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Southfleet nursing home celebrates career of resident ballet star

Withens Nursing Home in Southfleet celebrated World Theatre Day by honouring their own ballet star Jeanne Palmer.

Affectionately known as Bill, Jeanne started dancing at the age of 10 and went on to win competitions, and dance around the world.

Former ballet dancer Jeanne Palmer
Former ballet dancer Jeanne Palmer

Care home staff took time to celebrate her career for World Theatre Day, on Saturday, March 27.

Activities co-ordinator Sara Morrissey said: “Jeanne has always been a performer, loves to share her fascinating stories with staff who in turn also love to listen to them too!”

Dancing was in Jeanne’s blood, as the descendant of William Lusby who ran a music hall on the Mile End Road in London, and she showed promise from a young age, receiving her Elementary Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dance at the age of 11.

She went on to complete her intermediate and advanced certificates, winning medals in ballet and other dance disciplines including for character, operatic, national, musical comedy, tap, greek and duet dancing.

Ballet dancer Jeanne Palmer performed around the world
Ballet dancer Jeanne Palmer performed around the world

Jeanne’s sister, Iris, was also a dancer and cleverly set up a regular class in their parlour to teach the local gents to dance under the watchful gaze of their mother, Dora.

She was recommended and accepted into the Bush-Davies School under Victor Leopold and Noreen Bush at the age of 14 and at the age of 16 she got her first professional contract in a touring dance troupe.

During the War, Jeanne was invited to become a member of the International Ballet, a touring company which performed throughout the UK, working under world-renowned Russian ballet master, Nicholas Sergeyev.

The International Ballet toured relentlessly, regularly performing from eight different ballets and up to 16 shows in two weeks. However, for Bill “these were some of the happiest times of my life”.

It was at the International Ballet that she met and fell in love with Principal Dancer Denys Palmer, who she married and they spent many happy years dancing together across the United Kingdom and Europe.

Jeanne Palmer with husband and fellow dancer Denys Palmer
Jeanne Palmer with husband and fellow dancer Denys Palmer

Recalling a particular European tour, Jeanne particular remembered: "That tour was not only the most relentless but also the most incredible experience to share with my husband and the rest of the company. We toured Italy and Spain playing at some of the most famous opera houses. In Verona we danced in the Roman Arena. During that tour we played to over 220,000 people!”

Another highlight of Jeanne’s career was performing with the International Ballet at the opening of the Festival Hall during the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The International Ballet carried on until its closure in 1953, and Jeanne went on to dance on various television shows in the 1950s such as the Cool for Cats pop music show.

The 1960s saw Jeanne do "the best job of my life" - becoming a mother to Nick and Lucy, and son Nick said she had been an expert at that ever since.

Withen’s manager Amadu Timbo said: “In the summer of 2020, Jeanne helped us to choreograph a synchronised swimming wheelchair routine for both residents and staff. She loved giving us all pointers on our dance moves!

"For World Theatre Day we screened a performance of one of Jeanne’s favourite ballets, Adolphe Adam’s Giselle.

"Here at the Withens we understand the importance of knowing the individual life stories, histories and interests of each person who lives here.

"We ensure that we regularly reminisce and acknowledge those aspects through our person-centred approach to all aspects of care.”

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