World’s oldest ballerina celebrates her 109th birthday in Sydney

Nov 09, 2023
The world's oldest ballerina is still very active at the age of 109. Source: Getty Images

A lot of people like to dance but Eileen Kramer might be the most dedicated woman to the craft on the planet. Having become a centenarian the better part of a decade ago now, she is still dancing and having a lot of fun with it.

As the world’s oldest ballerina, she celebrated her 109th birthday yesterday to an adoring crowd in her native Sydney and showed everyone that she’s still got the moves.

Leading an impromptu dance lesson to her nearest and dearest at a celebration at Sydney Dance Company in Dawes Point, it’s impressive to see how gracefully she still twists and flicks her arms.

While Kramer now dances while sitting down due to age-related balance issues, she is no less active. Just last year, she appeared in a music video for David Orlowsky & David Bergmüller.

Speaking to the ABC about her life and career, she said “I think I am the luckiest person”. Kramer definitely has a lot of reasons to think so. Over the course of her long life, she’s travelled across the world as a ballerina and rubbed shoulders with many famous people.

Born in Mosman Bay in 1914, Kramer initially studied singing at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. A charity concert featuring a performance of The Blue Danube by the Bodenwieser Ballet however convinced her to try her hand at dance instead.

Gertrud Bodenwieser was a trailblazer in the world of Australian dance and led her eponymous ballet company. After successful audition and three years of training, Kramer joined the dance troupe and toured Australia and then internationally to post-war France, New Zealand, South Africa and India for the next ten years.

After leaving the troupe in 1953, she eventually moved to Paris. It was here that she met her late partner, Baruch Shadmi.

Shadmi and Kramer would later collaborate on a full length feature film which creatively fused stop motion animation and action footage together. One night while Shadmi played roulette at a casino in Dieppe, Kramer met Jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who taught her how to do The Twist.

“Louis Armstrong was a very nice man, Ella Fitzgerald she was not so nice!” she said to the ABC, also having met Fitzgerald during her travels.

Kramer spent much of her life living in the United States after meeting Shadmi and cared for him full time for 18 years after he suffered a stroke. After he passed away, she returned to dancing and entered a relationship with Bill Tuckwiller.

After Tuckwiller’s death, Kramer returned to Australia at the age of 99, having missed the sound of kookaburras and the smell of gum trees. For her hundredth birthday she crowdfunded, choreographed, and performed a dance piece called The Early Ones.

In 2017, she created a dance-drama A Buddha’s Wife which was inspired by her travels in India. She has also written three books, the first was released in 2008 while the second was released in 2018. Her third book, Life Keeps Me Dancing, was released this year.

“I don’t want to put my feet up and read a book unless it’s my book!” she joked when asked about it.

A woman of many talents indeed.


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