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To Dance, to Live - A Biography of Thalia Mara

A moving biography of a dancer, teacher, and arts patron recognized internationally for her efforts in dance education and for bringing world-class ballet to Mississippi


Thalia Mara’s story spans the history of dance in the twentieth century and the rise of the arts in her adopted city of Jackson, Mississippi. As an adolescent Mara (1911–2003) studied with renowned Russian teacher Adolph Bolm, who recommended she go at age sixteen to Paris for further study. During a tour in Europe and South America, she met her partner in dance and life, Arthur Mahoney, and they dazzled the world with their breathtaking performances during the 1930s and '40s. The two were named codirectors of Jacob’s Pillow in 1947, gracing the cover of Life magazine that year. Later they started two schools of dance in New York City, but despite much success, they closed due to lack of funding. That misfortune, however, was Jackson’s boon as it led Mara to the second phase of her career: reviving the Jackson Ballet Company and bringing the USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) to the state.

Thalia Mara was recognized at the end of her life not only for the USA IBC’s decision to locate in Jackson, but also for her efforts as a patron of the arts. Her extraordinary fundraising and planning attracted international performers to the city in the 1980s and '90s. To Dance, to Live: A Biography of Thalia Mara gives the first full account of a life devoted to the arts.


"To Dance, to Live: A Biography of Thalia Mara tells the story of a woman’s courageous path to become a ballerina after first seeing Anna Pavlova perform, eventually transitioning into a respected teacher who emphasized the ‘total artist.’ Her mantra ‘to live is to dance’ is captured in the story of her life’s work, spanning from Chicago to New York, to Jackson, Mississippi. The legacy of her love and passion for ballet that she imparted to her students continues today, reaching countless dancers and nondancers alike, through one of her most recognized achievements: founding the USA International Ballet Competition, drawing thousands of ballet enthusiasts into Jackson every four years."

- Ravenna Tucker Wagnon, former principal dancer with The Royal Ballet