Skip to main content

Betty Felsen papers

Identifier: Dance-MS-Felsen

Scope and Content of the Collection

Clippings, photographs, programs, and other materials documenting the dance and dance teaching career of Betty Felsen.

Many of the items in the collection were originally compiled in a scrapbook but were disbound and separated. They chronicle the career of Betty Felsen, beginning in her childhood and through 1937, after she retired from teaching dance.

Collection also includes scans of the physical items and explanatory text with links to other sources of information, provided by Felsen's son, David Tonkin.


  • Creation: 1905-2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1916-1937



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Betty Felsen papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Betty Felsen papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Betty Felsen

Betty Felsen was an American ballerina, vaudeville star, and teacher. She was born on June 9, 1905, in Chicago, IL to Lillian and David Felsenthal.

She began taking lessons at a local Chicago ballet school when she was eight years old, and often performed solo dances in shows presented by that school. Just before her tenth birthday in 1916, her parents enrolled her as a ballet student with the Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet School within the Chicago Opera Association. Then, in 1919 Betty was accepted to be a member of the Chicago Opera’s Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet corps de ballet. From December 1920 until the fall of 1922 Betty was a ballerina soloist and performed with them throughout North America.

Betty performed in vaudeville with her first partner, Frank Lischeron, from the spring of 1923 until the fall. She then switched to a new partner, Jack Broderick, because Frank did not have her vision for the act or her expertise. They performed on the B.F. Keith and Pantages vaudeville circuits throughout the U.S. and Canada as Broderick and Felsen from 1923 to 1927. Their act evolved from a simple dance act to one with over twenty dancers, an orchestra, and elaborate costumes and sets. They became so popular that from 1925 to 1926 they played for 20 straight weeks at the huge Colony Theater on Broadway in New York City. By the end of 1925 theatrical critics were proclaiming them to be one of the best dance acts in the country, if not the best.

In 1926 and 1927, they starred in two spectacular musical productions, touring across the United States and Canada, first for about three months in Emil Boreo’s Mirage de Paris followed by nine months in their own Ballet Caprice.

After Jack quit the act near the end of 1927, Betty continued to manage the troupe and, with a new dance partner, toured throughout the northeastern United States for the next six months or so as Betty Felsen and Company. The final performance of Ballet Caprice was on June 4, 1928, at America’s premier vaudeville theater, Broadway’s famed Palace Theater in New York City.

Referring to the Felsen and Licheron performances at the Balaban and Katz chain of Chicago theaters the Vaudeville Newspaper said “This dancing act is one of the best seen in the city in some time.” Theatrical critics heaped praise on the dancing of Broderick and Felsen and of Betty herself. What follows are some examples. At the end of July 1924, critics in Columbus Ohio said of Broderick and Felsen, “they offer the highest class of dancing” and “they display a most remarkable technical knowledge of dancing”. L.L. Clemons stated on 9/16/24 in Tacoma “this clever duo live up to their billing and miles beyond. No more artistic dancing has ever been seen on a Tacoma stage before.” In their 7th week (early November 1925) at the Colony Theater, the New York Star reported that Broderick and Felsen are “one of the biggest dance hits on Broadway this season.” On 2/21/26, while performing at Chicago’s Palace Theater, Billboard claimed that “Boreo’s Mirage de Paris is a stupendous and colorful revue” and “Jack Broderick and Betty Felsen carry the principal roles and are finished articles in all that they are called upon to do.” Extolling the presentation of Ballet Caprice at Keith’s Theater in Cincinnati, a critic said on 3/20/27 “The interpretive ballet dances of Jack Broderick and Betty Felsen are impressive beyond the ordinary.” In Buffalo on 2/26/28, the Courier Express reviewed Betty Felsen and Company saying of Betty “Her final dance … stands out as one of the few dance classics left on the vaudeville stage today.” Short highlights of some of the many laudatory reviews of Betty’s performances during her 18-year professional career are in a two-page document that can be read quickly.

From November 1, 1928, to early 1932, Betty owned and operated a performing arts school in Worcester MA. She continued to perform locally and in vaudeville theaters in New England, sometimes with her advanced students known as the Betty Felsen Dancers. She moved to Cleveland OH in mid-1932 where she operated a performing arts school until sometime after she married Samuel Tonkin in June 1937, taking his last name. Betty gave birth to their son, David, in November 1938. She died on November 30, 2000, in Sandy, UT. - Biography by David Tonkin, 2024.


2.4 Linear Feet (1 box and 1 oversize box) ; oversize box is 20 x 24"


Photographs, programs, clippings and other material documenting the dance career of Betty Felsen (1905-2000), Felsen danced in the corps de ballet of the Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet in Chicago starting at age 15; after ballet she had a vaudeville career with dancing partner Jack Broderick. Subsequently, Felsen started dance schools in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Cleveland, Ohio.


Materials are arranged by size and chronologically thereunder.

Collection Stack Location

3a 48 6


Gift, David Tonkin, 2024.

Processed by

Alison Hinderliter, 2024.

Betty Felsen papers, 1916-1937
Alison Hinderliter
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States