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Lois Smith, the first principal ballerina at the National Ballet of Canada and a significant force in dance training in Canada, has died. She was 81.

Smith died Saturday at her home in Sechelt, B.C., at 81 after a long illness.

National Ballet co-founder Celia Franca invited Smith to join the new National Ballet of Canada in 1951 as a principal dancer.

At the time, she was married to dancer David Adams and frequently paired with him in the classical repertoire, including ballets such as Coppélia and Swan Lake. According to the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, Smith was known for her beautiful line and her stage presence.

Karen Kain, artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, remembered Smith Monday as a "beautiful unique talent."

"When I joined the National Ballet in 1969, Lois and her longtime partner David Adams had established a captivating partnership that veteran fans still recall with delight and affection," Kain said in a statement.

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Lois Smith and David Adams are seen in a 1961 production of Swan Lake, created by the National Ballet and staged for CBC-TV. ((CBC))

After she left the company in 1969, Smith established the Lois Smith Dance School in Toronto, which eventually became the performing arts program of George Brown College. She also served as the head of the dance department at George Brown from 1979 to 1988.

Smith was also known as a choreographer and was commissioned to create works by the Canadian Opera Company. and Winnipeg Opera.

Studied dance in B.C.

Born in Vancouver on Oct. 8, 1929, Smith began her dance training at B.C. School of Ballet and later studied with Rosemary Deveson and Mara McBirney in Vancouver.

She began dancing professionally with Theatre Under the Stars in Vancouver and spent four years dancing in musical productions with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company.

She first danced with Adams in 1949 and the couple married in 1950. They joined the National Ballet together the following year.

She danced 18 years with the National Ballet and became associated with many dances in its repertoire, including the works of Antony Tudor and Walter Gore. Smith was especially known for her performances in the Tudor ballets Offenbach in the Underworld (1954), Dark Elegies (1937) and Lilac Garden (1936).

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Lois Smith is seen dancing with former husband David Adams in a 1957 production of Winter Night. ((CBC))

She was partnered with male dancers such as Earl Kraul and Erik Bruhn. Her performances of dances such as Swan Lake and Giselle were featured on CBC-TV and she appeared on The Wayne & Schuster Hour in 1963 in a skit called "The Swan Lake Murder Case."

When Adams left the company in 1961 to continue his career in Britain, the couple's marriage dissolved. Smith continued with National Ballet until chronic injury forced her retirement in 1969. She remained a favoured guest dancer with the company as she established her dance school.

Smith retired and left Toronto in 1988. She moved back to B.C., where she continued to choreograph and occasionally teach.

A member of the board of Ballet British Columbia, she frequently attended dance performances in Vancouver until prevented by illness.

Smith was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1980 and was recognized by the BC Hall of Fame in 1998, with a bronze star bearing her name embedded on Granville Street near Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre.