Why Exams by Jennifer Shinefeld and adapted by Dena Cronholm
Why exams? This question gets asked often, even by teachers. Dance exams are a valuable tool we as students, teachers and parents can use to understand the progression of students becoming dancers. They lend a unique third-party credibility to the teaching method, while removing a great deal of subjectivity from the judgement of progression. And finally, they ensure a well-rounded dance education in a safe environment while still nurturing the art form. How is all of this possible through dance exams?
First, teachers who wish to become accredited by training methods such as the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) or the Cecchetti Council of America (CCA) are required to go through rigorous training not only in the subject of ballet, but also in anatomy and kinesiology, child psychology, dance history and music theory. The examination process for a teacher ensures that appropriate information is given to each student so that they may develop and grow, just as academic teachers must be similarly accredited. Both the RAD and CCA accreditations are internationally recognized and highly sought after. Similarly, your student’s accreditation upon completing exam levels is equally recognized everywhere in the world.
A set syllabus with pre-determined music and a uniform can definitely been viewed as boring. Its purpose, however, is decidedly not. A set syllabus means every student receives a complete, age and ability-appropriate dance education. It’s easy for a teacher to unintentionally gloss over or omit a particular step-or even an entire section of class- they themselves found less appealing as a student. Preparing a class for an exam means every aspect of that class must be given equal time. Also, wearing a uniform means students spend less time distracted by fancy fashion or comparing wardrobe. Costumes are for stage, not for class! By dancing the same movements to the same music every week, the student is freed to really focus on the finer points of technique and on strengthening long term muscle memory, rather than the short term memory challenge presented by a weekly non-syllabus class. Although not everyone is privileged to receive official RAD or CCA training in their dance education, both environments are essential to safely training the well-rounded dancer.
When an examiner assesses the progress of each student through the exam process, parents and teachers can trust every students’ class placement without concerns of favoritism. As the examiner has never seen any of the students before, she can only judge what she observes within the exam setting. A student will succeed or fail on his own merits based solely on that performance, without being compared to any other student. This is why exam groups are so small – it means the examiner has plenty of time to devote to observing each individual.
Dance exams help us understand the progression of students becoming dancers. They lend third-party credibility to the teaching method and remove subjectivity from how we judge that progression. And finally, they help us to become well-rounded dancers in a safe environment. Dance exams then, are not just a powerful teaching tool, but they create a powerful learning opportunity as well. To pass a dance exam, students must work hard, study and practice. They must also learn to perform under a bit of pressure. Passing means they will move on to the next challenge. Failing means they will learn to persevere through adversity until they achieve their desired result. The skills required for dance exams are the same skills a dancer can call upon in facing any challenge of her life. Dance exams do not just test knowledge of technique learned off a syllabus, they promote a strong sense of dignity, self-discipline and personal motivation to rise to the occasion and tackle the unknown.