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Betty Oliphant played a central role in the development of dance pedagogy in Canada. Oliphant, whose birth name was Nancy Elizabeth Oliphant, studied ballet with Tamara Karsavina and Laurent Novikoff in her native England before immigrating to Canada in 1947, where she opened a private studio.
In 1951, Celia Franca invited Oliphant to become the first ballet mistress for the National Ballet of Canada. In 1959, she became the founding principal of the National Ballet School. Oliphant turned the National Ballet School into an internationally respected institution that continues to attract students from around the world. Star pupils, including Veronica Tennant and Karen Kain, became principal dancers with the National Ballet of Canada.
In addition to her work in Canada, Oliphant was invited to reorganize the syllabi of both the Royal Swedish Ballet School and the Royal Danish Ballet School. Oliphant was also in demand as a guest teacher and was invited to teach at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow.
Although Oliphant is known primarily for her work as a teacher, she was also the associate artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada from 1969 until 1975. She remained a board member of the company until 1989.
Oliphant received many awards during her lifetime. In 1973, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Twelve years later, she was elevated to the highest level of Companion. In 1997, she was a recipient of the Governor General's Performing Arts Award.
Oliphant, Betty. Miss O: My Life in Dance. Winnipeg, MB: Turnstone Press, 1996.