Our ‘Real Ballerina’ visits the school!

We were delighted to welcome Olive McMillen back to Dalkeith High School recently. The ‘real ballerina’ was accompanied by her husband and friends to see our cherished sculpture.

The bronze sculptured ballerina which held a prominent position at the main entrance of the old Dalkeith High School was relocated here so that future generations of pupils can continue to appreciate this excellent work of art.

The bronze figure was commissioned when Dalkeith High School was extended in 1960. Artist Thomas Whalen was asked to create something that should be “on traditional lines and be completely novel and attractive in its conception, also that it would symbolically represent all cultures, the teaching, and the learning which are the prime and essential functions of an educational building.”

Thomas Whalen, 1903-75 was born in Leith and was a student at Edinburgh College of Art in about 1928-31.

Whalen produced many large reliefs, bronzes and stone carvings for churches, power stations and other public buildings, of which the Ballerina at Dalkeith High School is just one. He was also commissioned to make a sculpture for the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow.

Following the school’s brief, Thomas decided to produce a prima ballerina which symbolised someone who, from a very early age has the will and extraordinary ability to dedicate herself to hard training and concentrated study. The image also encompasses art, music, drama, poetry, physical well-being as well as the obvious poise and grace of controlled ballet movements.

Having decided on the subject, Thomas then needed a suitable model to achieve the exact pose of a ballerina and his son’s friend Olive McMillen agreed to pose so that Thomas could make sure the limbs were exactly equivalent to a ballerina. Olive has since played principal role in many operas and musicals and spent 15 years running a musical production company with her husband.

Speaking of his father’s work, Carrick Whalen said: “My father was excited about receiving this commission and I can remember Olive sitting for him in the studio in Dean village, as he sculpted the clay model. This was then cast in bronze by my father’s friend and renowned bronze caster, George Mancini, who had a studio at Fountainbridge.”

The ballerina has grown to represent our school emblem, harmonising perfectly with the ethos of the school motto, “labor vincit”, hard work prevails.