Are you thinking of doing ballet exams as an adult? Here is an article about the current situation of those who are considering doing ballet exams as an adult. This page refers to the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) examinations that adults can now enter for.
While I’m not the best person to ask about RAD examinations in general, I can share with you my experience specifically if you’re an adult ballet dancer who is interested in doing RAD examinations some day.
In the past, up till about around year 2000, adults could only take Grade 6 ballet exams in the graded syllabus. For the rest of the levels, including the vocational ones, you had an age limit. From 2000, there is no upper age limit for any ballet examinations. (Hurray!)
However, in spite of this change, adults from around the world are having difficulty finding a teacher or studio that would accept them. That is the general feeling I get from adult ballet dancers who have emailed me. However, I can speak from experience especially in my own country, Singapore.
Why is it so difficult for an adult to do ballet exams?
Though there is no longer any age limit to take RAD examinations, it is hard still for adults in general because there is no real basic RAD class catered for adults. The graded syllabus from 1-4 are generally catered to the way children learn, which is highly different from adults.
Most ballet studios/schools or ballet teachers generally discourage adults from taking ballet exams, or in this case RAD ballet examinations. Why? They reason that ballet exams are only for dancers who want to turn professional, or who want to consider teaching ballet as a career.
Since most adult ballet dancers are pretty much content with their profession, and they aren’t likely to have a shot at turning professional, most ballet studios turn them away.
There are legitimate reasons:
- Adult beginners may be disruptive to the class. Most of the teenagers or children in RAD classes have been dancing for at least 4-6 years.
- Adults may not be able to cope with syllabus classes. Since most adults dance in open classes, they might be shocked that the teacher will not stop the class to teach them the more complex center work of the syllabus.
- Adults may find these syllabus classes boring and repetitive.
- Ballet teachers require high commitment (attendance) to these classes in order to prepare them for exams. The adult’s schedule may not allow for this.
- Schools and RAD registered teachers risk their reputation if their students fail RAD exams (results of students’ performance at examinations are recorded). Hence, they are reluctant to send in adult beginners.
- Some schools simply prefer to keep their classes within certain age limits. These schools are probably stuck in the old days before year 2000 when it nearly impossible for adults to participate in the RAD syllabus.
Why do adults still want to take ballet exams?
One of my friends who teaches adult ballet did a poll on her website asking how many of her adult ballet students would still like to take ballet exams, despite not wanting to pursue a ballet career of any sort.
And the results were more than 50% YES!
I can understand some of the reasons why adult ballet dancers still want to take RAD exams because they are more or less similar to mine.
Firstly, they want to feel a sense of achievement.
Ballet is a long hard road, sometimes with no end in sight. A certificate saying that you’ve passed your examinations helps to quantify your efforts. You’ll have something to show for all the money and time that you’ve invested in learning ballet.
It is easier to measure your progress in learning ballet.
A progression of levels that the RAD syllabus offers provide a roadmap or benchmarks in your learning.
It is hard to measure personal progress. Some teachers don’t even tell you how much you’ve improved. Even if they did, you wouldn’t have much of an idea. Some of my friends measure progress by how many pirouettes they can do. That is not the only way! Allegro (jumps and beats) are more solid benchmarks, in my opinion.
With exams, you’ll have a clearer idea.
The ability to learn variations (‘dance numbers’)
I remember wanting to join a syllabus class just so I could learn the examination variations, which consist of one classical dance number and another contemporary ballet dance. I also wanted to learn the port-de-bras and adage combinations.
In adult open classes, we might get a 20 second dance if we’re lucky. It changes every week. We don’t get to learn and perform to a full song. Even if it is just for your video camera.
That’s part of the fun…though admittedly, you’ll probably get really sick of your examination dances and center combinations.
Exams provide a systematic way of learning.
The way most adults learn ballet around the world is in open classes. These means there is no set work and the teacher is free to set whatever exercises he/she wants, not mattering if you’ve actually learned the step properly or not.
For instance, I’ve never quite learned balancé (waltz) properly until I had to at the advanced syllabus. I mainly imitated my dance teacher in adult open classes. My foot wasn’t licking the floor like it should and my arms looked really curt.
Choosing to learn ballet through a syllabus means that you’ll get time to learn each step properly.
Repetition Allows Technique to Develop
Some of my adult ballet friends scoff at examination ballet classes. They try for a couple months or so and deem it as ‘extremely boring’.
Why? This is because in RAD classes (this is for some schools, not all), the same examination music is played along while we dance the set examination barre and center exercises. It is the same old thing week-in-week-out.
I used to get bored too. But after a while, I enjoyed the freedom my mind has to think about other things, such as how I’m doing or performing the step, without trying very hard to memorize the combinations (and not mess them up).
This way, you actually get this chance to perfect a step. and SOLIDIFY it in your muscle memory and your brain.
I’ve since realized that there are so many ways to do the same step correctly, but adding your own interpretation of it..in short, how to make it look pretty and beautiful. That is what is known as
In open classes, you seldom get a chance to do this. Unless of course, you’ve been dancing for five to ten years.
I really appreciated the learning connections in my brain since I’ve started syllabus work. I’ve learned to see how many other combinations are “just like the ones in my RAD syllabus class, only a little different”. That way, it takes up less brain juice to learn other combinations in my open classes.
Another way of learning
Taking ballet exams, even if you don’t have to, can be viewed simply
as another way of learning. The pressure you put on yourself will enable you to push through your own personal limitations. All of us can relate how exams force you to learn, and quickly, because of the up and coming assessment.
Read more about my first ballet examination as an adult.
Would I recommend adult beginners to take ballet exams?
It depends on what you want out of learning ballet.
But if you ask me, my answer is generally no, unless it is a dream to pass a ballet exam.
You can’t decide to do ballet exams casually, because it will take a lot out from you, especially with the limitations of being an adult ballet dancer (mostly lack of time for the muscles to develop muscle memory).
If you really enjoy the culture of ballet, which could be something like this:
- taking class,
- dressing up,
- using ballet as a form of activity or workout,
- learning ballet,
- being comfortable in beginners class,
- watching the ballet etc.
Then, you really don’t need to take ballet exams. Ballet exams require high commitment in both time, energy and your finances. The stress of it all might put you off ballet! I know it did to some of my friends!
If you have been dancing ballet for a long time, and are interested in perhaps teaching other adults or children, then yes, get started on Intermediate level RAD examinations (minimum requirement to apply for their teaching certificate.
If you are open to exploring different methods of learning ballet better and faster than your adult ballet dancer friends, then perhaps you could commit to a syllabus class for a year (which is what it takes to really learn the syllabus with an examination perspective) and decide at the very end if you would enter for exams (or let the teacher decide).
That way you can still work on all the benefits of studying a ballet exam syllabus in your own time.
I’m not saying I’m better than my friends who didn’t take ballet exams, but I felt that my progress could be felt more cleanly since undergoing examinations because of a stricter training. The other method of course is private lessons…..
If you are interested to take RAD exams as an adult, please read this article.
Are you taking RAD exams as an adult?
I would love to do an email interview with you!
Your story will inspire other adult ballet dancers. You could share how it is done in your country and how many people at different adult ages are doing RAD ballet exams. It seems more acceptable by dance studios overseas than here in Singapore.
If you’re a dance school offering RAD syllabus to adults, please email me.
I possible, I want to create a adult ballet worldwide directory that lists studios who are open to sending adults in for exams.
Thanks for reading!