Nicknamed Zulekha (Persian name)
Margaret was born in Norfolk, England in 1892. Her father was owner of a small coastal fleet. She started studying dance at an early age; and was always very athletic. At 18 she took up ballet and progressed quickly. She studied with the famous Enrico Cecchetti in the private London studio she ran from 1918 to 1923, while she served as teacher for the Diaghilev Ballet Company.
At the end of her study with him, the Maestro gave her a certificate indicating she was qualified to carry on his teaching tradition, a rare honour.
In one year, she lost five people dear to her, her parents a teacher a friend, a sweetheart. In a depressed mood she searched for a place to get away and heard from a casual acquaintance about a retreat in East Challacombe, Devonshire, run by a man named Meredith Starr. When she went down there for a rest, she was much drawn to a photograph of Meredith’s spiritual teacher, Shri Meher Baba. Meredith had recently been to His ashram in India and was expecting Him to visit England.
Baba came much sooner than expected and the small group of souls drawn to Starr’s retreat had the privilege of being the first “aspirants” Baba contacted in the West. They included Mabel Ryan, Margaret’s partner in her dance school, Delia de Leon, Kitty Davy, and Kim Tolhurst. Baba nicknamed a small group “Kimco” of which Margaret was a part. They were the “light-hearted” ones, as distinguished from those who were spiritually “serious”, addicted to long hours of meditation, etc.
The following is Margaret Craske’s recollection of the events leading up to her meeting with Baba:
I had read Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and other esoteric writers, but never found what I was looking for. Between 1929 and 1931, everything I valued disappeared. My father died, my mother died, the man I was in love with died. Diaghilev died, Anna Pavlova died. So I was in quite a bad state. I had spent my life looking for God and I now thought it was all nonsense. I was not going to look anymore — I had had enough! I resolved to go somewhere to recover enough to decide what to do next.
On my way to Hastings in South England, where I had gone to judge a dance competition, I met a woman named Dorothea who approached me at the Victoria railroad station and asked where I was going. I told her, and she said, “How wonderful! That’s where I spent my honeymoon.” The woman wanted to go, but had no money. On the spur of the moment, I paid her fare and we went together.
On the way, I mentioned I wanted to go somewhere for Easter away from friends. She told me about a “wonderful place” down in Devonshire run by Meredith Starr. She wrote to Meredith, and it was arranged. She didn’t tell me about it being spiritual. (I wouldn’t have gone if I had known.) On the day I went, she came again to see me off, and as I was leaving she said, “Oh, there’s just one other thing.
There are four hours a day of meditation required there!”
I went to East Challacombe for Easter in 1931 and was met by Margaret Starr. One had to walk two miles on a dirt road through ditches and fields to get to the retreat, a stone house on a hill. When I walked into the sitting room, on the right I saw Baba’s picture on the wall and asked, “Who’s that?” Meredith told me about Baba. I stayed at Devonshire for two weeks and toward the end of my stay, Meredith said, “If you work hard for five years, meditating every day, you will be fit to meet Meher Baba when He comes.”
But Baba came in five months! Having given up God, He decided to come to me.
Margaret met Baba at the home of Kitty Davy in London. Margaret vividly recalled her first moments with Baba.
The bell rang and I opened the front door. And there at the bottom of the steps stood the most appealing figure that one could ever hope to see. No sign of power. Just a vision of gentleness, grace and love that touched the heart immeasurably. He came up the steps, gave me a passing glance, and accompanied by Meredith, Chanji and others, went up the stairs to His room (in the “children’s nursery” level.) I remained in the hall. A few minutes later, Meredith came down the stairs and grandly said, “Meher Baba wishes to see you.”
Overcome by nervousness, I said, “Wouldn’t He like to see somebody else first?”
Meredith looked at me sternly and said, “Meher Baba wishes to see you.” I turned and climbed three flights of stairs to the most important moment of my life, the meeting with my Master.
He was seated quietly in a chair and gestured to Chanji to bring another chair and place it facing close to His. He then beckoned me to sit. For a moment or so, there was intense quiet, and then I had a strong feeling that it was important to look into His eyes. Courage came, and I did so, looking in deeply — deeply, as far as I could.
I have nothing to say about what I saw. In fact, I don’t know. I only know that from that moment, whatever rough treatment He may have handed out afterward; there has never been a moment’s doubt as to His being the embodiment of Love and Life.
Margaret later wrote to Chanji:
Once having met Baba, it seems that the whole of one’s life had been leading up to that minute and that even up to that minute He had been guiding us to go through fogs, clouds and storms safely so that we could meet Him. That first meeting with Him caused time to stop. It was just as if nothing else had ever happened and nothing else would ever happen.
In 1933, Baba called a group of women to India to be with Him permanently. Margaret gave up her ballet school to go. But they were all sent back in a few weeks. She reopened the school and continued teaching, taking part however in Baba’s many trips to the West
In 1939, the Master called her to India for the 3rd time. Again, she gave up her ballet school. Baba’s order was to come immediately after war broke out: He had to have someone cross the sea after war began. By a series of persistent maneuvers she got on the last boat out of England and arrived in India at a time when Baba was involved in creating the first Universal Spiritual Center at Bangalore.
Some young Baba lover said when you go to India you just exchange Western maya for Eastern maya. Now Margaret became one of the close groups around Baba Easterners and Westerners mingling their sanskaras together. Margaret said that one doesn’t know how “Western” one really is until you live in the East. For example, she described some of the intense East-West battles in the kitchen over food and diet. One Eastern lady insisted rice was pure protein! A Westerner, an avid vegetarian, found a piece of pork in the canned beans, but the others showed their sense of humor they took it out in the garden and buried it with great ceremony! Finally, the work of preparing separate menus became too tedious; and all agreed on a common menu. The same happened with religious holidays. There were a tremendous number and Baba insisted each should celebrate the others’ holidays. Again, it got to be too much and just a certain number were celebrated by everyone.
In the ashram and on tour Baba made use of her expertise in physical exercise. She taught Baba’s Eastern women how to swim. At first they showed up in long-sleeved blouses and pantaloons which Margaret quickly vetoed. She also taught them some basic exercises. Several times at Baba’s request, they practiced with sticks called lathi. Margaret felt these “martial” exercises may have had some inner link with outer military events in the world in the ‘40’s.
The seven years of life with Baba in India had many phases. She was one of the few Western women allowed to live intimately with the close Eastern disciples, Mehera, Mani, Dr. Goher, Naja, and Meheru. Ostensibly she joined them because of an illness that needed special care. How kindly Baba circumvented the jealousy of the other Western women! But there were also trying times; for example, when Baba ordered her to “disappear” whenever He came to visit the Eastern women – and without explanation. Surely a most humbling experience.
Another way Baba “peeled” her ego was to ask her to dance for Him, often in the strangest places and ludicrous circumstances! When the famous film project was being worked on, she was asked to devise a “Dance of the Spirits” with two “dancers” only, Delia and Rano, each representing 60 dancers, while Kitty played the piano! Another task Margaret had was to read aloud to Him, especially His favorite detective stories by Wolfe or Edgar Wallace. Zuleika was the Persian name given her by Baba.
Once after Baba and mandali had been served lunch, Baba called Kitty and Margret and gave each a grape explained them the significance of His Prasad. Baba looked tenderly at Margret and gestured “It is your love that brought Me here.
During His London stay, on 2nd October 1931, Baba traveled about London by taxi, they went first to the American Embassy for their visas to the United States, where Baba was required only to sign an “X” on the application form, as He preferred not to sign His name. (Baba’s occupation was listed as “Spiritual Teacher,” Chanji’s as “Secretary” and Ali as “servant.”) Baba returned to Margaret and Mabel’s dance studio, where He watched a ballet class being taught and stayed for tea. On this occasion, Baba remarked to Margaret, “Your dancing is Mine.”
Baba went Margaret Craske to the home for the needy and met with the old people. As Mrs. Davy had said, many of the elderly were blind, dumb or deaf. The Master’s ways are his own. Baba “spoke” to these old people for a long time, dictating messages for them on His board. What he revealed was His love. What was said was less important than the love He gave; their conversations were not in the language of words. Much is communicated in silence, but it cannot be written. Baba took form only to speak in that language, through which He conveyed all that, was necessary — without ever uttering a word. His language was his own which touched the heart, and only those for whom it was meant understood what he said.
While in Paris, before Baba and group they left the hotel to go sightseeing, on 13th December 1931, Baba asked Margaret Craske, “Why haven’t you put on lipstick today?” At first, she could not follow what He meant. After Baba gestured to her three times, she understood and shed the reserve Meredith had enforced. Baba never indicated anything specific about Meredith’s behavior; but with this small hint, He cleared the air and the group then knew that He wanted them to conduct themselves in a natural manner.
Baba had instructed Margaret Craske and Delia DeLeon to come to India from England, if war broke out. Both went to the Home Office in London to get permission to leave the country, but were told that unless they had urgent business abroad, or special reasons for going, permission would not be granted. When Delia applied, she was refused permission. Margaret, however, was given a permit to leave because she had been acting as the guardian for Falu Irani (Rustom and Freiny’s son), who was studying in England. She had told the officials the boy could not travel alone. The officials thought Falu was a maharaja’s son by the way Margaret was carrying on. So the two of them were able to sail from England on the City of Marseilles (escorted by a convoy of ships) and landed in Colombo on the 30th of October 1939. They arrived in Bangalore on 1st November 1939, where Margaret began living with Baba at the Links. Margaret later speculated, “Perhaps, because of the war, Baba had to have a link to England of someone coming to India.”Usually after dinner, Baba would again discourse to the group sitting outside in the garden, or go on a walk before retiring for bed at nine. Whenever Baba would spend the night in Nasik, in the morning, He would sit in an armchair and Delia and Margaret would sometimes brush His hair as He listened to the group recount their dreams.
In 1946, at Dehradun Baba, very abruptly, sent her back home, and she began her career with Ballet Theatre, His significant words “Your dancing is Mine” came true. Gradually a small group of dancers came to hear of Him through contact with her, and came to meet Him in 1952 in Myrtle Beach. She never “pushed” Baba on anyone, but let them seek her out. “I let them knock hard on my door,” she says. Some well-known ballet stars have become close Baba lovers.
After the stint with Ballet Theatre, Margaret was a moving force behind the Metropolitan Opera Ballet for nearly 20 years. At 90 years of age she was teaching at the Manhattan School of Ballet. Her aim was of an aspiring dancer to “study with Margaret,” and of aspiring Baba lovers to touch base with her and draw from her some of Baba’s love, wit and wisdom.
In one of gathering Baba said, “I do not mean you to leave all your responsibilities, but that my will becomes yours. My will should be your pleasure. God is infinite honesty. To love God you should be honest. Who will obey me 100 percent? One must do it! If Baba asks beyond one’s capacity and one fails, it is Baba’s fault!” “In the spiritual path, there is no compromise,” Baba said. “Raise your hands who cannot obey Me.” Not one raised a hand. “Now raise your hands who will try to obey Me.” Everyone except one of Margaret Craske’s ballet dancers raised his hand.
Later Margaret Craske shifted to New York and taught ballet. She lived for number of years with Baba’s mandali and travelled with him both in India and abroad.
She wrote two beautiful books on Baba titled “Dance of Love” and “Still Dancing with Love”
The following biography was written for the Wikipedia article “Margaret Craske” by Claude Conyers, a retired reference book publishing professional (and my editorial mentor) and, before his editorial career, a ballet dancer. Among his many projects were the International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen (Oxford University Press, 1998), and the Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade (Macmillan, 1987). Claude’s Wikipedia contribution was insistently rejected by another editor, so he kindly gave permission for it to be adapted here. I have added links and tiny changes for this site. —Kendra Crossen Burroughs
Margaret Craske (26 November 1892 – 18 February 1990) was a British ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, and writer.1 She is most remembered as a leading authority on the Cecchetti method of teaching ballet and as a disciple of the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba.2
==Early life and career==
Margaret Mary Craske was born in Norfolk,3 a low-lying county on the eastern coast of England. The daughter of Edmund and Hannah Craske,4 she was an athletic child who became interested in dance. She began her ballet training with a local teacher in 1908, when she was sixteen.5 In 1918, when the celebrated maestro Enrico Cecchetti opened his ballet school in London, Craske was persuaded by a friend to join his classes. Under his tutelage, she flourished, becoming a proficient dancer and a committed devotee of his method of teaching.
In the early 1920s, during a London season of Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes, he called on Cecchetti for English students to augment his company of mainly Russian dancers.6 Craske, dubbed Margareta Krasova for the occasion, was one of Cecchetti’s pupils who danced for a short time with the company. Thereafter she choreographed ballet numbers for various musical shows and toured the English provinces in a small troupe, including Ninette de Valois, that played in music halls and variety theaters. Her stage career was a short one, coming to an end when a serious foot injury forced her to give up performing. Upon Cecchetti’s retirement in 1923, Craske took over teaching at his studio7 and began the career as a pedagogue for which she would become widely known.
After Cecchetti’s death in November 1928, Craske and her friends Cyril Beaumont, Stanislas Idzikowsky, and Friderica Derra de Moroda decided to codify his method so it could continue to be used by ballet teachers to perfect the technique of their pupils. The publications that resulted from their collaborations included two books on allegro technique by Craske and coauthors as well as other important technical manuals.8 These books are the basis of the Cecchetti method still used today to train dancers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.9
After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Craske formed a partnership with Mabel Ryan to open the Craske-Ryan School at 46 West Street, off Cambridge Circus, in London. Ryan was also a former pupil of Cecchetti’s and, like Craske, was totally dedicated to his method and memory.10 Their school quickly became a center for aspiring dancers as well as professionals. Ryan taught the classes for children and for elementary and intermediate students, while Craske taught the popular morning classes for professionals. A diminutive woman, with an austere manner but a sharp sense of humor,11 she was known for the consistency and clarity of her classes. Many well-known dancers of the time studied with her, including Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Anton Dolin, Peggy van Praagh, Mary Skeaping, Keith Lester, and the young Margot Fonteyn.
In 1931, at Eastertide, Craske went to a retreat in Devonshire in search of quiet and rest. There she learned about Meher Baba, the silent spiritual master from India. Several months later, she was invited to meet him at a private home in London. On first glance, she saw him as “a vision of gentleness, grace, and love that touched the heart immeasurably.” Soon won over to his personal manner and his non-denominational teaching, she became a devoted follower, viewing him as “the embodiment of Love and Life.” Years later, she recalled this meeting as “the most important moment of my life.”12 Not long after their meeting in 1931, Craske traveled to India to study with him, remaining there for some months. In 1939, just before England declared war on Nazi Germany, she returned to India13 to continue her spiritual training at an ashram in Nasik that Meher Baba had established for his Western disciples.
Craske spent the next seven years in Meher Baba’s ashrams in India,14 in Nasik and Meherabad, south of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. As part of her spiritual training, ordered by Meher Baba, she did her ballet barre exercises every day, clinging to a pole holding up the roof of a dung-covered porch.15 Then she did “center practice,” the second half of all ballet classes, of enchainements from the syllabus of the Cecchetti method. Meher Baba, who called Craske by a Persian name, “Zuleka,” valued her dancing talent. “Dancing is a very good art if expressed rightly,” he once remarked. “It has divine qualities, and if properly expressed, it will have a wonderful effect. If expressed wrongly, it has the opposite effect.”16
Craske remained in India until 1946, returning to England only after World War II was over in Europe and peace had been declared. Meher Baba had directed her to go to the United States and teach ballet. She was unsure how to accomplish this, but she was determined to follow her master’s order. For the rest of her life, she believed in two masters: Enrico Cecchetti, her dance master, and Meher Baba, her spiritual master.17
==Later life and career==
Upon her return to London, Craske contacted Ninette de Valois, who asked her to teach some company classes at the studios of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet). There she met some of her former students, including New York–based choreographer Antony Tudor, who was in London on tour with Ballet Theater (now American Ballet Theater). At his suggestion, Craske was invited to become the company’s ballet mistress and teacher. Mindful of Meher Baba’s direction for her to become a “link” in America, she promptly accepted the invitation, viewing it as a synchronistic fulfillment of his order.18 She moved to the United States soon afterward, in 1946, and in 1947 began teaching and coaching the company, working with Alicia Alonso, Jerome Robbins, Nora Kaye, and other members of the ensemble.19
In 1950, the directors of Ballet Theater and the Metropolitan Opera decided to collaborate in opening a school at the Met, and Craske went there to teach. When it was formally named the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, she became its director and remained there for nearly the next twenty years. Like Cecchetti, she stressed exact technique and attention to detail in her teaching, encouraging her students to attend to the quality of movement and the anatomical mechanics of the body. When the school closed in 1968, she joined Manhattan Festival Ballet as ballet mistress. She also served on the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Dance, and, for many summers, the School at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. When the Manhattan School closed in 1983, she went to Ballet School NY, where she taught until her retirement, at age ninety-four, in 1986.20
During all these years, many professional dancers and choreographers were students of Miss Craske, as she was always called in class. Among the dancers who appreciated her analytical teaching style were such famous stars as Carolyn Brown, Melissa Hayden, Hugh Laing, Bruce Marks, Carmen Mathe, and Sallie Wilson. The choreographers influenced by Craske were even more numerous, including Gerald Arpino, Agnes de Mille, Viola Farber, Pauline Koner, Ron Sequoio, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley, and James Waring.21 Besides benefiting from her technical training, many of her dance students learned about Meher Baba from her and became adherents of his spiritual guidance. Among them were Marie Adair, Jean Cebrun [one of the “carriers,” dancers who were privileged to carry Meher Baba in a lift chair in 1958 at Meher Center, following Baba’s second auto accident], Cathryn (“Skipper”) Damon, Joe Fabian [a carrier], Viola Farber, Sura Geshen, Loren (“Tex”) Hightower [a carrier], Helen (“Bunty”) Kelly, Cynthia Mays, Donald Mahler [a carrier], Ella Marks, Brynar Mehl, Zebra Nevins, Peter Saul [a carrier], Naomi Westervelt,22 and Audrey Williams.
Craske spent her final years at Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she had been on the board of directors for many years. Although feeble, she still gave ballet classes in her living room. Upon her death in 1990, her ashes were interred at Meherabad Hill in India,23 in a grave chosen for her, close to Meher Baba’s own tomb shrine. The inscription on her gravestone reads: BABA’S DANCER.
The Theory and Practice of Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method). With Cyril W. Beaumont as coauthor. London: Beaumont, 1930.
The Theory and Practice of Advanced Allegro in Classical Ballet (Cecchetti Method). With Friderica Derra de Moroda as coauthor. Edited and with a preface by Cyril W. Beaumont. London: Beaumont, 1956.
The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba. North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980.
Still Dancing with Love: More Stories of Life with Meher Baba. Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Foundation, 1990.
(From love-remembrances website)
Horst Koegler, “Craske, Margaret,” in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (Oxford University Press, 1977).
Gloria B. Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen and others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 268-269.
Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell, The Oxford Dictionary of Dance (Oxford University Press, 2000).
Public Record Office, East Suffolk County, England. Reference: RG 13/1802, p. 17.
“Margaret Craske,” Cecchetti International Classical Ballet: Pioneers. http://www.cicb.org/pioneers/margaretCraske.htm. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). Reissued by Da Capo Press in 1998.
Peggy van Praagh, “Working with Antony Tudor,” Dance Research 2.2 (Summer, 1984) 56. Available online at http://www.jstor/stable/1290635.
See, for example, Cyril W. Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski, The Cecchetti Method of Classical Ballet: Theory and Technique (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2003). A reprint of the 1932 edition.
Cecchetti International Classical Ballet, http://www.cicb.org. A reprint of the 1932 edition.
Margaret Valentine, “Mabel Ryan,” Cecchetti International Classical Ballet: Pioneers. http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
Jennifer Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary, New York Times (23 February 1990).
Margaret Craske, The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980), p. 4.
“Margaret Craske.” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary (1990).
“Margaret Craske.” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
Meher Baba, quoted in Naosherwan Anzar, ed., The Answer (Bombay: Glow Publications, 1972), p. 3.
Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), vol. 2, p. 268.
Margaret Craske, The Dance of Love: My Life with Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Sheriar Press, 1980), pp. 169-170.
“Margaret Craske.” http:>//www.cicb.org/pioneers. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
Dunning, “Margaret Craske Is Dead at 97,” obituary, (1990).
Strauss, “Craske, Margaret,” in International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), vol. 2, p. 269.
Bhau Kalchuri, “Western Sahavas, 1958,” in Lord Meher, revised online edition, page 4397. http://www.lordmeher.org. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
“Margaret Craske,” http://www.cicb.org. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
References/Images from: Various Lord Meher volumes, discontinued website's ambprasarkendra & love-remembrances, images and dates, stories etc from respective copyright owners websites or publications used with permission - i.e. In His Service, Glow International, MeherBabaTravels, MSI and MNP Collections, from AvatarMeherBabaTrust, BelovedArchives websites and from various other website sources, Books, journal etc. More information where ever available with us like letter scans, stories etc are added. Kindly feel free to Contact us with any updates, photos or corrections etc.
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