Talking about Examinations

I posted here a while ago about thinking about taking ballet exams.

Well, I’ve been taking the RAD Intermediate Foundation syllabus class for a couple of terms now, and I’m just getting ready to step it up to twice a week to start prepping in anticipation of taking the exam in the near future.

I totally love it, but here are a few things to think about if you’re considering syllabus work.

First of all, time commitment. What’s your week like? How often can you dance? If you’ve got a steady one-class-a-week habit, I would consider sticking to non-syllabus class. It totally depends on what kind of learner you are and what you enjoy, of course, but I think I would go a bit mad if I was only taking syllabus class and no others. Plus, I do think taking an exam-focussed class alongside a much more free form, creative class that is not end-goal orientated is the perfect complement to one another. In exam class the whole point is that this is stuff you can do, and the challenge is to memorise it and perform it to a high standard. And performance is key here – you are expected to present and communicate to an audience. In general class, the constant and unexpected challenge, and the fact that you are doing it for yourself with no other expectations, is what it’s all about. I definitely think that my work in both types of class have improved what I do in the other.

Another thing to think about is financial commitment. Of course, it’s taking on a new class, and as you become a bit more proficient and start thinking about the exam, it’s pretty much essential that you pick up two classes a week. There’s also private lessons to think about, for focussed attention that you can’t get in class. There’s ways to lessen the cost here – taking privates shared between two or three students to a teacher is a good option, and some schools offer student-teacher (as opposed to fully-qualified teacher) rates. When you’re getting ready for the exam there’s the exam uniform to consider too, which depending on your school and exam level might involve specialist kit like a tutu.

Of course I want to do the variation that means I have to wear this.

Of course I want to do the variation that means I have to wear this.

Then there’s homework! Again, it helps to think about what kind of learner you are as the syllabus textbooks and DVDs are of more use to some than others. However, I am such a verbal – and above all text-based – learner that being able to read and write my own notes in the textbook is incredibly helpful. I also have the RAD videos on my phone to watch when I have moment on the bus or the tube. I really enjoy giving myself a little bit of structured time to revise like this, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!

The kids in the learning materials are SO CUTE.

The kids in the learning materials are SO CUTE.

But here’s what I love about syllabus class. It’s so clear to self-assess how you’re progressing, which is really satisfying. Going from having difficulty doing barre without being led by the teacher, for example, to fully memorising all the barre exercises feels really great. I’ve just had a bit of a confidence boost recently because I feel I’ve got our 3rd allegro under my belt – which when I was first taught, seemed like such a far off prospect! My absolute favourite aspect of exam class, however, is performance and musicality. These are criteria in the exam so they are something you have to pay critical attention to, and I find it really rewarding. It is like rehearsing a part for performance, especially in the solo sections like the variation. It’s so nice to have your expression and performance quality recognised and developed like this. Our teacher often tells us that performing out to a big audience (which we should feel our audience is, even if it’s just the examiner!) is like projecting outwards from the heart. I think that captures something of the special and rewarding nature of working like this. I have to add that my teacher is great too and makes class so pleasurable!

I think ultimately, although taking ballet exams as an adult isn’t necessary at all, it’s really satisfying to work towards a recognised level, and I will be so proud if/when I eventually reach it!

Treating the dancer in your life.

It’s that  time of year again isn’t it, when you have to start thinking of yuletide gifts.

Ok so I’m totally writing this because these are things which *I* would like for Christmas and also my birthday is the week before Christmas which you know is difficult and people don’t have time to think of all these gifts so really I’m doing everyone a big favour…

But seriously, don’t buy your ballerina bestie something lame.

What is this even?

What is this even?

Good lord no.

Good lord no.

Here are things the dancer in your life will deffo appreciate…

(**Heads up – my list is London-centric and assumes mostly female dancers, but does work for other regions and all genders too! Comment if you have even better ideas for your region and the danseurs in your life.**)

Dance Direct Vouchers
We all have our eye on our next leotard. Even though we have more leotards than clean knickers. Don’t risk sizing and style nightmares, get a voucher for dancedirect.com which stocks loads of brands and normally at a bit of a discount. If you’re just looking for a small gift, even a fiver will be appreciated – trust me.

ROH Vouchers
Yes, the Royal Opera House does vouchers! It’s really not very obvious at all from their website or actual box office but is true!
Again, just a fiver or whatevs would be appreciated towards their next tickets, or if you’ve got the spends give them enough for a box. Luxury.
If you’re not near or in London, a special overnight trip to the Royal Opera House would blow their minds and would be the most incredible friend date / romantic actual date eveerrr (you’re welcome).
And if you want to treat them to tickets for a different ballet company, theatre vouchers can be used almost anywhere.

RAD Vouchers
This one’s specific to dancers who are taking exams, but kitting up with the right exam uniform is a bit of an investment. Honestly, we need the right colour leotard, tutu, even hair ribbons.

The DVDs and Syllabus outline textbooks are super useful too, if you know which grade they’re taking.

If your fancy dancer has passed, then you can get them the corresponding silver pendant woooo.

This is the pendant for the exam I'm taking jus sayinnnn

This is the pendant for the exam I’m taking jus sayinnnn

Tights

I’m not joking here. Buy me tights. I ladder them all the bloody time and the cost mounts. And even washing on delicate, the gorgeous matchy matchy shade you’ve carefully chosen does fade. The cost and frustration can be especially true if your dancing wellbeloved likes to match their skintone, and their skintone doesn’t fit into the massively circumscribed spectrum of most widely available tights.

One great company is NudeBarre with a fabulous selection of products and colours. You can even order a colour swatch to get the matchy matchy absolutely perfect. (I so want some nude fishnets yesss.)
Revolutions Colour Flow tights are brilliant value for money and offer a better than usual selection of colours, in full foot, stirrup and convertible. I’m crazy about Prima Pink which matches the pink of my satin slippers perfectly.

A personalised sewing kit

You can get such cute little tins and one filled up with the essentials is a super-cute stocking filler. You’ll need: some ribbons and elastics, some ballet-pink Nymo, a card of needles, a stitch-ripper, a thimble. I also love my fold-up scissors, so useful. And a fancy little mini lighter for sealing your ribbon ends would be the cherry on top.

Here's mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Here’s mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Ballet DVDs

We all love watching dance. We just do. Maybe your prima bestie has a favourite company or is a mega fan of a particular dancer? If you’re not sure, it’s safe to say that the Royal Ballet DVDs are consistently top quality and they have a really good library of performances, from classic Royal Ballet primas like Fonteyn and Bussell, right up to brand new productions.

Ballets are increasingly being live-broadcast to cinemas too, so check out what’s on near you.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Ballet wear, clothes and jewellery

Everyone’s tastes here are different I know, but I have to shout out some excellent companies…

Cloud and Victory – are hilarious and oh so stylish. A little pricey, and shipping from Singapore, a special delivery from them would be absolutely delightful.

Yass kwene

Yass kwene

Designed by Alice – I own two of her gorgeous skirts already and the quality is so good. The elasticated waist ribbon makes such a difference, the cut is lovely and she always stocks an ever-changing selection of gorgeously patterned fabric.

Les Nereides – just. these. yes.

Classes

The absolute best things all dancers love is to dance! Gifting a class or a set of classes is the most wonderful gift I can think of. Studios like Danceworks offer different gift card options, others like The Place offer carnets of 6 or 12 classes, or even for a terms-worth of classes. If you’re feeling generous you could offer to pay their invoices for their  pre-booked classes? Another special treat would be book a private lesson for them – ask their usual ballet teacher, a lot of teachers will offer privates.

I know some people don’t like to give money as it isn’t gift-wrapped and special like a present, but honestly anything at all towards class fees would delight any dancer – and you could even dress it up in a lovely card.

Odile's costume. Drool.

Odile’s costume. Drool.

I’d love to know what your best-ever fancy-dancy present was. And you have to promise to tell me if you get a special something for your special dancer!

NEW YEAR NOUVELLE PAS DE CHAT

Oh dear readers, I’ve had one of those breaks from blogging which we all need once in a while. Too much dealing with the written word you know, pass me my smelling salts.

Lots of new things to chat about though…

I saw the Nutcracker at Christmas of the very first time!

I saw Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands for my birthday!

I’ve completed a term at the Royal Academy of Dance in their adult learner’s programme, and am enrolled for a second.

I’ve had a taster class in the RAD’s Intermediate Foundation syllabus class and am looking forward to starting it as a regular class, hopefully preparing for the exam one of these days.

I may even become a total RAD luvvie and get some demi-pointes!!!

And, I really want to start writing about ballet history with a regular post sharing prints and ephemera from the past.

I’d like to know, is this interesting? Would you, the reader, like to see bits from the archive from British Ballet history? I don’t know exactly what I will find, but I know some of it will be pretty, some of it rude, and hopefully a good deal of it will be from periods of history that we don’t normally read a whole lot about. Let me know what you think!

A Totally RAD Adventure

I took part in the Royal Academy of Dance’s Adult Summer School at the end of last month. A whole week’s worth of evening ballet classes, followed by Pilates! It was wonderful to dedicate a whole week to dance – normally my limit is about three classes spread over a week. And I found that working hard each night actually really boosted my energy levels! Brill.

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The RAD Headquarters in Battersea is a lovely place to visit and to dance in. Battersea Square is a lovely continental-style cafe square, and the fragrant wisteria blowing across the cobbled yard on a balmy summers’ evening was just beautiful. Inside the complex of buildings, there are dance posters and ephemera everywhere – a real treat for someone like me who researches and loves theatrical prints and ephemera of all kinds. I tried to snap some particularly old and interesting bits and pieces…

I’m really excited that the RAD Library is also open to visitors, for a nominal fee. It looks like a really nice space to work in, and for a performance history researcher like me it could promise some interesting – and seldom-seen – finds.

A nineteenth-century bill for Giselle, or "La Giselle". You can see how ballet was appended to other performances rather than presented as stand-alone pieces.

A nineteenth-century bill for Giselle, or “La Giselle”. You can see how ballet was appended to other performances rather than presented as stand-alone pieces.

I had a great time in class with our teacher Kate. My usual classes are “holistic” style, borrowing bits and pieces from different modes of ballet study. I’ve never been taught RAD Syllabus, so working in RAD style was a new challenge that I really enjoyed.  Sometimes it was a term that I wasn’t familiar with – balancé instead of waltz step, for example – or a way of working. We won’t generally work through and name the series of arabesques in my regular classes, for instance. I found that my waltz step was actually quite old fashioned, and that instead of raising the foot fully pointed, a more natural step was preferable.

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An original costume sketch, 1956.

The great thing about working on consecutive days was an appreciation of just how much the body can take on and learn in a fairly short amount of time. By Friday we were prancing about as Giselle’s peasant maidens, and in adage posing in arabesque allongée like the wilis. The opportunity to work with a pianist was brilliant too, and I really appreciated our pianist’s skill and sensitivity.

Pilates next, and I must admit that the little Pilates I’ve done I have found a little…boring? I appreciate learning about my body, but I’d much rather be dancing. However after a really intense hour’s class (in the late July heat!) some time to calmly yet engagedly work through the body was quite a far-out, trippy experience! I think my Pilates practice has really improved, and I’ve learnt a lot about the tension that I tend to hold in my body.

I’ve already decided to come back in the September term to attend a weekly non-syllabus class. I’m still thinking about eventually taking an exam, and our teacher for the week advised that as I’ve never learnt RAD style before, a general class to get accustomed to the vocab would be the best idea to start with.

Have a look at what classes, in ballet and more, RAD offers here.

A snippet of all the ballet art to admire.

A snippet of all the ballet art to admire.

 

Summer Plans

Well once again I’ve been on an enforced ballet break due to recuperation from health issues. Blah! The good news is that I went to class on Wednesday and it was FAB-U-LOUS, darling.

Thought I’d share my summer ballet plans with y’all.

Next week (21st-25th) I’m doing a summer short course at the Royal Academy of Dance. Actually in their school in Battersea! Very excited to see their premises, and get a taste of how they work. The course is 5 evenings, and comprises a pilates class followed by a ballet class every night. Very hard work – the most I’m used to dancing is three evenings spread out over a week, and that’s me at my most full-out.

I’ve also applied to some rep workshops, and some one-off intensive 3-hour classes, details as I get them.

AAaannnd – Pointe’s back! Our teacher runs 6-weekly short courses and I’m signed up for course 2! I want to reflect on “what I’ve learned in Pointe”, as I still think it’s such a bizarre activity that we kind of take for granted as a normal thing when IT ISN’T AT ALL.

Ohhh darlings, much love, mwah mwah xx