Edris Stannus was born on 6 June 1898, in Baltiboys, County Wicklow, Ireland. In 1905, her family settled in Walmer. She was educated at home. In 1908, she started taking dance classes. By 1912, she was dancing in Lila Field's "Wonder Children" troupe. During their performances she often demonstrated her imitation of Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) and the Dying Swan. During World War I, she served as a dancer in pantomime performances at London's Lyceum Theatre. Around 1917, she changed her name to Ninette de Valois. In 1921, she legally changed her name to Ninette de Valois. She danced with Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. In 1928, she was engaged by Lilian Baylis to be director of her Sadler's Wells Ballet.
"All the children in the school should learn the steps of everything, before they learn the thing, then they know which step they're doing better, because your voice is in certain steps and has to do most of the things that have been composed in those steps."
In 1933, Ninette de Valois appointed Alicia Markova (1910-2004) as the first Prima Ballerina of her company, Vic-Wells ballet in London. Ninette de Valois married Arthur Connell in 1935. In 1937, she danced in Ashton's A Wedding Bouquet. She invited Sir Frederick Ashton to be the chief choreographer at her company. Her company included dancers like Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Moira Shearer (1926-2006) , Beryl Grey, and Michael Somes. In 1946, her company featuring Margot Fonteyn performed Sleeping Beauty, in the Royal Opera House, at Covent Garden.
"You can't stop what comes into a country, you can be influenced, but you can't stop it, you shouldn't, because it makes all the others interesting, we all get muddled up together, and produce something that belongs to everyone."
In 1949, the Sadler Wells Ballet toured the United States. In 1950, De Valois was awarded the French Légion d'honneur. In 1951, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In later years the company's dancers included Svetlana Beriosova (1932-1998), Antoinette Sibley, Nadia Nerina, Lynn Seymour, and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1956, she secured a Royal Charter, which formally created the Royal Ballet from her company. Once she said; "Well, I mean, we are developing the other parts, and we can't give quite all our attention to the upper part, but soon the lower parts will be developed, and the upper part and the lower part will become partners, that will be wonderful." Known as Madame, in 1963, she formally retired from the Royal Ballet. In 1982, Ninette De Valois was awarded a Companion of Honour. Her husband, Arthur died in 1986. They had no children. In 1992, she was awarded the Order of Merit. Ninette de Valois died aged 102, on 8 March 2001, in Barnes, London, England.
"God gave us all exactly the same fingers, arms, legs, and feet, but in our different countries we divided them all a little differently as we feel it, do you understand?" Ninette de Valois