Thirty years ago, Ken Ludden had already traveled throughout the world for his career as a ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher — a career nurtured by acclaimed British ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.
But driving through Northern Arizona for the first time, “I just felt like my body and this land were somehow connected. It sounds all hippy-dippy, but I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve never felt that way anywhere,” he says.
That moment eventually led to the relocation of his home and the Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet.
His story with Fonteyn, told in his published memoir My Margot, began in 1967 when he was 15 and met her at an event in Washington, D.C. The next year she set him up to study in Europe and live with her mother in London, where he stayed for six years. “We were just like family,” he says.
Fonteyn eventually told him she wanted to give him exclusive rights to operate a ballet academy with her name on it. They planned the school over the last dozen years of her life until she died in 1991.
“We were really planning the school, and we were planning it in a way so that 500 years from now there would be really good, quality ballet in the world,” he says. The mission: to give international ballet-caliber students a well-rounded education in all the arts.
From 1984 until 2005 Fonteyn’s education system was tested in summer school programs, dance programs, and a school called Washington Classical Dance (1986-1996), and then in California at the Jon Sims Center for Performing Arts in San Francisco until 2003. Finally, in 2005, it was ready and opened just outside of Manhattan in the lower Hudson Valley, where it ran from 2005-2017. At that time a new state requirement forced it to relocate, Ludden says. This led to his house hunt in Prescott and his introduction to local leaders.
Ludden is grateful for the support he’s gotten from Mayor Greg Mengarelli, the Harold James Family Trust and other local figures for the academy: “Prescott is a very special place. I mean really, really special; the people have no idea.”
The school’s offices and initial classroom space will be at 122 N. Cortez St. Ludden’s unsure of when the first international students will arrive due to COVID-19 restrictions. The campus’ ultimate capacity will be 200 students; its library and some programs will be open to the public, he says.
Meanwhile, he’s teaching 20 classes a week via Zoom and working with about a dozen local students while the academy maintains alternate campuses and affiliated schools on five continents.
For more information visit mfab.org