Obituary: Jane Smith, Ballet Rambert star and pioneer of yoga in Scotland

Jane Smith, ballet dancer and yoga teacher. Born: 26 March 1931 in Glasgow. Died: 7 May 2020 in Muswell Hill, London, aged 89

Jane Smith

The Borders yoga and ballet community has lost one of its leading stars with the passing of Jane Smith (also known as Jane Thomson). She was one of the groundbreaking pioneers of yoga in Scotland who, from a little studio outside Hawick, helped to make yoga the popular and widespread discipline it is in Scotland today.

Teaching under her maiden name Jane Thomson, she once chided local sceptics that yoga was harder and more demanding than any training session involving Hawick’s famously uncompromising Rugby Club.

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Jane was born in Glasgow in 1931 but she left for London at just 16 to follow her ambition to be a ballet dancer, sparked by seeing a performance of The Red Shoes, starring Moira Shearer, at the local cinema.

Her promise was quickly realised by the staff at the International Ballet where she was taken on as a student, as she rose to be first soloist.

Throughout the 1950s she toured with the company around the UK, as the International Ballet sought to bring ballet to a much wider audience by performing classical ballet in little-known venues and locations; sometimes in workplaces and parks.

They performed so many shows on the road, night after night, that the physical demands were daunting, Jane later reminisced that between acts the dancers would dunk their feet into buckets of ice to take down the swelling and pain before carrying on.

Jane went on to perform with the internationally renowned Ballet Rambert.

In 1959 she gave birth to her only son, Norman, before moving to the Scottish Borders with her husband Rupert, who was the managing director of a family printing company, Smith and Ritchie, in Albert Street, Edinburgh.

Jane embarked on a new career as a yoga teacher, having first travelled to India to learn from some of the world’s leading practitioners.

Starting from scratch in the no-nonsense mill towns of the Borders she gradually built up an extraordinary network of yoga students and enthusiasts. She set up a yoga studio at Lurden House, Hassendeanburn, near Hawick, where she lived. Here she trained Scotland’s future yoga teachers with classes and retreats throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Among her many achievements, she helped start the Borders Yoga Circle.

An intelligent woman with a wicked sense of humour, Jane loved to host family during the holidays and liked to spoil her grandchildren. Family members remember her with huge affection and for the great times, filled with drinking, feasting, and laughter, had at Lurden House.

After the death of Rupert in 1988, Jane began teaching at the Scottish Yoga Centre in St Stephen Street, Edinburgh, eventually moving to a flat next door, to continue sharing the joy of yoga.

After suffering ill health Jane moved back to London in 2016 to be closer to her family. She died at a care home on 7 May.

Jane was a remarkable person; witty, intelligent and in many ways ahead of her time; she will be greatly missed.

She is survived by her son Norman, daughter-in-law Margaret and two grandchildren, Nina and Libby.

The family hope to arrange a memorial later in the year in Scotland. E-mail [email protected] for further information.

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