Read the obituary for Sydney Leonard, who helped found Boston Ballet and its school

The beloved dancer and teacher died at her home in Cambridge at the age of 100.

9/22/96  Boston, MA.  Sydney Leonard, a teacher at the Boston Ballet, helps a young hopeful through a dance step during try outs for this season's Nutcracker. audition
Sydney Leonard helps a young hopeful through a dance step during tryouts for "The Nutcracker." –The Boston Globe, File 1996

The dance community near and far is mourning the passing of a beloved ballet teacher who touched thousands of lives during her decades-long tenure with Boston Ballet.

Sydney Leonard passed away on Jan. 2 at her home in Cambridge, according to her obituary. She was 100.

A native of Quincy, Leonard started studying dance at the age of 5 and continued to teach at Boston Ballet School and Boston Ballet Company, which she helped found, well into her late 80s, her loved ones wrote.

“Miss Leonard worked in all aspects of the Company,” her family wrote in her obituary. “She was responsible for choreography and training of literally hundreds of children for performances including the annual Nutcracker.”

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Boston Ballet shared the news of Leonard’s passing in a statement on Monday with “great sadness and deep admiration.”

“She will be dearly remembered by family, friends, and the countless dancers she inspired over her dedicated career,” the Boston institution wrote. 

Sydney Leonard offers some last-minute advice to younger members of the cast of Boston Ballet’s annual presentation of “The Nutcracker” in 1975. —Ted Dully / The Boston Globe, File 1975

According to her obituary, Leonard maintained her passion for dance through the Great Depression and even after “practicalities sent her to secretarial school and a job at The Atlantic Monthly magazine.”

“I think she was probably one of the most important role models, not just for me, but literally for thousands of artists, mostly dancers, over the decades of her work,” her nephew, Peter Leonard, told The Boston Globe.

A scholarship at Boston Ballet School in Leonard’s name was established following her retirement, and her family has asked that memorial gifts be directed to the fund.

On Facebook, Lisa Kelleher wrote that she will dance in her teacher’s memory “all the days of my life.” 

“She was the Steel Magnolia that taught us ballet faithfully [every day],” wrote Deborah L. Stanton-Bianca on Leonard’s obituary page. “A fixture at Boston Ballet, she personified grit, duty and determination. Grace, and poise were standard equipment. The world will be a little less elegant without her. We dance a little reverence for this dear lady.”

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A celebration of Leonard’s life will take place in the spring. Below, read her full obituary, shared by Keefe Funeral Home: 

LEONARD — Sydney Eva, a founder of the Boston Ballet School and the Boston Ballet Company died January 2, 2020, at her home in Cambridge, MA. She was 100.

Miss Leonard was born September 29, 1919, in Quincy, MA. She began studying dance at five, maintaining her passion through the Great Depression. After high school, practicalities sent her to secretarial school and a job at The Atlantic Monthly magazine. She began as a subscription clerk and rose to the position of Circulation Manager before retirement. When her beloved teacher and mentor, Madam Maria Paparello, retired in 1951, Sydney sustained the mission of Madam Paparello’s school through a cooperative relationship with the Boston Conservatory of Music. Some years later E. Virginia Williams recruited Miss Leonard to teach in her Malden, MA school. Their collaboration led to the establishment of the Boston Ballet School and, later, the Company. Miss Leonard worked in all aspects of the Company. She was responsible for choreography and training of literally hundreds of children for performances including the annual Nutcracker. She taught class into her late 80s. Miss Leonard is survived by her sister in law Ethel E. Leonard; a nephew, J. Peter Leonard; his wife, Lorraine M. DiSimone; a niece, Ellen J. Leonard, innumerable former students, dancers, friends and associates. Her parents and brother predeceased her. After retirement, the Boston Ballet School established a scholarship in her name. Memorial gifts may be directed to the Sydney E. Leonard Scholarship Fund of the Boston Ballet School, 19 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA 02116. A celebration of Miss Leonard’s life will be held in Boston in the spring.