Marge Champion was one of the most accomplished female dancers of the 20th century. But even if you are too young to remember her performances in Showboat or Everything I Have is Yours or her dozens of TV appearances, you inevitably have seen her work: she was the model for Walt Disney’s Snow White.

Champion, née Belcher, was 14 years old when she auditioned for Disney animators so they could capture the character’s elegance and graceful motion. Her father was revered Hollywood dance choreographer Ernest Belcher, who’d worked with Charlie Chaplin, Max Sennett, and Cecil B. DeMille. He taught his daughter not only how to dance, but how to be lady — the latter may have won her the job. “My father was British and he had trained me to curtsy and do things that were like Snow White would be doing,” says Champion, now 96. “At the dinner table, I had to say, ‘I’ve had an elegance sufficiency, could I be excused, please?’ and I would pick up my skirt and curtsy. And because that, I not only was trained as a dancer but I had a lot of those easy things to do that Snow White had to do.”

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