Ursula Melita, Founder of Ballet des Jeunes, Dies at 93

Ursula Melita Hirschfeld Heisman, 93, whose Ballet des Jeunes performed for Princess Grace on a trip to Monaco in 1968, died April 1 of thyroid disease at her home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Known as Ursula Melita, she directed the ballet, for girls up to 18, simultaneously at studios in Bala Cynwyd, Moorestown, and Philadelphia. Ballet des Jeunes is now located at Tambussi Studio in Westmont, Camden County, and is run by Donna Tambussi, who became artistic director in 1986.

Born in Berlin, Melita fled to Cuba with her brother Helmut soon after the anti-Semitic riots known as Kristallnacht in November 1938, the year she turned 20. She told The Inquirer in 1987 that she moved to the United States in 1945 and opened a ballet school in New York, moved to Philadelphia in 1949, and a few years later opened a dance school there.

“All the parents looked at me like I was completely out of my mind . . . like, how can children dance?” she later recalled. “I feel children can do so much more than people expect them to do, if taught right.”

In 1975 Ballet des Jeunes spent three weeks in Romania on an Ambassadors of Friendship tour, mixing classical ballet with folk dance. A 1985 report stated that they had performed in Austria and Hungary that year.

In 1978, Melita was elected secretary of the Philadelphia Dance Alliance. She retired in 1987.

To read the full obituary, visit http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/145868155.html.

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