Notable Oregonians: Janet Reed - Dancer

Photo of Janet Reed in an evening gown.
Janet Reed, 1916-2000 (National Portrait Gallery)
Janet Reed was born near Medford, Oregon on September 15, 1916. She began dance training in Medford but moved to Portland while in grade school and received professional dance training there from William Christensen. In 1937, Reed followed Christensen to Oakland, California where he started a branch of the San Francisco Opera Ballet School. Christensen was soon named the artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet and Reed became the prima ballerina of the group. The company introduced ballet to new audiences as it toured the West and Midwest.

Reed moved to New York City in 1942 and joined the Dance Players, which folded one year later, leaving her briefly to make a living by teaching and picking up dance performances. However, Reed soon was dancing with the Ballet Theater (now American Ballet Theater), where she stayed until 1947. During this period, she worked with some of the most talented choreographers of the time, including George Ballanchine and a young Jerome Robbins. Reed returned to Portland several times where she was greeted with critical acclaim while touring with the American Ballet Theater.

Ballanchine invited Reed to join the New York City Ballet in 1949 and she danced there until 1958. She then transitioned into the role of ballet mistress, in which she coached and prodded dancers to improve their technique and  reach their potential. In 1963, Reed began teaching at Bard College and began her own ballet school in the Hudson River Valley. She moved to Seattle in 1974 where she helped develop the fledgling Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Over the years, Reed performed in numerous notable ballets, including Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free in 1944, Michael Kidd's On Stage in 1945, and George Ballanchine's Bourrée Fantasque in 1949. She was known as a vivacious dancer with excellent comic timing and impressive technique. Always an audience favorite, New York Times dance critic John Martin praised her in 1954: "Janet Reed is adorable, all right, and that unquestionably brings a great many customers to the box office; but she is also an artist of very high attainments, and a performer among performers."

Reed died on February 28, 2000 in Seattle. 

(Source: New York Times Obituary | Oregon Encyclopedia | Andros on Ballet)

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