This year, The Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition was held entirely online for the first time in its history.

After remote coaching and masterclasses from world-renowned teachers and choreographers, the competition final saw the coveted Genée Gold Medal awarded to New Zealand dancer Alice McArthur, trained by Auckland Academy of Dance and currently Sarah Abendroth at John Cranko School. In a touching coincidence, Alice’s success comes over 30 years after her mother was awarded the silver medal in London.

Australian dancer Milei Lee won the silver medal. Milei has been trained by RAD teachers Liane McRae and Janne Blanch, and English National Ballet School. Bronze medals were presented to British dancer Hannah Martin, trained by RAD teacher Mary Goodhew, and to Australian dancer Amelia Soh, trained by RAD teachers Jasmin Bobyk, Paris Bobyk and Celine Bobyk. The Dancer’s Own Choreographic Award was won by British dancer Olivia Chang Clarke for her self-choreographed solo Rain of tears.

Amelia Soh. Photo: Guy Harman

Australian dancer Amber Mitchell-Knight, trained by RAD teacher Susan Sargison and the National Theatre Ballet School, won this year’s Audience Choice Award, generously supported by the Dame Margot Fonteyn Scholarship Fund. The online vote was held over a 72-hour period, so viewers in all time zones could choose their favourite dancer.

The 15 young dancers were judged by Dame Darcey Bussell, President of the RAD, Director of the Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare, CEO and Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet Christopher Hampson and Irek Mukhamedov, Ballet Master at the Paris Opéra Ballet. Each dancer performed a 19th- or 20th-century classical variation, a contemporary solo choreographed by or for them (Dancer’s Own), a commissioned solo by choreographer Ashley Page and set class exercises.

Hannah Martin
Milei Lee. Photo: Amber Griffin Photography

Gerard Charles, Artistic Director of the RAD said: ‘I am so pleased that we were able to make the competition happen this year, after what has been an incredibly challenging time for dance students and teachers. It has been so inspiring to see these young dancers surmount unforeseeable challenges of separation, closed studios and lockdowns, just to take part in the competition, let alone take home a medal. This is a true testament to how deeply they value dance.’

The RAD welcomed a record number of applicants, thanks to a new format designed to widen access to this prominent competition. In the early stages, the RAD delivered one-to-one online coaching for 114 dancers from 18 countries. The coaches, all leading professionals, included former Royal Ballet Principals Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin, Miguel Altunaga from Rambert and Amber Scott, Principal with the Australian Ballet. All the solos of the 15 chosen finalists will be sent to artistic directors of leading international companies, providing a potentially crucial stepping stone in their career path.

Alice McArthur


Meet the Fonteyn finalists


Bronze medallist Hannah Martin on her journey to the final



Mia Zanardo

Dance Gazette

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Where did the name Rowdy come from?

When I moved to England, I started going into the underground hip-hop scene, but there weren’t a lot of girls. I felt I had a lot to prove, to show I wasn’t scared of no boys. I would be overly confident, very cocky and self-assured. It was all a façade, but the rumour started spreading about this girl that was rowdy and over the top, thinking she’s all that. I started to get self-conscious – but then I thought, I haven’t come all the way to another country to feel small, so I decided to take on the name as a badge of honour. You think I’m too rowdy? Yeah, I am rowdy, and you can’t tell me nothing!

You were born in Colombia but grew up in Sweden. What was your experience of school?

I went to a strict, elitist Swedish school. It was very old-fashioned – they were still beating kids, we had to curtsey to the teacher. Me and my brother were the only black kids in the whole school. This was not an era when neurodiversity was noticed. From an early age I struggled when it came to anything mathematic or science-based. I was told: you’re not working hard enough, make much more of an effort. I tried, I really tried. I excelled in anything creative. I couldn’t work out why I was struggling in maths.

Photo: Robert Alleyne

How did you discover dyscalculia?

When I was 17, I happened to come across a news article about this girl who couldn’t see numbers the same way as normal people could. I thought, this girl is describing how I see the world. I’d never heard of ‘dyscalculia’ – but it was like a stone dropping from my chest. It took a while to convince my parents and school, but it completely changed my world.

When did dance come into your life?

Dance was always there. When I was three years old I was moving around the house. I loved watching dance videos and would practice by myself. It was natural to me. I’d been to a dance class where the teacher said, ‘You’re really terrible – you shouldn’t come back.’ He said that in front of all the students. Then I went to another dance class – and there was this tall Black man, in baggy clothing, playing music I’d heard on the radio, with the biggest smile. It was such a change. How could I not go back?

Artwork: Bex Glendining

You’ve taught a lot, including on the RAD’s Step into Dance programme. Do you ever recognise your younger self among the young people you teach?

I would recognise myself in kids that would struggle, or were shy, or maybe aggressive because they felt embarrassed. And I would find a way to reach those kids on a level that they would find a safe space. You don’t know about their life at home – dance might be the only relief or safe space for them. So don’t ever turn away a kid or make them feel unwanted in the space. That is my main goal in teaching.

Why does dance matter to you?

Dance was the one guiding light through everything for me. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have found my voice. I wouldn’t have found a place where I can call myself a trailblazer for young kids. I would have just been a scared little kid, believing she was stupid. Dance really saved my life.

Why Dance Matters

Why Dance Matters is a new podcast from the RAD – a series of conversations with extraordinary people from the world of dance and beyond. We hope these insightful personal conversations – hosted by David Jays, editor of Dance Gazette – will delight and inspire you.

Other guests in our new season include the star dancers James Whiteside and Leanne Benjamin, choreographer Ashley Page, the Paralympian athlete Libby Clegg, Hannah Martin who won a bronze medal in The Fonteyn this year and RAD Artistic Director Gerald Charles. Please listen and subscribe to Why Dance Matters.

Inside RAD

Fonteyn 2021

Dance Gazette

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What are your memories of the Genée final?

My strongest memory is feeling an overwhelming privilege to be dancing in such a beautiful theatre in front of Monica Mason, Karen Kain, Magdalena Popa and Mikko Nissinen. The Four Seasons Centre in Toronto is breathtaking and the first time I walked on stage to rehearse, I had goosebumps. I savoured every minute I was in that theatre. I was so thrilled to have made the final and hadn’t given a thought to being a medal winner. I was having the best time and winning the gold was the highlight of my life.

How did you deal with the pressures of the competition?

I was very nervous being in a different country, in a prestigious competition, boarding, meeting talented dancers from all over the world, and my ballet teacher Hilary Kaplan couldn’t accompany me. However, she did call every day to give advice which kept me calm and grounded. I tried to work hard in class and take on all the corrections from the tutors – it was very busy. As the competition progressed, it became easier to deal with the pressure because all the other competitors were so lovely and the teachers, the RAD staff, the chaperones were all so supportive. Gioconda Barbuto, the commissioned choreographer, inspired us to be part of the creative process so we were all motivated to grow as dancers and perform our best.

When did you decide that dance was the path you wanted to follow?

I have always loved dance and can’t imagine any other career path. I do actually have a vivid memory of watching the Genée final at the Sydney Opera House in 2016 and knew I wanted to be in it as soon as I could. I love learning new choreography and was very privileged to have Adrian Burnett, an international choreographer, create my Dancer’s Own solo.

Soon after the Genée, the world went into lockdown. Could you keep dancing during that time?

After the Genée, I was fortunate enough to spend time in international schools in Canada, Germany and England. Unfortunately, my trip was cut short due to Covid and I had to return home. In lockdown, I trained for my Solo Seal at home by Zoom and soon after returning to the studio, I filmed my performance. I was honoured to be awarded my Solo Seal – this was another dream come true, to complete all my RAD exams. To keep motivated during lockdowns, I try to maintain a routine of getting up at the same time, doing class, stretching and enjoy watching ballet videos, as well as trying new things like painting. I was also lucky to do some performances, both virtual and onstage, plus a short film.

What are your hopes for the future when things open up?

Unfortunately, in Sydney, we are currently in our hardest lockdown yet, but I am looking forward to finishing my pre-professional training next year and hopefully then auditioning for a company. Covid has presented some challenges, but my commitment and determination to fulfil my dream remains unwavering.


Advice Bureau

Didy Veldman

Dance Gazette

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The best advice I ever received I am continually inspired by Peter Brook’s seminal book about theatre, The Empty Space. It really made an impact on how I approach a new creation and whenever I start a new work, I tell myself ‘don’t be afraid of silence and emptiness’. For a choreographer like me who works with movement it is tempting to fill the space with lots of movement and hugely challenging to strip away and leave the essentials and find silence and emptiness.

I try and don’t always succeed, which is another bit of advice I was given by Brendan Keaney, Artistic Director and CEO of Ipswich DanceEast. During a Future Leadership course Brendan was running, he said ‘feed your hinterland,’ and those words often ring in my ears and make me smile. They remind me to make sure I find time to feed and nourish my own curiosity, which is essential for someone who creates work.

The advice I would pass on While creating The Happiness Project, the first production for my company Humanoove, I delved into what happiness means and learned an enormous amount about it through discussions with my dancers and collaborators. I believe you are indeed in control of your own happiness, that it is a state of mind. I’m not saying it is easy to achieve but wonderful when you can recognise those moments of bliss!

Dream and chase your dreams; it’s vital to do the things you believe in. It will give you energy for life! People often ask: didn’t you have to give up a lot of things when you were young to become a professional dancer? When I was training it never crossed my mind. I woke up at 6am, travelled 100 minutes to school on public transport, trained, got back home around 8.30pm, had dinner and went to bed – and I thoroughly enjoyed it and never felt I missed out on anything. I felt privileged, to be honest.

When your body tells you it is in pain, listen to it and rest. As a young dancer you believe you are invincible and can push through pains and fatigue to become the best you can be. As time goes by you realise there are limitations to how much you can take. So be careful with your body and mind – there is life after your career as a dancer, and you want to enjoy all of it. 

Stay down to earth, be open, honest and generous towards yourself and others, respect your fellow dancers, choreographers, directors and teachers. Never say never, hold on to dear friends, love to the fullest, cry when you need to, be curious. Laugh, share, inspire yourself and others, go camping and be at one with nature – even if you hate camping. Stand up for what you believe in, allow yourself to be wrong, don’t try to be perfect, work hard, learn and never forget to enjoy the journey.

WATCH A trailer for @HOME



Drew McOnie

Dance Gazette

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1 Lonely Town pas de deux
by Leonard Bernstein

I don’t know why this piece of music affects me so much. Maybe it’s because it is so purely an expression of wanting to belong. It feels otherworldly yet human in the same moment. Broken yet perfect. One of those pieces of music that makes you believe in something inexplicable that lies beyond simple technique.

2 Heartbeats
by José González

This track plays such a vital part in my journey to becoming a choreographer. I would listen to it endlessly whilst touring the States with Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands when I was around 20. I would escape to the studio to try to work out what I had inside me that was worth showing the world. It made me keep getting back up. I still get very nostalgic whenever I hear it.

3 Fire 
by Beth Ditto

The power of this woman and the way her music taps into a sort of rage and majesty I find incredibly exciting. Her music just has it for me. I’m desperate to create work with her. One day maybe.

4 Time after Time
by Cindy Lauper

Baz Lurhman’s Strictly Ballroom had a big impact on me growing up. I saw myself in it in many ways. I would make up dances to this track over and over and pretend to be Scott from the movie. I went on to direct and choreograph the stage adaptation as my West End debut, which was a very special full-circle moment for me.

5 Grand Waltz from Cinderella
by Sergei Prokofiev

Back at school, we had this amazing pianist called Mark Amos. He would regularly break the strings inside the piano with his extraordinary playing. Every plié exercise was a concert to him, an opportunity to change someone’s mood. The memory of his talent matched with this incredible music will forever get my heart racing. I’ve spent many hours daydreaming about choreographing a full length production of Cinderella because of this man (and probably because of Prokofiev too).

Drew McOnie is the choreographer and director of
Northern Ballet’s Merlin, which tours the UK
until 4 December.

Big Picture

Feel it

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The overall winner (main picture) is by Jon Raffoul from the UK, and shows Lucie Apicella-Howard with the caption ‘Dance makes me feel on top of the world’. Colourful and bright, it conveys the energy and dynamic qualities of dance. Vera Stephenson, USA, wins the Luke Rittner Special Commendation with a photograph of a young dancer captioned ‘Dance makes me feel like me!’ The public choice award, which attracted 2072 votes, goes to a stunning photo by Stella Smyrnaki from Greece (‘Dance makes me feel strong’) of a pair of young dancers holding a beautiful pose in front of a mountain landscape.

The judges were Melanie Murphy (RAD Director of Marketing and Communications), Gerard Charles (RAD Artistic Director) and the Korean-American photographer and artist Dolly Brown, whose work focuses on dancers, movement and performance. She says, ‘it was wonderful to see the various ways in which the entrants chose to express their feelings about dance through the medium of photography, and to see such a huge variety of entries from all over the world, showing that dance is a universal language.’


Walk tall

Altuğ Akin

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