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Allegra Kent

b. 1938

by Naomi Abrahami

The beloved American ballerina Allegra Kent created and danced in nearly all principal roles in George Balanchine’s celebrated ouevre during her thirty years as a dancer with the renowned New York City Ballet.

Born Iris Margo Cohen on August 11, 1938, to Harry Cohen of Texas and Shirley Weissman of Wisznice, Poland, she spent her childhood being shuttled back and forth from Florida to California while her father pursued various means of supporting the family. During a period of relative stability, she settled with her mother and older brother Gary in Los Angeles. Through her own initiative, she began studying dance with Bronislava Nijinska, sister of Vaslav Nijinsky, and Spanish dancer Carmelita Maracci.

With her father traversing the country as a traveling salesman, Kent’s mother took control of the family, exerting a tremendous influence, both positive and negative, on her daughter’s life and career. In her autobiography, Once a Dancer ..., Kent describes her mother’s aversion to Jewishness, beginning with changing their last name, adopting Christian Science, and later coercing her daughter to undergo reconstructive facial surgery. Following her older sister Wendy’s example, Kent chose a new name.

Allegra Kent and her mother joined Wendy, an actress, in New York in 1951. Kent immediately received a scholarship to the School of American Ballet and was admitted to the New York City Ballet (NYCB) one year later, at age fifteen, four years after beginning her dance training. Balanchine reportedly said of Kent when he first saw her, “I have never seen such raw talent.”

His interest in Kent was evident when he choreographed Ivesiana for her in 1954. Following a brief withdrawal from the company under pressure from her mother, Kent rejoined for another European tour. Upon her return to the United States, she was promoted directly from the corps to principal dancer. She was immediately cast in leading roles in Swan Lake with Jacques D’Amboise, The Seven Deadly Sins, and the new Stars and Stripes.

Kent caught the attention of the famous photographer Bert Stern during a Broadway stint in Shinbone Alley. Their troubled marriage lasted ten years, until Stern’s addiction to drugs drove Kent to sever the relationship.

Kent suspended her career three times during their union to have children. Trista’s birth followed Kent’s performances in Balanchine’s landmark Episodes (1959) and a revival of La Sonnambula with Erik Bruhn. Kent became the darling of Russian audiences during a 1962 tour of the U.S.S.R. At the height of the cold war, Kent brought down the house of the Maryinsky Theatre with Arthur Mitchell in Agon and danced in the Kremlin. In the United States, the openly erotic, Japanese-style Bugaku (1963) featured Kent and Edward Villella. Her daughter Susannah was born in 1964 and her son, Bret, in 1967.

Kent survived as a single mother through her contract with NYCB (although with her declining emotional stability, she danced only once a year), as well as by teaching and making guest appearances, including in Apollo with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The death of her father led to further depression and decline in Kent’s career. Her dismissal from the New York City Ballet following Balanchine’s death coincided with her happy but short-lived marriage to filmmaker Aram Avakian. Following Avakian’s death, Kent continued teaching and coaching. In 1992, she met and married her third husband, Bob Gurney.

Despite continued personal, financial, and physical problems, Kent persevered. At age fifty, she came out of retirement to dance in John Clifford’s Notturno. Critics once again praised her unique expressiveness, humor, refinement, and sensuality. Since 2002 she has been guest teaching at dance schools around the country, participating in seminars on Balanchine’s legacy and helping to coach a new generation of dancers for The George Balanchine Trust. Allegra Kent lives in New York City.


Allegra Kent’s Water Beauty Book (1976);

The Dancer’s Body Book, with James and Constance Camner (1984);

Once a Dancer ... (1997).


Dancing for Balanchine: Six Balanchine Ballerinas.” Anne Belle, dir. Seahorse Productions in association with WNET/NY (1989);

Greskovic, Robert. “Some Artists of the New York City Ballet.” Ballet Review 4, no. 4 (1973);

“Intersections: Allegra Kent, Balanchine’s Ballerina.” National Public Radio, January 19, 2004;

Kirstein, Lincoln. What Ballet Is About: An American Glossary (1970).

More on Allegra Kent


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i just read Allegra Kent's children's book Ballerina Gets Ready to my 4 year old and found it essentially promoted and anorexic diet. All she eats for the day is: "tea, eggs-scrambled today-and toast with a bit of butter" for breakfast, "a banana" for lunch, and "a small dinner." What kind of message does this send to children, especially young girl.  

Hi, Is there a way to contact Allegra Kent. It's sometimes awesomely difficult to do this even when there may be an interesting connection.

Suffice to say my roommate worked for Allegra Kent in her household early sixties.



p.s. i suppose the query is this does Allegra Kent have her own website?

In reply to by Anonymous

Though JWA has no contact information for Ms. Kent, most authors are best contacted through their publishers. For her book "Ballerina Swan", the publisher is Holiday House. Their contact information is: Holiday House 425 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10017 Fax: 212-421-6134


About 60 years ago I greatly enjoyed a performance of Allegra Kent and Jacques D'Amboise at the New York City Ballet. The contrast between her fragile, delicate beauty and his muscled, masculine movements was both erotic and spellbinding. Until today, reading this bio, I didn't know she was Jewish or much about her life. On Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011 (my 70th birthday) I attended a performance of the American Philharmonic in Santa Rosa, CA. Included in the program was Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun." I could see Allegra and Jacques so clearly. She offered an image of fragility/strength to a young Jewish girl from Brooklyn who very briefly flirted with a career in dance. I am now a retired English professor. I hope there is some footage of that performance (perhaps at the library at Lincoln Center?)that captures her allure. If you have a researcher who can add the link, it will be a fine enhancement to her biography.

How to cite this page

Abrahami, Naomi. "Allegra Kent." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 23, 2021) <>.


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