Amazing Women of the Suncoast: Margaret Barbieri

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Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 5:23 pm | Updated: 4:33 pm, Wed Oct 16, 2013.

SARASOTA - Every Monday, we spotlight an amazing woman here on the Suncoast; someone who has accomplished great things, despite enduring difficult times and who serves as an inspiration to others. This week we take a look at Margaret Barbieri.

She became one of the greatest ballerinas in the world. Born in a remote area, where she couldn't even see live ballet, and blocked from the Royal Ballet Company because of where she was born, she overcame all barriers -- even reinventing herself once her dancing days were over.

She was born in South Africa, and was 5 years old when she started dancing. Her mother hoped it would bring the painfully shy child out of her shell. It did. "When I started this ballet, and dancing to the music, I suddenly found….I could express myself and I didn't have to speak."

Her talent was soon noticed. At 16, she moved to London to study at the Royal Ballet. "We were doing this dress rehearsal on Giselle. And I was dressed as a peasant, and Mr. Field knocks on the door and in a quiet stern fashion says to me, ‘get out of your costume and come out front.’ And my automatic reaction was...Oh my God, I'm not good enough to be a peasant."

Not exactly. “He says ‘well today is Tuesday. You are dancing Giselle on Saturday matinee’ -- the lead role."

Suddenly she was on top of the ballet world. And then a talented young male dancer, Iain Webb, joined the company. "He showed huge talent right from the start. He caught my eye as having something rather special."

They were married. And after their son was born, Margaret found dancing and traveling with a baby too hard. "I had a good career; 25 years I did nearly every role that I wanted to dance."

And so she quit. "That was the most painful time for me, making the decision to give up. You don't really know whether you’re going to be good at anything else."

Then she started staging ballets for professional companies. "To see the ballet passed on to the young and new generations, it's as rewarding as dancing it ourselves. I love to stage ballet. I love to see ballet come to life. I love to see the dancers really find themselves in it."

Now she works side by side with her husband at the Sarasota Ballet, and their son, who’s going into art administration, is now in town.

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