Farewell, Ms. Bluebell

By Michele Barber-Perry, Contributor
December / January 2005

Dance-world icon Margaret Kelly passed away on September 11 at the age of 94. Kelly was best known for her dance troupe, The Bluebell Girls, which originated in Paris in 1932, and went on to gain notoriety for its tall, beautiful dancers who enchanted cabaret audiences throughout the world with their risqué cancan routines and elaborate costumes.

Kelly’s life story is one of legend. She worked with the likes of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf, was in an internment camp in WWII, saved her husband from the Nazis, and was awarded the French Legion of Honor and the Order of the British Empire (all while raising four children).

Born in Dublin in 1910, Kelly was abandoned by her parents to a local priest. She was later adopted and moved to Liverpool. Given the nickname Bluebell by a doctor because of her slim frame and stunning blue eyes, she took dance lessons to strengthen her legs. By the age of 14 she was performing in nightclubs, eventually making her way to Pads to be a star performer at the Folies-Bergere. There, she formed Les Bluebell Girls.

The Bluebell Girls are known for their striking beauty. In the early days, many of them were classically trained ballet dancers who were considered too tall, but over the years, the lean, statuesque look became the standard. Kelly said in a 1985 L.A. Times interview, “They must have long legs, be at least 5-foot-10, with high, well-formed derrières, firm breasts, but not too large…”

It is estimated that Margaret Kelly trained 14,000 dancers in her lifetime and could dance the cancan herself into her 60s. To this day, the Bluebell Girls are often featured at the Lido on the Champs-Elysées. ♦

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