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How the Royal Academy of Dance Started in South Africa

The Royal Academy of Dance is the biggest association of ballet dancing in the world. There are thousands of teachers and examiners world wide who teach the RAD Syllabus and enter candidates for ballet examinations each year.

The Royal Academy of Dance was started in London in 1920 by a few teachers who wanted to improve the standard of classical ballet and the teaching of it. At that time anyone could say they were a ballet teacher and operate as such. As a result there was a very poor standard of dancer being turned out, along with a lot of unnecessary injuries.

The Operatic Association as it was called then was surprisingly taught in South Africa as early as 1922, but only really established in 1927. In 1920 Madame Ravodna visited South Africa and performed at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg. Madame Ravodna ended up staying on, and this was the beginning of the teaching of real technical classical ballet in South Africa. She held annual concerts which aroused interest among dance lovers, and she got rave reviews in the newspapers for her good solid technique, which was never seen in Southern Africa at that time.

Ivy Conmee and her sister Mary, were the first to teach the syllabus in SA. Ivy Conmee took it upon herself to go to London to study and was the first teacher in South Africa to bring back the teachers diploma at the ripe old age of fifteen.

Ivy Conmee was born in SA, but spent most of her childhood in London. She returned to Johannesburg to open a dance school. Ivy Conmee’s name is mentioned whenever reference is made to the Royal Academy in South Africa. Being a founder member in South Africa, she devoted many years of her life to training and development within the Academy.

In 1926, she and two other teachers, Majorie Sturman and Poppy Frames asked for an examiner to be sent out. They telegraphed Edouard Espinosa (the founder of the RAD) and guaranteed 500 pounds, which they didn’t have, to cover the journey. When Espinosa agreed, the teachers had to become frantically busy arranging cake sales and raffles and every other thing they could think of to raise the vast sum of money required. And they did!

The South African Branch of the Operatic Dancing Association was then formed with the financial backing of Miss Poppy Frames’ brother. South Africa was the first country to embrace these methods from Great Britain, and the Association later became known as the Royal Academy of Dancing.

Ivy Conmee, Poppy frmes and Marjorie Sturman were the Association’s first examiners in South Africa appointed by Espinosa.

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