Marion North: ‘vision, persuasiveness and sheer determination’

Marion North, former Principal of the Laban Centre, was born in Hull and studied at Homerton Teacher Training College, before undertaking postgraduate study at the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester in the 1950s.



Marion North’s letter of acceptance on to a postgraduate course at the Art of Movement Studio, 16 April 1951. [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/68]

After completing her studies, Marion joined the Art of Movement Studio’s faculty, where she specialised in the detailed observation of human behavioural movement. She became apprenticed to Rudolf Laban, developing a test for assessment of personality through the analysis of physical behaviour and pioneering creative movement in the workplace as recreational activity for industrial workers.



Notes on  ‘Vision Drives’ by Marion North, c1950s [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/34]

Marion left the Art of Movement Studio in 1958, the year that Rudolf Laban died.  She became Head of Dance at Sidney Webb College, London from 1962-72 and then Head of the Dance Department, Goldsmith’s College from 1972-80. She became Principal of Laban in 1973. Under her leadership, Laban offered Britain’s first BA (Hons) Dance Theatre (1977), the first MA in Dance Studies (1980), the first MA in Dance Movement Therapy in collaboration with Hahnemann University, Philadelphia (1995) and the first MA Scenography [Dance] (1999).

Under Marion the Laban Centre became an international institution, particpating in international events as well as hosting choreographers and dancers from around the world to teach, work and inspire students at the Centre.



Laban Centre students performing at Ninian Park, Cardiff in front of Pope John Paul II, 2 June 1982. Photographer: ?Marion North [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/10/1/2]



Photograph of a workshop at the Laban Centre with choreographer Jacob Marley, 1989. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/11/2/1]

Marion invited Bonnie Bird from the US to come and teach at the Laban Centre. Marion and Bonnie had first met at the Dance Notation Bureau in New York in 1970-71. They struck up a partnership ‘which was to have a dominating influence on the Laban Centre.’ (Willson, p. 179). Bonnie Bird came to work full-time at the Laban Centre in 1974.


Photograph of Bonnie Bird teaching in Taipei, with Transitions Dance Company, c1992. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/5/2/3/1]


Marion was a Visiting Professor at numerous colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Greece, Japan and Taiwan. Her own studies included a longitudinal study of movement characteristics of babies to adolescence as well as the application of Rudolf Laban’s principles in industry.



Announcement of a lecture given by Dr Marion North on ‘Observations of personality development as seen in the movement of babies’, 5 March 1982, at the Tavistock Centre, London. [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/73]

Marion held a PhD in Psychology and Movement Study from the University of London. Marion North was awarded an OBE in 2000 and Doctor of Letters honoris causa by the University of Salford in 2001.  She retired in 2003 having overseen the move of Laban (now the Faculty of Dance) into its new building at Deptford, South East London. In 2004, Marion  was awarded CBE as former Principal and Chief Executive of the Laban Centre.


Marion North with students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance at her 85th birthday party, 2 November 2010. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: D4/2011/3/102]

Marion North died in 2012.

Anthony Bowne, who took over as Principal of the Laban Centre from Marion and led it into a new phase of its history as Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, summarised her legacy as follows:

‘Marion’s vision, persuasiveness and sheer determination have made an enormous contribution to developing the profile of contemporary dance education and training in this country. Her belief that creative work should be at the heart of every dance student’s experience continues to be a guiding principle in the development of all our dance courses and activities, and her conviction that Rudolf Laban’s work should form a significant dimension of studies here has secured us a unique place in the dance profession. Marion leaves us with a wonderful legacy, including our stunning building – her ultimate vision realized. We are now the guardians of this legacy, charged with responsibility to look always for innovative ways forward and creative solutions to the challenges facing us.’ [TL, 2016)


Willson, F.M.G., 1997. In Just Order Move: The progress of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance 1946-1996, Athlone Press, London.

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance Faculty of Dance. [TL] (2016, August 1). Marion North. Retrieved from




The Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Laurie Grove

The  Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone, run by Lisa Ullmann in the 1950s and 1960s had been focused on the training of teachers in the Art of Movement and in Modern Educational Dance. However, by the early 1970s, the British government decided that there was an over-production of teachers and therefore aimed to halve the numbers being trained by the year 1980 (Willson, p.78). As a result many colleges closed or merged with others. This change in government policy forced the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, as the Studio came to be known in 1975, to change direction. It came under the wing of Goldmsiths’ College in New Cross, London, eventually moving to the area in 1976 with Marion North at its helm.


The site of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Laurie Grove, New Cross, London, 2016. Photographer: Sasi Del Bono.

North believed that a degree in dance should be accepted ‘as valid a preparation for life in careers unconnected with dance as is, say, a study of literature or of the social sciences.’ (Willson, p.180) She had a wide-ranging interest in Rudolf Laban’s ideas as well as experience with movement in industry, therapy and community work. She regularly visited America and was exposed to modern dance and movement study there. As a result, North wanted the Laban Centre to provide specialised training for those who were going to make careers as professional dancers, therapists and community workers, as well as those who wanted to pursue postgraduate research and work. (Willson, p.180).


This is Rudolf Laban’s desk that he used at the Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone. It then became Marion North’s desk and is now based at the Laurie Grove site at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance [RefNo: LA/D/14/1]

Under North’s leadership, the Centre launched a three -year vocational Dance Theatre Diploma (now the BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance) and a one-year course in Dance Studies (now the Graduate Diploma in Dance Studies) in 1974-75.


Front and back cover from a programme for a performance on 3 June 1977 by the first students to enrol in the three year Dance Theatre Diploma at what was then the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance [RefNo: LA/D/4/11/1/3]

In 1977, the Laban Centre had a BA Honours degree in Dance Theatre validated by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA). This was the first time an institution in the UK and Europe sought validation for a degree in dance itself. In 1980, the  CNAA also validated an MA in Dance Studies offered at the Centre as well as the research degrees of MPhil and PhD.


Draft rationale for the MA in Dance Studies introduced at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in the early 1980s [RefNo: LA/D/2/4/35/1/1 pp 114-115]

The number of students enrolling at the Laban Centre increased by 50% in the late 1970s, putting pressure on the already limited space at Laurie Grove in New Cross. The site had been a former primary school which had  a church, St James’,  next door. Agreement was reached whereby the Centre could lease the Church and convert it for its use. The conversion was opened by Sir Roy Shaw, Secretary-General of the Arts Council, in 1984 and comprised ‘eight dance studios, a wardrobe complex, an audio editing room, a video editing studio, an administrative complex, an exhibition foyer, music rooms, staff tutorial rooms and the Centre’s considerable dance library and archives.’ (Brinson, p. 35) Other building works completed the whole Centre in 1989 when it was opened by Sir John Drummond, the then controller of BBC Radio 3.




Photographs of the newly furbished library and archive (top left), pilates studio (top right), atrium (bottom left) and costumes studio (bottom right) at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, Laurie Grove, 1984. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/6/4]


By the second half of the 1980s there were 250 full-time students and a teaching staff of around 30. (Willson, p. 206)

1982 saw the introduction of the Advanced Performance Course (now the MA Dance Performance) with the formation of Transitions Dance Company spearheaded by Bonnie Bird. The late 1980s and all of the 1990s saw the Centre continue in its ascent, providing more courses validated now by City University including MA Dance Movement Therapy,  MA Dance Management & Development and MA Scenography Dance. In the year 2000 the achievements of Marion North and the Laban Centre were recognised and Marion North was awarded the OBE.


Laban Centre luminaries Valerie Preston-Dunlop, Marion North, Mirella Bartrip and Bonnie Bird, 1992. Photographer: Tony Nandi. [RefNo: D11/A/13/26/4/1]

Marion was not alone however in carrying out the transformation of the Centre and moving it rapidly forward. Other names like Bonnie Bird and Peter Binson  figure heavily  and we shall be looking at their input in subsequent posts. But our next post will look in more detail at Marion North and her achievements.



Brinson, Peter, 1993, Years of change: 21 years of the Laban Centre, Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, London

Willson, F.M.G., 1997, In Just Order Move: The progress of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance 1946-1996, The Athlone Press, London



A brief history of the Faculty of Dance: the Addlestone years

In July 1953 the Art of Movement Studio (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban) moved from Manchester to Addlestone in Surrey. It moved into a site that had previously been occupied by a choir school called ‘St Mary-of the-Angels’. The site had been purchased by William Elmhirst, son of the wealthy philanthropists Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, owners of Dartington Hall in Devon. William or “Bill” Elmhirst had been captivated by Rudolf Laban and his teaching at Dartington and was keen to support his activities. He  purchased the Addlestone site for £15,000 for Laban and Lisa Ullmann.


Photograph of Diane Davis at the door of the main house at the the Art of Movement Studio, Addlestone, 1958. Photographer: ?Marion North. [RefNo: LC/A/14/2/177]

For the next twenty years, the Studio at Addlestone was devoted to training teachers who would serve or were already serving in schools and teacher-training colleges. (Willson, p.71)

The document below is part of the Studio prospectus sent out to students in the 1960s, outlining the courses the Studio ran.


(RefNo: LA/A/5/11/1/7-8)

In 1962 Margery Weekes, a PE teacher at Catford County Girls School, enrolled at the Art of Movement Studio on the one year Special Course.

Here Margery describes some of the teaching she received at the Studio. She mentions Lisa Ullmann teaching effort actions, and Valerie Preston-Dunlop who taught ‘space’ and ‘scales’:

[RefNo: D31/3]

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s the number of full-time students at the Studio averaged just under 80 per year (Willson, p.72) but the total number of people it reached through its short courses and summer courses ran into the thousands.

Marion North had first come to train at the Art of Movement Studio in 1951 when it was still based in Manchester. She became an assistant to Rudolf Laban and Lisa Ullmann and remained with them at the Studio until 1958. She left in order to widen her experience and worked with factories and communities, applying Rudolf Laban’s ideas. In the mid-1960s she was appointed head of the Movement and Dance Department at Sidney Webb College. In 1972 Marion was offered and took on the Headship of the Movement Department at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London and in 1973 she also took over leadership of the Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone when Lisa Ullmann retired.LC-A-17-14-3-16web

Photograph of Marion North, 1980s. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LC/A/17/14/3/16]

The text  ‘In just order move: The progress of the Laban Centre for Music and Dance 1946-1996′ by F.M.G. Willson describes in detail all the political machinations whereby the Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone came under the responsibility of Goldsmiths’ College in the 1970s. Suffice to say that with the help of a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation, and the promise of renovated old school premises at New Cross to be made available, Goldsmiths’ commited themselves to selling the site at Addlestone and moving the Studio to Laurie Grove, New Cross, London in September 1976 (Willson, p.177).

Our next blog post celebrating our 70th anniversary will follow the Art of Movement Studio’s move to Laurie Grove, New Cross and the fundamental changes carried out by Marion North which would drive the institution forward to becoming the Laban Centre and ultimately the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban.





Willson, F.M.G., 1997, In Just Order Move: The progress of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance 1946-1996, The Athlone Press, London

What was Rudolf Laban like?



Photographs of Rudolf Laban at the Art of Movement Studio, Manchester, c1948. [RefNos: LC/A/1/4/18, LC/A/1/3/30, LC/A/1/4/5, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

In 1938 Rudolf Laban arrived penniless and destitute in the UK, a refugee from Nazi Germany. By the time of his death in 1958 his school, the Laban Art of Movement Centre in Addlestone, Surrey was flourishing, his ideas on movement in education were becoming widespread in schools and colleges across the UK, and his ideas on movement in drama were being taught at theatre schools. But who was he and why did he come to the UK? And what had he done in his life before he arrived in Dover at the age of 59?

Valerie Preston-Dunlop first met Rudolf Laban when she was 16 and a new student at the Art of Movement Studio in 1947. Rudolf Laban was 68 by then and a somewhat reclusive figure who spoke English with ‘a very dark voice and strong German accent’ (Quote from Petit, June (2012) at 30min 7secs].  It wasn’t until many years later after Valerie had travelled extensively throughout Europe meeting people who had known and worked with Rudolf Laban, that she discovered just how prestigious a career he had had in Germany before falling foul of the Nazi regime and fleeing to Paris and the UK.

Much has now been written about Rudolf Laban’s life and career, not least the book Rudolf Laban: An extraordinary life by Valerie Preston-Dunlop (1998) London, England: Dance Books. A brief summary can be found on the Trinity Laban website.

But we wanted to find out what he was like as an educator and as a human being. So we interrogated the Laban Archive to find out.

Here is Sylvia Bodmer, one of Laban’s pupils in the 1920s in Germany who went on to have a distinguished dance career, talking about Laban. Bodmer had participated in Laban’s summer dance workshops in 1922 in Gleshendorf, a village in north Germany, where the dancers experimented with movement outside in the thistle-laden meadows:

[RefNo: D1/H/3/2, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

She refers to Laban  having ‘women all around’. During the course of his life he married twice and fathered nine children by five different women and had many mistresses.

In this audio interview Bodmer talks to Valerie Preston-Dunlop about Laban’s teaching methods at Gleshendorf:

[RefNo: LC/E/1/3/A/1, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

Having managed to get out of Germany and eventually arriving in the UK in 1938, Laban joined up with Lisa Ullmann, Sylvia Bodmer and others and ran modern dance holiday courses up and down the country. Margaret McCallum, a dance teacher in schools in the UK at the time, took part in modern dance holiday courses at Bedford College of Physical Education in 1942 and at St. Margaret’s School in Bushey, taught by Rudolf Laban and Lisa Ullmann.

Here McCallum describes what Laban taught her to Valerie Preston-Dunlop:

[RefNo: LC/E/1/20, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

McCallum mentions Rudolf Laban’s work with factory girls and finding economical ways for them to work. Britain in the early 1940s was ‘in the throes of an all-out war effort’ (Preston-Dunlop, p. 218). Laban teamed up with Frederick Lawrence, a management consultant concerned with work efficiency in industry, and together they tackled the problem of enabling women to undertake the heavy lifting and industrial jobs previously done by men. Laban introduced the use of momentum, so that through swinging movements of the whole body, women could achieve what men had done using leverage of their arms. He also applied the concepts of movement harmony so that a job requiring a downward pressure for example would have an upward movement to release that pressure incorporated into the movement phrase (Preston-Dunlop, p.223).

Joy Walton taught dance in schools just after the war. She attended workshops in the early 1940s run by Rudolf Laban. Here Walton talks about Laban, the way he taught her and her fellow students and the kind of person he was:

[RefNo: LC/E/1/19, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

Marion North became a student at the Art of Movement Studio in the early 1950s. By 1956 she had become a teacher at the Studio and in that year went on a voyage to the United States of America to expand her experience and studies. She and Laban exchanged many letters during the course of her travels and they reveal a close and caring relationship between them. Here is an extract from a letter from Laban to North where he warns her of the work ahead once her trip is over:

“But don’t expect too much of a happy continuation of your free experiencing of the world and of personal satisfaction. The mastery [underlined] of life demands a lot of abdication in this respect. Becoming a master is almost the death of happy journeymanship, with a lot of complicated responsibility for the whole rather than for one’s own elation. This is what I, old fool, have forgotten in the uproar of our separation, and I would not be worth [sic] of your friendship if I would not tell you what I think now about it. Strange to say, I [illegible] myself have ripened –  a bit late, isn’t it? – through my relatedness with you and I am grateful for that.”

[RefNo: D4/2012/15/11/10/2, letter dated 19th August 1956. Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]


Photograph of Leni Heaton, Lisa Ullmann, Rudolf Laban and Adda Heynssen eating Easter cake outside at the Art of Movement Studio, Addlestone, 1957. Photographer: Marion North. [RefNo: LC/A/1/5/67, Laban Archive, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]

North went on to become the Principal of the Art of Movement Studio, renamed the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, in 1973. We shall hear more of her story in later blog posts as we continue our history of what is now the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban, in this our 70th year.

Next month we focus on the life and career of another of the big names in our history, that of Sylvia Bodmer.



Bodmer, Sylvia (1980s) [Recording of interview with Sylvia Bodmer]. Sylvia Bodmer Collection (D1/H/3/2). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.

Bodmer, Sylvia (1985) [Interviews with Sylvia Bodmer]. Laban Collection (LC/E/1/3/A/1). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.

Laban, Rudolf and North, Marion (1956) [Laban 1956. Original letters between Marion North and Rudolf Laban during this year; transcripts and originals]. Marion North Collection (D4/2012/15/11/10/2). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.

McCallum, Margaret (2004) [Interview with Margaret McCallum and Christine Edwards]. Laban Collection (LC/E/1/20). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.

Petit, June (2012) [Recording of interview between Jane Fowler and June Petit (nee Preston), concerning June’s experiences as a student at the Art of Movement Studio, Addlestone between 1958-1959]. Laban Collection (LC/E/1/26). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.

Preston-Dunlop, V. (1998). Rudolf Laban: An extraordinary life. London, England: Dance Books Ltd.

Walton, Joy (2004) [Interview with Joy Walton, a former pupil of Rudolf Laban’s]. Laban Collection (LC/E/1/19). Laban Archive, Library and Archive, Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, England.