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Tribute to Phyllis Spira

In March 2008 we faced immense sadness with the passing of Phyllis Spira. She was the only South African dancer to carry the title of Prima Ballerina Assoluta and she dominated the country's dance stages for nearly 30 years.


Phyllis Spira
18 October 1943 - 11 March 2008

May her strength, sparkle and dedication live in our hearts and her spirit dance around us forever.
Photo by George Hallett

Phyllis was accepted into London's Royal School of Ballet when she was just 16. Within months she was a soloist with the Royal Ballet Touring Company. She returned to South Africa in 1964, having turned down an invitation to dance with the legendary Rudolph Nureyev and, a year later, joined Capab (later the Cape Town City Ballet), where she remained for 28 years.

After retiring from performance, Phyllis devoted her time and energy to Dance for All, which was founded by her husband Philip Boyd. Her understanding of young people, her sense of values and her wisdom made her contribution immeasurable. A pragmatist and a realist, she was often both a voice of reason and a pillar of strength. A remarkably humble and caring woman, Phyllis was a wonderful role model and inspiration to so many of the children whose lives she touched. Dance for All will strive in its daily work to live up to her extraordinary legacy.

Phyllis received South Africa's highest civilian award for excellence, the Order of Meritorius Service Gold (1991).

Phyllis received South Africa's highest civilian award for excellence, the Order of Meritorius Service Gold (1991). She twice received the Nederburg Award for Ballet, while she also won the Lilian Solomon Award and the Bellarte Woman of the Year Award for the Cape (1979) and was named a member of the Order of Disa (2003) for her contribution to ballet and its development.

In March 2011 Phyllis was honoured by the City of Cape Town with a Civic Honours Award for her extraordinary dedication to her work and her art, her artistic achievements, and her contribution to the development of dance in South Africa. Philip ccepted the award on her behalf.

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Tributes to Phyllie

Phyllis is one of my inspirations and precious icons in theatre, dance and art. She will live forever as an example of courage, charisma, talent, discipline and determination.

- Pieter-Dirk Uys

Phyllis, like a zephyr, entranced her audiences with her incredible talent. She brought so much joy to so many and will always have a place in the hearts of those who knew her.

- Michael Maas and Artscape staff

May her beautiful soul dance in peace now. Another angel in heaven. Bless you Phyllie.

- Theatre Dance Association

Phyllis was an inspiration in my life and I will always treasure my memories of the magic she created in my life as a young girl. Our ballet family is poorer with out her, but her legacy will live on in your work ...

- Megan Davey, Elkanah Dance Academy

She is a huge loss to us all – she gave so much of herself to the people of South Africa, and will be so sorely missed.

- Adele Serman

We pray that her spirit lives on to continue nurturing dance and dancers in South Africa for generations to come.

- Vusi Ngema

The dance world will be a poorer place without Phyllis and it is gratifying that her legacy will continue with Dance for All’s wonderful work.

- Louise van Riet

She was iconic to Cape Town and did so much for the dreams of those less fortunate. We wish her family and friends and indeed all at “Dance for All” comfort and peace at this time.

- Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

A terrible shock, as Phyllis was so beautiful, kind and talented. She gave so much - let her legend continue.

- Kate Smith

She will stay with us all for the rest of time, in the African culture they say that you live as long as you are remembered by others, well Phyllis will in that case outlive us all. Our deepest condolences.

- Julian Brandon and all the staff at the Hugo Naude Art Center, Worcester

Phvllis was a giant in her efforts to further the dancing spirit for 'all-comers' in Africa, and 'Dance for All' is a fitting tribute to her efforts, which is down to us all now to nourish and grow in memory of this wonderful person.

- David Nevill

A lesson in how to live a life.

- Rodger Bosch