Ballet Company Founder

Barbara Linshes Weisberger

Barbara Linshes Weisberger ’45 Edu spent nearly her entire life in the world of American ballet. In 1934, at the age of 8, she had the honor of being the first child George Balanchine taught at his School of American Ballet. As a teenager, she studied under the legendary Littlefields—a mother and daughters who founded the first American ballet company to tour in Europe.

World War II, however, left ballerinas with a dearth of partners, so Weisberger earned an education degree at Penn State and became a ballet teacher. She crossed paths with Balanchine again in 1961, when he told her and other dance instructors that he was concerned that their ballet schools were turning out more talented dancers than there were companies to hire them. Weisberger convinced him that Philadelphia was a good place to start a dance company. With a Ford Foundation grant and Balanchine’s help hiring dancers, Weisberger established the world-class Pennsylvania Ballet in 1963, leading it to national and international renown for 20 years.

Martha Koeneman, principal pianist with the company since 1976, recalls being “scared to death” to meet Weisberger, intimidated by her accomplishments and her ability to do New York Times cross-words in ink. But while Weisberger had very high standards and was willing to fight to keep the company functioning, Koeneman says, she was also “kind, generous, and warm ... a mentor and a teacher” as a well as “a pioneer figure for women.”

Weisberger received Penn State’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1973. After leaving the Pennsylvania Ballet, she founded the Carlisle Project, working with choreographers from 1984–1996, and became artistic adviser to Peabody Dance in Baltimore in 2001. She died Dec. 23, 2020, in Kingston, Pa., where she and her husband, Ernest, raised their children. She is survived by son Steven and daughter Wendy Kranson, three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. —Anna Andersen