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Camargo, Marie-Anne Cupis de (1710–1770)

Camargo, Marie-Anne Cupis de (1710–1770)

French-Spanish ballerina. Born Marie-Anne de Cupis (or Marie Anne Cuppi) in Brussels, Belgium, of Spanish descent on April 15, 1710; died in Paris on April 20, 1770; daughter of Ferdinand Joseph de Cupis (a violinist and dance master).

Though Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo's father was descended from a noble Roman family, he earned a scanty living as violinist and dance-master. An excellent teacher, he trained his daughter from childhood for the stage. At ten, Camargo was given lessons by Françoise Prévost , then the first dancer at the Paris Opéra, and before long she had secured an engagement as première danseuse, first at Brussels and then at Rouen. When the season at Rouen foundered, she was invited to join the Paris Opéra, as was singer Marie Pélissier . No one was surprised when Françoise Prévost, who was well-known for her competitive jealousy, quickly relegated her ex-pupil to the corps de ballet. But Camargo did not remain there for any length of time. On a long-remembered night, when one of the Dumoulin brothers failed to make his entrance, she took center stage to fill the void and brought down the house.

Under her Spanish maternal grandmother's name of Camargo, she made her Paris début in 1726, electrifying the audience with her technical feats and the entrechat quatre, up until then reserved for male dancers. At age 16, Camargo become the rage of Paris: new fashions bore her name; her hairstyle was copied by the ladies at court; and her shoemaker was in demand. On Marie Sallé 's return from London in 1727, the press and public touched off a rivalry between the two that became the subject of verse and prose. Aficionados took sides, some championing the grace and eloquence of Sallé, others the verve and technique of Camargo. While the sensitive Sallé fled to London, Camargo seemed to have relished the challenge.

She had many titled admirers and her liaisons were common gossip. At 23, she became the mistress of Louis de Bourbon, comte de Cler-mont, grandson of the great Condé. Dubious about her faithfulness when his duties in the King's Armies forced him to leave Paris, he asked her to retire from the stage while he was gone. From 1736 to 1741, she lived in retirement at the Château de Berny, a safe distance from the Opéra and its many temptations. On Clermont's return, their ardor had cooled. He took up with Mlle Le Duc of the corps de ballet; she took up with Mlle Le Duc's paramour, Bernard de Rieux.

In 1741, Camargo resumed her career, continuing at the Opéra for ten more years. In her time, she appeared in 78 ballets or operas, always to the delight of the public. Camargo was the first ballet dancer to shorten the skirt to what afterwards became the regulation length. On her death in April 1770, there was a magnificent funeral at the Église Saint-Roch, a somewhat surprising occurrence, since the church took a dim view of dancers. Years later, that same church would bar the gates to the ballerina Louise Chameroy .

There is a portrait of Camargo by Nicolas Lancret in the Wallace Collection, London. She was also the subject of an opera, a ballet choreographed by Petipa , and dishware created by Escoffier.


Migel, Parmenia. The Ballerinas: From the Court of Louis XIV to Pavlova. NY: Macmillan, 1972.

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