Simply Ballet History

Dance's First Dame - Adeline Genée

The dance world’s first Dame – Dame Adeline Genée was not only a success onstage, but also a champion of dance training. As the first President of the Royal Academy of Dance, she left a legacy that has lasted over 100 years.

Born in Denmark in 1878, her initial training and performing came from her uncle who had a small touring dance company. After professional success onstage in the Royal Danish Ballet, she danced in Germany, London, and North America.

In 1913, Genée visited Australia, dancing in Sydney and Melbourne in her most famous role of Swanila in Coppelia. In 1916 she returned to tour with JC William’s company at a time when ballet was just gaining traction in the new Land Down Under.

As Genée’s stage career was winding down, her next project was just beginning. After lamenting the state of dance training, a group of influential and knowledgeable former ballerinas came together to form a association designed to lift the quality of ballet teaching. Genée, along with Phyllis Bedells, Lucia Cormani, Edouard Espinosa, Tamara Karsavina formed the Association of Operatic Dancing in 1920, of which Genée was named President. The organisation, which later became the Royal Academy of Dance currently trains dancers and teachers in over 85 countries around the world. Having worked to standardise, codify, and develop training methods, she was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1950. Her retirement from the RAD in 1954 passed the baton to another influential English Ballerina – Margot Fonteyn.

Adeline Genée died in 1970, having made the ballet world a better place – for which we are all grateful.