Once a little ballerina graduates from toddler ballet (3-5 years) I highly recommend they start working towards a ballet exam.
Sure, if your child is just enjoying attending class with no pressure that’s cool. But if they’re showing a keen interest and focus in class then allowing your ballet teacher to take them through the examination process is a fabulous idea.
I find it’s usually one of two reasons parents say no to a ballet exam: price and pressure.
Firstly, exams are costly because the examiner is usually from overseas or at the very least interstate. Secondly, I truly believe children need a little ‘pressure’ in their lives to become independent, resilient, successful adults.
So let’s break down some of the benefits of students sitting a ballet exam every year…
FIRSTLY (AND SIMPLY), BALLET EXAMS MAKE STUDENTS BETTER AT BALLET
Sustainable change and rapid growth has to come from students intrinsically wanting to improve. By placing a goal (the exam!) in front of them they are able to see why they should want to improve.
As an adult ballerina or parent of a ballerina, it’s easy to see the benefits of ballet and why you should train consistently and regularly. But most of the time a younger student needs something more tangible. A grade. An exam. A result.
So if a student has an intrinsic want and need to improve then of course it’s only natural that the classical ballet technique improves at a much faster rate. Very few children can successfully train in ballet without some sort of direction or goal.
BALLET EXAMS ARE EXTREMELY FAIR
As a ‘child of the arts’ there are few times when you can be examined and critiqued with an outstanding amount of fairness. If you’re at a dance competition, the adjudicator could have an affiliation a particular studio, not be proficient in the genre of dance your performing or be bias towards a particular style, choreography, costume or child.
Unlike eisteddfod adjudicators, a ballet examiner has to be extremely qualified in their chosen field. That’s not saying some eisteddfod adjudicators aren’t extremely qualified! It’s just rare to find an adjudicator that can adjudicate all styles with absolute proficiency – which is what an eisteddfod adjudicator is required to do.
A ballet examiner is expertly proficient in one classical ballet syllabus and only examines that syllabus. This means he or she has seen thousands of students perform the same set exercises all over the world and can make a fair assessment of where the student sits on their syllabi grading system.
BALLET EXAMS ARE EXCELLENT FOR TRAINING MINDSET
When entering an exam, the student is required to focus and adapt a strategic mindset. Strategy and critical thinking set students up for a successful exam experience that allows them to apply strategy and thought to other challenges or projects in their life.
Before my students sit their exam, we spend quite a bit of time talking about words that best describe how they should enter the exam; calm, mindful, focussed, collected, polite, respectful, alive.
Imagine how a student can take this practise into so many other areas of their life!
HEALTHY HABITS LEAD TO SUCCESS
Ballet is all about making healthy habits. Students are encouraged to enter the studio with a huge amount of respect for the space, their peers and the teacher/examiner. Once class starts, the habit of starting with barre, working towards the centre and finishing with large jumps sets habits, pace and ritual that translates into other parts of their life.
When students start preparing for ballet exams, the habits and rituals are heightened. Students are expected to line up with their skirt placed neatly over one arm, enter in formation, place their skirt and props down with care, make their way to the barre, greet the examiner and turn in the same direction to start class.
Once students finish barre they need to navigate the centre work with precision and care when switching lines, partnering for corner work and finally when performing their reverence for the examiner. These rituals, rules and habits during the process of sitting a ballet exam instills a deep discipline in any little ballerina.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, BALLET EXAMS ENCOURAGE EMOTIONAL AGILITY
If you suppress emotions, emotional growth gets stuck. Radical acceptance of how you’re feeling at any given time is important and being able to label the emotion and move on is super important.
A ballet class doesn’t stop for anyone. Students, regardless of how they’re feeling are forced to work through combinations in a ritualistic order that allows them to simultaneously work through a difficult emotion and take their mind off whatever was bothering them. Hence why they always feel better leaving class than when they entered!
Ballet exams also make students very vulnerable. Whilst an eisteddfod solo might highlight a students best assets, a ballet exam is a showcase of skills that expose students weaknesses and strengths. All exercises must be performed left and right and students can not choose their ‘best leg’ or ‘preferred jump’.
During the preparation to sit an exam, the teacher will highlight and critique a students weakness to help them improve. The ability to handle criticism is a prerequisite for success. Ballet exams help mould students emotional agility to process, navigate and accept difficult emotions and thoughts whilst receiving criticism through increasingly difficult combinations and challenges thrown at them.
At the end of the day, discomfort is the price of admission to a more meaningful life and ballet exams give them a safe space to experience this discomfort.
What was your experience of ballet exams as a child?
Or do you have a little one sitting a ballet exam?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
Grit & Grace,