Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007 | 6:56 a.m.
Elise Vallee, a singer and classically trained ballet dancer, arrived in Las Vegas by way of Paris and Hollywood.
Vallee taught ballet to legions of amateurs and Strip entertainers for more than 35 years at the original Backstage Dance Studio, popular among dancers for its suspended, knee-friendly wooden dance floors.
As the studio's manager and principal ballet teacher, she continued to teach tirelessly six days a week until several months ago.
"Her students said that they did not come for ballet, but for Vallee," said Hal De Becker, a Las Vegas private investigator and dance student of Vallee's.
On Saturday, surrounded by family and friends, Vallee died of lung cancer at the age of 79.
Vallee's reputation as a dance instructor carried around the world, said Joan Palethorpe, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet School who with Steve Becker purchased the dance studio in 1973. "I'd travel all over the world and would meet people who had taken classes from her," Palethorpe said.
"She was part of our family," Palethorpe said. As the studio's manager, Vallee worked alongside many of the dance stars who frequented it, including Liza Minelli, Debbie Reynolds, Joel Grey, Juliet Prowse, Paula Abdul, Cher, Gladys Knight and Michael Jackson.
Vallee was born in Paris on June 1, 1928, the daughter of a professional painter. A young student of dance, she performed in "Ballet des Champs Elysees" as a 14-year-old and later became a soloist in Roland Petit's "Ballet de Paris." After learning to sing under the popular French singing artist Charles Aznavour, she moved into TV, the big screen and records.
She moved to Hollywood to work as a choreographer and mentored Leslie Caron in the 1955 movie "The Glass Slipper," an adaptation of the fairy tale "Cinderella."
She arrived in Las Vegas in 1962 as a lead singer in "Folies Bergere" at the Tropicana.
Her final public performance was at the Chi Chi Club in Palm Springs in 1979.
No funeral services have been scheduled.