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Rare footage of Audrey Hepburn dancing in the movie “Secret People” made in 1952.

Ian Smith

Only true and loyal fans of Audrey Hepburn know that besides acting, dancing was another thing she was really good at and was one of her biggest passions.

Audrey Hepburn began studying ballet when she was five years old. By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballet dancer and she had secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the Dutch resistance. “The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances”, she remarked.She also occasionally acted as a courier for the resistance, delivering messages and packages. After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse and Arnhem was subsequently destroyed during Operation Market Garden. During the Dutch famine that followed in the winter of 1944, the Germans blocked the resupply routes of the Dutch’s already-limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder German occupation.

After the war ended in 1945, Audrey and her mother Ella moved to Amsterdam, where Ella managed a flower shop nearby their flat.In Amsterdam, Hepburn took ballet lessons for three years with Sonia Gaskell, a leading figure in Dutch ballet. In 1948, she appeared on film for the first time as an air stewardess in Dutch in Seven Lessons, an educational travel film made by Charles van der Linden and Henry Josephson. Later the same year, she moved to London to take up a ballet scholarship with Ballet Rambert, which was then based in Notting Hill. She supported herself with part-time work as a model and dropped “Ruston” from her surname. On requesting Rambert’s assessment of her prospects, Hepburn was told she had talent, but her height and weak constitution (the after effect of wartime undernutrition) would make the status of prima ballerina unattainable. She decided to concentrate on acting.

Hepburn’s mother worked menial jobs in order to support them and Hepburn began working as a chorus girl in the musical theatre revues High Button Shoes (1948) at the London Hippodrome and Cecil Landeau’s Sauce Tartare (1949) and Sauce Piquante(1950) at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End. During her theatrical work, she took elocution lessons with actor Felix Aylmer to develop her voice.After being spotted by a casting director while performing in Sauce Piquante, Hepburn was registered as a freelance actress with the Associated British Picture Corporation. The unknown Hepburn appeared in minor roles in the 1951 films One Wild Oat, Laughter in Paradise, Young Wives’ Tale and The Lavender Hill Mob before playing her first major supporting role inThorold Dickinson’s The Secret People (1952), in which she played a prodigious ballerina and performed all of her own dancing sequences

Secret People is a 1952 British drama film, written and directed by Thorold Dickinson and starring Valentina Cortese, Serge Reggiani and Audrey Hepburn. The film is mainly known for providing Audrey Hepburn with her first significant film role, and for leading to her big breakthrough in Roman Holiday: on 18 September 1951, shortly after Secret People was finished but before its premiere, Thorold Dickinson made a screen test with the young starlet and sent it to director William Wyler, who was in Rome preparing Roman Holiday. He wrote a glowing note of thanks to Dickinson, saying that “as a result of the test, a number of the producers at Paramount have expressed interest in casting her.

Ian Smith

Ian Smith is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News