Ballet legend Joan Neergaard nee Harris who starred in the The Red Shoes has passed away in Christchurch after reaching her milestone birthday.

Joan died on August 28th in Avon Lee Lodge Care Home, Christchurch, which was her home for seven years.

Joan not only taught ballet in the The Red Shoes but took a starring role - she is the wearer of the iconic red shoes on the spiral staircase at the end of the acclaimed film.

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Joan Harris was born in London in March 1920. At ten years old she started learning ballet at the Grandison School of Dancing in Norbury, where she achieved an impressive array of silverware and was the start of a glittering career.

In 1934 Joan performed her first Pantomime in the Theatre Royal in Birmingham at 14 years old. The Panto was so successful it overran by many months and Joan's dancing career was propelled.

Joan's niece Anne said: "Joan’s mum didn't dare to send her back to Croydon High School in the middle of the term, so this started Joan’s career in the ballet world."

In 1935 Joan won a two year Scholarship to the Sadlers Wells Ballet School where she was had weekly lessons with Dame Ninette de Valois - one of the most influential figures in ballet and the founder of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.

War was declared in September 1939 but the shows continued and between 1941 and 1945 Joan danced with the Anglo-Polish Ballet company and the International Ballet.

Anne said: "Joan toured all the largest theatres throughout the United Kingdom despite being bombed out of a few."

In 1946 Joan joined the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet Company and met her future husband Alan Carter.

During 1947 Joan entered the world of film, alongside her work at Sadlers Well’s, working at Pinewood Studios. Joan was Ballet Mistress for The Red Shoes, starring Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann.

A year later, Joan joined the St. James’s Ballet Company, directed by choreographer and dancer Alan Carter. Joan danced with Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Beryl Grey.

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In 1950 Joan worked as a ballet assistant on the film The Tales of Hoffman with Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann. More film ensued including Invitation to the Dance with Gene Kelly, Steps of the Ballet and The Dancing Fleece.

Joan and Alan married in 1954 before they took up a post in Munich as Ballet Master and Ballet Mistress for the Bayerische State Opera. In 1960 moved to Norway, becoming director of the Norwegian Ballet.

Anne said: "Norway really stole Joan’s heart, she loved the people and the country. She found peace and love, marrying Arne Neergaard in 1962."

In Norway she will be remembered for leading the ballet company at The Norwegian Opera House (1961-1965) and establishing the Opera Ballet School in 1965, of which she became head until 1988.

Joan was appointed a Knight of the 1st Class by the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. Joan had an audience with King Olaf on June 22nd 1988 to receive her gold medal.

Anne said: "Joan said 'this was the greatest day of her life’. She was so busy chatting with the King, who spoke perfect English, that her 10-15 minute allocation was a little extended!"

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Later that year Joan and Arne returned to the UK, retiring in Christchurch to be close to her sister Thelma, nephew Andrew and her niece Anne.

Anne said: "They enjoyed both their love of walking and gardening and and were pleased to be away from all that snow in the winter!"

In 2001 Joan received the Award of Honour 2000 for her services to dance by the Norwegian Centre of the Art of Dance in Oslo. The Norwegian Minister of Culture, Ellen Horn presented Joan the award on the stage of the Opera House.

The award is displayed in the Foyer of the Opera House.

Joan is an honorary member of the Norwegian State Ballet and the Royal Academy of Dance in England.

In 2017, the book ‘Joan Harris – The life of a Dancer’ written by Monique Skavland Sunderland, was published and is a most wonderful record of her life and achievements.

Former pupil and friend Jennifer Day said: "Joan Harris was considered by any dance student under her leadership as a Madame. She was a ballet director/teacher, always in charge, firm, strict, a disciplinarian who commands respect and sometimes even fear. A lady with an in depth knowledge of her art form, who was in her time a pioneer and a ballerina dedicated to her art and her dancers. If this career had been In England she would have been titled Dame Joan Harris. Joan was one of the most open minded Ballet Madames one could ever come across, unique in her love and understanding for all forms of dance."

Joan reached 100 in March, cheered on by Andrew and Anne.

Anne said: "Despite having a 100th celebration through the window during Covid lockdown we raised a champagne glass together to acknowledge this wonderful milestone."

And Joan was delighted to receive a 100th birthday card from both her Queen Elizabeth II and Norway’s King Harald V.