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Ceremony Honors America’s Little-Known ‘First Ballerina’ At Philadelphia Cemetery

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(Photo by John McDevitt)

(Photo by John McDevitt)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - It took more than a hundred years, but “America’s first ballerina” now has a gravestone.

A ceremony was held today at Laurel Hill Cemetery, in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, honoring Mary Ann Lee.

Her legacy dances on today, but not too many people know who Mary Ann Lee was, or the important role she had in the arts dating back to the 1840s.

She was born and raised in Philadelphia, performed as a ballerina in Paris, and brought three ballets to America — the most famous being “Giselle.”

A little more than a year ago the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery and Barbara Malinsky, a dance writer and official biographer of Mary Ann Lee, began raising money for a marker for America’s first ballerina.

“It was one of the unfinished pieces of business that I felt that I had to accomplish before I could sort of put Mary Ann Lee to rest in my own mind and in her own space, so to speak,” says Malinsky, whose entry on Lee appears in the International Encyclopedia of Dance.

Barette Vance, a soloist for the Pennsylvania Ballet, participated in today’s graveside ceremony.

“It was pretty neat to know the history of how (ballet) was brought over here and who brought it over here,” she says.

Reported by John McDevitt, KYW Newsradio 1060

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