Learning Ballet As an Adult

How I did my RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) intermediate exams as an adult – why I did it, my training and exams. *** UPDATE: How I did my Advanced one RAD exams.

Lots of people ask me why would I, at a ripe age of 31, do my RAD intermediate exams? It didn’t make sense. I wasn’t going to be a dancer, nor teacher, nor pursue any sort of career in the dance world, so why take RAD exams?

Read why adults take ballet exams and what they have to go through to do it.

Read also about how I managed to learn RAD syllabus as an Adult.

Why I Chose to Study the RAD Syllabus as an adult

For one, I took RAD classes when I was little, and later when I was teenager, so I had fond memories of them.

Two, I had been going to adult ballet classes/open classes for a while then, and felt the lack of precise training.

Three, I wanted to dance…I remembered learning variations, and port de bras combinations and enjoyed them. I wanted to dance a variation instead of the 20 second variation at the end of an adult ballet class.

Fourthly, I noticed the difference between the adult ballet dancers who were syllabus trained before (when they were a child/teen) and those who started learning ballet in open classes (it doesn’t matter if they had prior dance training or not). There was more artistry in those who were syllabus trained and I wanted that.

Later on, I would add this – it gave me a chance to work on my foundation of ballet training. The basic principles of classical ballet are everything!

Adults in RAD Syllabus

Depending on where you live, getting into an RAD class might be a challenge. Though, it is getting more accepted and more available now. See also the RAD ballet exam levels.

Traditionally, there was an age limit in each class. By the time, you were 15, or an adult, and didn’t have continual ballet training, you were usually thrown to Grade 6. That was the reason why many of us, even those who learned ballet as a child, couldn’t go back to our old ballet schools. We didn’t have any where to go. Thankfully, the Royal Academy of Dance changed its system and now there are no age limits for ballet examinations.

Unfortunately, the ballet schools and studios took a long time to adjust. There are still snobby schools who ask you how old you are, and would not let you take classes with their school even though you have passed at certain level or have taken RAD examinations, just because you’re an adult. It doesn’t matter that you’ve swallowed your pride and are willing to do class with 14 year olds!

Your best bet would be to email RAD in your country directly, or its headquarters
Royal Academy of Dance in the uk to ask for schools/studios teaching its syllabus. You can either call
or email those schools and ask if they allow adult ballet students in their classes. Be prepared that you might have to do an audition.

That’s what I did, and got in contact with a studio. They were snobby to begin with, and refused to let me into the Intermediate class even though that’s the level I stopped because I had no certificate to prove it. I started with Grade 6, very soon after got asked to join Intermediate Foundation, then Intermediate, then got asked to join Advanced in a span of a year. (I progressed quickly because of extra private coaching.) However, I found a more suitable studio and switched and did my RAD intermediate exams with them.

In the RAD intermediate program at the the new studio, there were about 10 adult ballet students aged from 21 – 45, with only 2 being in their 20s alongside with 13-15 girls aged 12-16. As the year progressed, 8 of the adult ballet students dropped out, with me and the 21 year old (who technically just turned 21) who progressed and complete the examinations.

It is a huge commitment, especially if you would like to do RAD exams, whether or not you’re a young teenager or an adult. Most of my adult ballet dancer friends didn’t quite understand that.

My Training for RAD Exams, and Experience of Exams

The following is a journal entry I wrote for my Ballet Diaries, written on April 2, 2013

I took my RAD Intermediate exams yesterday, at a ripe age of 31. I started training for the exams at 30, though at 29 I had to get back into shape from not dancing consistently for a couple of years. Getting back into shape was pretty intense. I lost 5-6 kg (12 pounds) in the process, became flexible and my posture has been better ever since.

Of course, I invested a lot into it, seeking the best teachers I could find, and reading, taking lots of good classes and visiting my physiotherapist to loosen those stiff muscles I gained from working at the computer for years.

It wasn’t the RAD organization nor the syllabus that I particularly cared about, but it was the specific training for exams that I was after. It was a system of learning and I felt that it worked for me.

I put in slightly over a year of training for this particular exam. It was boring. It was the same old barre and same old music. The centerwork was indeed challenging for me. It took me so long to finally remember the steps. I had to be so familiar with the steps before I could work on the quality of the movement.

I remember I took about 8-10 months before I really felt comfortable in Allegro 2 exercise. It was only in the last 3 months that I felt that I coped with it and to not be filled with fear and dread each time it was our turn to do the exercise solo or in pairs. Up to the last month, I still made the occasional mistake of doing a glissade derriere instead of a glissade devant.

I had many breakthroughs which strangely occurred in the last 3 months prior to the exam. 80% of my breakthroughs occurred in the last month. I think it had something to do with the fact that you’re doing the entire syllabus over and over again that something happens to your muscles, plus the miracle effect of watching yourself on video.

In the last 2 weeks, I had myself recorded doing the entire syllabus five times. I would record myself doing, say the Adage exercise, then watch it, see what I don’t like, become more conscious of what I was doing, and then record again, repeatedly, all depending on how long the patience of the person who was recording me would then run out. Watching yourself and then applying the corrections is amazing. I believe you can save yourself months of classes depending on your teacher to correct you sporadically. That is why private lessons are important for those who need to catch up.

(Note to self: Buy a proper video recorder with its own stand).

When the exams came, I was nervous for sure. But I enjoyed being able to dance with a live pianist. I messed up a bit of the free enchainment, but carried on with the exercise. I smiled (though not the full on cheesy smile) and performed as best as I could. Everything went relatively well with little or no mistakes, though of course my pirouettes could have been cleaner. Though reflecting back, I was so consumed with performing I wonder if I pulled up, and if my ribs were in, my knees were straight and if I pointed my toes as best as I could. You’ll never know…I just hope my muscle memory kicked in.

Now that the exams are over, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I think back about the breakthroughs I had:


  • 1) linking steps are smoother
  • 2) developing the artistic side of dancing the step; being ‘gentler’
  • 3) having a more elegant carriage of the arms
  • 4) being able to dance with my chest pulled up and ribs in
  • 5) being absolutely comfortable with pique turns on both sides
  • 6) doing doubles en dehor and en dedan (though they could always be cleaner and more reliable)
  • 7) understanding what it means to pull in opposite directions, pulling up as you go down
  • 8) mastering allegro 2 and allegro 3
  • 9) learning how to do a little lift of the arms, legs, before going down
  • 10) learning how to hold the arms form the back not from the shoulders.

Ballet Training that Still Needs Work

Of course there are things I need to work on:

  • 1) Keeping the knees straighter all the time
  • 2) Grand jetes
  • 3) Keeping my core and back engaged all the time
  • 4) Ribs in – all the time
  • 5) Pointe with 100% energy, right now I’m pointing with 60% and thinking it’s 95%
  • 6) Establishing classical poses – to become more familiar with the ‘travel paths’ of arms and limbs.


Doing the Intermediate exams also meant a couple of things for me. I had always wanted to do the exams back when I was 18, but I was too afraid of the ‘free enchainment’ component to enter. I’m glad I achieved my childhood dream. Passing the exam meant that I now have access to the more advanced classes and more specific training – the kind you don’t get in adult ballet classes or open classes.

It also means because I will have obtained a certification of completion, I will no longer have to go back to the kiddy classes. I can proudly say I’ve a ‘right’ to be there. Of course, it means nothing really in the real sense of learning ballet, but at least I have a choice on what class to take. Before, without any certification, in my experience at least, the teachers will always put you in the classes with the young girls and being an adult who fiercely believes in good training, had to suffer the humiliation of taking class with these young girls.

At least in the advanced classes, though you’ll definitely meet younger girls, there is a wider age range of women who took their ballet exams then went overseas to study, or got married, had a baby and came back to do class. I feel more comfortable there.

So that was my objective, maybe some people might find it silly, but at the moment, that works for me.

Thank you for reading!

*** UPDATE: Read my journal entry about my Advanced one exams