turn, took lessons at the school herself as an adult.
Miss Vacani could see at once what a great teacher Mary Stassinopoulos would become, and soon gave her a job teaching in one of her schools.
Elfrida Eden had lived abroad for 8 years, and during this time had run her own schools in Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong. Prior to this Miss Eden had taught at Lady Eden’s School in London for 5 years.
Miss Vacani was forced to retire due to ill health. She was clever enough to see that the combined teaching experience of Miss Eden and Miss Stass would make a good partnership. Not only was this correct from a teaching point of view, but the two became firm friends as well. After a couple of years ‘in the wilderness’ a new studio was found in South Kensington, and there the school flourished for many a year, with numbers eventually growing to 1,600 pupils a week.
The school became famous for its charity matinee performances, and HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was an actively interested Patron. Ballerina, Bryony Brind also because a Patron.
Miss Stass was instrumental in ensuring the standard of ballet was very high, and eventually she herself became an examiner and Fellow of the Cecchetti branch of the Imperial Society of Teacher’s of Dancing. Miss Stass also holds the Enrico Cecchetti Diploma.
Miss Eden found her metier in the teaching of the younger children, and the highlight of many a show was the Baby Class demonstrations!
Miss Eden and Miss Stass continued to have problems with premises, but also during this time, established new branches, some of which still thrive today. Clapham was founded by Miss Eden in Broomwood Hall with just 10 children!
The Bayswater Branch was in existence, but again the venue had to be changed, and thanks to Miss Stass the hall below the Greek Church was found. These classes continue under the leadership of Miss Kezia www.maryleboneballet.co.uk.
The branch in East Sheen was already thriving and lovely to know it has returned to Vacani with Miss Angelina. Other branches were started in Fulham and South Kensington, and the headquarters were eventually moved to Victoria, but these have now closed.
The branch in Swiss Cottage has been through many changes, and is now under the auspices of Miss Amy and Mr Stephen www.swisscottagedance.com .
For over 20 years Miss Eden and Miss Stass ran and taught at Vacani, and hundreds of pupils, children and adults, passed through their hands. Many happy and wonderful memories have been created, along with the not so good ones of fighting for the right to exist.
Miss Eden and Miss Stass are both so happy to know that the school which they largely created between them, is still continuing, and the standard is still so high. They are both delighted to be able to remain in contact with Vacani as Patrons.
The current owner and principal of the Vacani School, Angelina Spurrier, is proud to continue its outstanding tradition of excellence. Miss Angelina, as she is known to her pupils, took over the Clapham and Swiss Cottage schools in 2004, having taught at Vacani since 1997.
More information about Miss Angelina can be found on Our Team page.