The Incomparable Edra Toth
"INCOMPARABLE (ADJECTIVE) – WITHOUT AN EQUAL IN QUALITY OR EXTENT; MATCHLESS."
It has been said that Miss Edra Toth’s life should be made into a movie, and when you read her story, we think you will agree. Edra Toth was born in 1952 in Budapest, Hungary, daughter of Terézia (Németh) and István Toth. Despite the Soviet occupation, Edra’s childhood was as sheltered as her parents could make it. She was surrounded by a large extended family and had what she remembers as an idyllic childhood.
She didn’t know it at the time, but 1956 was the year that would change her life forever. 1956 was a year that no Hungarian living at that time would ever forget. After living under the oppressive communist regime since the end of World War II, the Hungarian people revolted against their puppet government and its Soviet masters, throwing them out of their country. Hungarians tasted freedom for the first time in many years, but it was not to last.
As the Soviets moved to retake Hungary and as artillery shells were pounding the city, Edra’s family bribed a secret policeman to give them the papers they needed to leave the City of Budapest. Their “deal” was unique in the sense that the secret policeman made his cooperation conditional. The Toths had to help his wife and infant son escape also.
Once safely out of Budapest, the family abandoned the truck and fled on foot cross-country towards the Austrian border, the only border open to them for escape. The family hid during the day and traveled at night knowing they would be imprisoned or killed if they were caught by the Soviets. The Toths – Terezia, Istvan, and Edra – walked in the company of hundreds of other refugees towards safety. They had many close brushes with Soviet patrols and lived in constant fear of discovery. No one spoke, babies were gagged, no fires were lit…..it was a very harrowing experience for the family. But the Toths never gave up.
Upon reaching Austria, the Toths (and thousands of other Hungarian refugees) applied for asylum in the United States. The Toths were accepted and settled in the Boston area. It was not an easy life in America. They were very poor, barely able to afford an attic apartment in a tenement building. However, Edra remembers her parents working many jobs to make ends meet and doing it joyfully because they were “free”. They were working hard to build a life for themselves in their adopted country.
While her parents worked, Edra was enrolled in school. She was given a key to the apartment (a true latchkey kid) and told to lock herself in the apartment after school. An energetic child, Edra remembers this as a time when she would dance for hours to music on the radio. It was at this young age that fate (or God) intervened. Her landlady asked Edra’s parents if she could pay for dance lessons for Edra because she wanted someone to keep her daughter company at the studio. Edra’s parents said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Edra was immediately recognized has having enormous talent. She was far above anyone in her class and the darling of her dance instructor. After just two years of dance lessons, Edra’s mother, Terezia, saw that the local dance school was not the proper outlet for her daughter’s talents. She made the bold move of approaching the founder of the Boston Ballet, the famous Miss E. Virginia Willams, to ask her to allow her daughter to try out.
Edra was only 10 years old and the smallest person at the tryout. She remembers this imposing Miss Williams pushing her and testing her. Edra cried tears of frustration and feared she had failed. She hadn’t! She was accepted and began her formal training. Her parents scrimped and saved to send her to dance school at Boston Ballet. Her talent was recognized further when the Ford Foundation awarded her several grants so she could further her education under Miss Williams. Edra’s talent was recognized and nurtured under her tutelage.
At the tender young age of 13, Miss Edra danced a principal role on stage with the Ballet and by age sixteen had ascended to Prima Ballerina. Her professional career took her all over the world, allowing her to dance with the leading dancers of her day (Rudolf Nureyev, Ivan Nagy, Edward Vilella and others) and to dance the most challenging parts in the ballets such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Les Corsaires, Romeo and Juliet, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Miss Edra even danced at the White House for President Johnson and the First Lady. Her favorite conductor was the leader of the Boston Pops, the famous Arthur Fiedler, a fellow Hungarian. He used to say that Miss Edra was his favorite ballerina and he loved playing beautiful music for her.
Edra Toth danced professionally until the age of 45, an unheard of age in her day. Her impressive technique and classical training kept her in demand well beyond other ballerinas of her time. What was also impressive is that Miss Edra had already been teaching for over 20 years when she retired! So, upon retirement, she did what was natural for her…..she became a ballet teacher.
She taught for many years in the Greater Boston Area, but had an opportunity to open a studio in Wolfeboro, NH in 2003. She enjoyed teaching New Hampshire students so much that she eventually phased out of her school in Massachusetts to bring her classical style of ballet training to the “Live Free or Die” State. New Hampshire and its ballet students are much the better for her decision.