December 16, 1919: Dancer Andre Van Damme Born in Belgium
Dancer Andre Van Damme was born in Belgium on December 16, 1919. Shortly after his 16th birthday, he was admitted to the ballet company of the Royal Opera House of Brussels. When his country fell to the Nazis in 1940, Van Damme joined the underground while continuing to perform.
After the war, economic hardships took their toll. Van Damme and his family emigrated to the United States in 1947 and settled in New York City. Charleston pianists John and Josephine Hiersoux soon convinced Van Damme to move to West Virginia and purchase a ballet school that was on the market.
Van Damme settled in Charleston in 1948 and opened the American Academy of Ballet. In 1956, he founded the Charleston Ballet, which, in 1972, was designated the official West Virginia State Ballet. He choreographed more than 100 original ballets for the Charleston Ballet and routinely danced lead roles during its early years.
Andre Van Damme remained in Charleston until his death in 1989 at age 69. The Charleston Ballet continues to offer regular concerts, including an annual holiday production of ‘‘The Nutcracker.’’