History Centre Heroes: Wayne Sleep

Wayne Philip Colin Sleep OBE spent much of his childhood in Hartlepool in the north of England – but Plymouth will always be able to lay claim to the fact that it’s the place where this British dancer, director, choreographer, actor, panellist and world record holder was born on 17 July 1948.

Wayne Sleep b. 1948 in Plymouth
Wayne Sleep b. 1948 in Plymouth

Sleep started dancing lessons in 1955 when he was a young child. Six years later in 1961, at the age of just 13, he won a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School. Five years after this, in 1966, he joined the Royal Ballet Company. Before long he was one of their Senior Principal Dancers.

Sleep’s work in classical ballet spanned more than three decades, took him all over the world and saw numerous roles created for him by the top choreographers of the time. He also appeared as a Guest Artist with several other ballet companies.

At only 5’2″, he is famous for being the shortest male dancer ever admitted into the Royal Ballet School. His unique physique meant that he was often chosen for character roles.

In 1981 Sleep created the role of Mr. Mistoffelees in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical ‘Cats’ in London’s West End. The following year, Lloyd Webber adapted his ‘Variations’ album as the second half of the stage show ‘Song and Dance’ especially for Sleep.

Sleep became an OBE in 1998. As well as dancing, he has appeared in a number of television programmes, published books and has a wide variety of acting and choreography credits to his name. Now in his late 60s, he continues to pass on his knowledge and passion for dance through a programme of workshops which he runs all over the world. He also runs a Foundation which provides scholarships for talented youngsters to help them further their training.

Wayne Sleep 1
Sleep has been a world record holder since 1973

Sleep has also been a world record holder since 1973. His record of completing six ‘entrechat douze’ – a jump with twelve beats of the feet where the legs are crossed in mid-air from a standing position – has held firm for more than 40 years. Prior to this the record was five and was held by Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian often described as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century.

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