Ballerina Darcey Bussell finds retiring the right step

SYDNEY Thu May 28, 2009 3:00pm EDT

1 of 2. Former British ballerina Darcey Bussell poses for pictures at Sydney Dance Company in central Sydney May 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Daniel Munoz

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Forty, footloose and fancy free. Former British ballerina Darcey Bussell has no regrets at retiring at the peak of her career or moving to Australia to escape her life in the limelight.

Bussell, who was principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet in London for 17 years, says she now has more time for her two daughters and to pursue interests that took a backseat to dance during the past 30 years, such as working on a series of children's books and playing tennis.

"I am still adjusting, but in the past year I have not even stepped foot into a studio," said Bussell, who moved to Sydney from London last year and turned 40 years-old this April.

"I don't think you ever really escape the dance world, it is embedded in you, and when I see other dancers I just want to get up with them which is a weird feeling but I feel like I have done the right thing."

Bussell, who is described as one of the world's great dancers, was the first British ballerina since Margot Fonteyn in the 1950s to become a household name.

She started ballet lessons at the age of five and at 13 joined the Royal Ballet School before being spotted by renowned choreographer Kenneth MacMillan and accepted into The Royal Ballet in 1988. A year later she became principal ballerina.

THE "MAGIC" OF DANCE

Bussell stepped down as a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet in 2006 but stayed on until June 2007 when she retired from ballet with a final performance at the Royal Opera House that ended with a standing ovation of over eight minutes.

"I reached my limit. I know a lot of dancers going on into their late 40s but now I am meant to be with my kids," said Bussell, who has acknowledged that complications with her first child that kept her off stage for a year changed her perspective.

"Once a dancer, always a dancer. It is a very consuming art but also such a short career that you have to live and breath it if you want to be at the top."

Bussell said moving to Sydney with her Australian-born banker husband Angus Forbes had helped her to escape the fame and instant recognition in England -- and so many job offers.

"I am not very good at saying no and I was spoilt because I had so many opportunities but this would not have given me time for the kids. We always wanted to live abroad and my husband is Australian so it was a wonderful excuse."

Bussell now spend her days playing tennis, looking after her daughters Phoebe and Zoe, and working on a popular series of children's books called "Magic Ballerina" about a girl at ballet school with magical shoes.

So far 12 books have been released in the series and another six are due out by the end of the year.

"I don't write them myself. I put the ideas to the writers and I vet them to make sure the ballet terms are correct and there is a lot of the dance and theater worlds in them," she said.

"It is really enjoyable. I was inspired by my girls getting motivated by going to the theater and seeing all the magic. You can forget how important the theater is for the imagination."

Bussell is also working on her second auto-biography.

But does she think she can stay away from dance for good? Bussell has joined the board of directors of the Sydney Dance Company and is experimenting with classes in salsa and flamenco.

"Eventually I will get myself back into a studio -- but only as a hobby," she said.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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