Early life and training
Having arrived in London in May 1959, Spira began training at the Royal Ballet School when she was just 16.
After only a few months, she made her debut in a performance of Swan Lake at Covent Garden. Thereupon she was invited to join the Royal Ballet touring company. She was 17 years old at the time.
Spira remained with the touring group of the Royal Ballet for three years, from 1960 to 1963and was promoted to soloist in 1961. A promising future lay before her, but her longing for home made her decide to return to South Africa in 1964.
Upon returning to her home town, Spira joined PACT Ballet. Spira along with her frequent partner Gary Burne joined CAPAB Ballet as its principal dancers in 1965, leaving it temporarily in 1967-1968 and moving to Toronto to dance with the National Ballet of Canada, directed by Celia Franca. After touring North America with this company, they returned to South Africa at the end of 1968 and rejoined CAPAB Ballet. They performed as a popular partnership until Burne left the company in 1971. Thereafter, she formed another partnership with strikingly handsome Eduard Greyling, which lasted for some seventeen years, until she retired from the stage
She continued to lead the Cape Town company until 1988, when an injury on the opening night of a new production of Giselle brought her dance career to an end.
Spira received numerous honors and awards during her long career
After leaving the stage in 1988, Spira served as principal ballet mistress of CAPAB Ballet until 1999, during which time the company was renamed as Cape Town City Ballet. She and Philip Boyd, a former CAPAB dancer, devoted their energies to community service.
Appointed head of the David Poole Trust Youth Training Program, she and Boyd ran the Dance for All program initiated by Poole some years earlier. Set up to take dance to underprivileged children living in non-white townships, it was active in Gugulethu, Nyanga, and Khayelitsha on the borders of Cape Town and in the rural inland areas of Barrydale and Montagu
Favourite quotes by Phyllis Spira:
“Idle feet are the devil’s toenails”.
“You are only as good as your last performance.”
“Always stay humble, rooted, grounded and honest with yourself.”
“I’m more interested in you being a nice person than a good dancer.”
“Having an attitude will get your nowhere.”
“Your work speaks for itself.”
“There is no such words as ‘can’t’. It does not exist in my vocabulary.”
” Dance is not just work, its hard, hard, hard work – always.”
” One minute you are in the wings and the next minute you are wearing them.”