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La Petite Adelaide

Biography: 

(1882-1960)

The five-foot 100 lb. stage dancer "La Petite Adelaide," born Mary Adelaide Dickey, was one of the greatly popular toe dancers in America and London during the first fifteen years of the 20th century. Discovered by George Lederer of the Casino Theatre while still a girl, Adelaide debuted on the stage in 1893 while in her early teens. In 1901 she introduced the cakewalk to London's music halls to popular acclaim. Upon her return to the United States she honed her art and set sights on featured spots in Broadway musicals and revues.

While trained as a classical toe dancer, she incorporated the sorts of novelty steps and gestures introduced by Loie Fuller and Bessie Clayton into stage dancing technique in the 1890s. One of her signatures became clog dancing on her toes. She appeared in a number of the more diverting entertainments of the era--"The Belle of New York," "The Lady Slavey," "Babes in the Wood," "The Blue Moon," "The Orchard," "Katie-Did," and "Up and Down Broadway." When Gertrude Hoffman made Salome dancing the erotic spectacle of the American stage in 1908, "La Petite Adelaide" cashed in on the curiosity and offered her own rather sedate take on the fad, dressed in bangles and flesh colored tights. Her girlish stature and rather Grecian approach to the dance convinced the guardians of morals that the performance did not endanger the public weal.

In 1909, Adelaide, sensing the turn toward couple dancing on the stage, partnered with Johnny Hughes and introduced ballroom dances (the hoop whirl for instance) on the vaudeville stage. The partnership lasted until 1927's "The Lace Petticoat." Because choreography was not her forte, and because the latter half of her career was devoted to partner dancing in an era when the Castles and the Astaires eclipsed all other rivals, Adelaide's contributions to stage dance technique have been scanted. Nevertheless, during her early career as a solo performer, she moved in the forefront of stage dancing. David S. Shields/ALS