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RAD Exams for "Mature" Adult Students


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Hi guys,


Let me just first say how much I appreciate participating on this forum and reading all your valuable comments! I have learned so much from you all.


My question today is: what is the value of an adult ballet student taking the RAD Exams? By "adult", I mean anyone beyond the teens - as most adult ballet classes I have attended admit teenagers, too.


In Hong Kong, where I live, the RAD syllabus is taught in almost all ballet schools (due to the city's tie to the UK as a past British colony). Among the adult classes, some emphasize the RAD syllabus. At first it seemed to me that it is a good way for people to have something to work towards. However, after having attempted an RAD class (Grade 6), I realized that it was not for me. The pressure to achieve was so big that I didn't enjoy the process anymore.


The syllabus, when rehearsed class after class, became very repetitive and even robotic. And there was so much stuff to cram into one class that I had no time to digest anything! Perhaps it was also the teacher's style that irked me. She kept on pushing for more, more and more as soon as she saw any progress on my part. But I simply collapsed emotionally during the third lesson with her, because she showed her "anger" when I couldn't do the steps right and threatened for me to leave the classroom if I didn't do the steps right the next round. For God's sake, I went for only three lessons and had already learned all the barre and dances in the center (sans the Character Dance part) - and believe me, it was a lot for an adult beginner who had only studied ballet for nine months! I studied very hard on my own and watched the syllabus video every day. In the end I felt that the teacher was being selfish, as she wanted to "use" her students to build up her reputation as a good teacher by making them achieve high grades in the exam. She actually admitted that. But I told her I would be happy just to pass. In fact, I didn't intend to take the exam but she sort of manipulated me into it, as another student of hers backed out from the exam due to an injury (well, no wonder, given the teacher's intense training method and the "hard floor"). Eventually I backed out from the exam and got injured, too.


Anyway, this episode made me realize that a lot of teachers/schools are actually using the RAD exam as a tool to make students stick with their schools for as long as possible. Once you have signed up for an exam, you are required to attend a certain number of classes per week and stick to the schedule until the exam. So I think that is a good way to guarantee income! I might be cynical but I really believe that's the way it is here in this city where money is the No. 1 concern of the majority of people.


I wonder how RAD classes are conducted elsewhere in the world... and how come the exam system has become so wide-spread? In America, do you have any specific system similar to the RAD syllabus?

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Hi airchild:


I am sorry that you feel that way about taking RAD exams. My experience has been so positive that I am afraid it's a bit hard to sympathize with you. I have had really nice and encouraging teachers which made my learning really rewarding.


In my case, I expressed an wish to do an exam (any sort of exam--I never wanted to perform, but I wanted to really test myself and get an objective profile as a learner) to my teacher about one year after taking ballet class (no previous experience). Considering the speed of my progress, the teacher thought that I should work one more year to take the intermediate exam.


I think having a solid goal made me work harder and push myself further. About the feeling of "robotic-ness" of some exercises, I really believe that once you get over the tediousness (but see, you can always build in "something more" even in the same exercise and make it more beautiful and interesting), they will serve you very well in picking up more advanced techniques later. Ballet, after all, is composed of a set of automatized skills-something you have to practice over and over until you achieve the level of automaticity. Your brain has room for dealing with presentation and expression only after the skills are totally mastered. So I never had complaints about that. But considering your feelings about your learning environment, I would suggest that you look for another teacher who really understands adult students yet push them just as the same way they would push teenagers. Wish you good luck.


Eun Hee

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Guest ingve



I agree with a lot of the arguments archild.





As far as I know, there are no other system than the RAD where you can have an anual check up of the school you are attending. If this is what you want/need is another thing.


If do not know the teachers and my children want to take ballet classes. I would always send them to an RAD school the first years. In the end of the year there will come an examinor and judge not only the child, but also the work done in the school. And I will know if they are just fooling around or, at least, also reaching the set goals.


As an adult, I would always avoid the RAD classes. I do not like english classes. Actually I have almost never enjoyd training, as an adult, with english teachers. With some wonderful exeptions. But these where teachers who had left the RAD system many many years ago.


As for the need of the school to make money.

If they do not make money, there are no schools. If the teacher is proper, there is nothing wrong with paying a fair price for the "goods". It is up to you as a costumer do decide what you can pay, and if you find you get enough back for what you give out.




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Hi Eun Hee and Ingve,


Thanks for your replies. Eun Hee, I am glad you have been having a positive experience. I am sure many others share the same experience and that mine has to do with the particular teacher.


Ingve, actually most RAD teachers here are not English. They are Chinese but trained in the English way. As far as checking of the school is concerned, I really don't know if that is done. The only thing I know is that there are examiners who go to the "qualified" studios (those with the right size and sprung floor) to grade the students in exams. That means if a school's studios are not qualified, it would send students to another location for the exams. Following that logic, some schools may never get checked. But then as I said, I don't know so much about the precedure. The teacher I was studying with for the RAD exam is a freelancer teacher and is not affiliated with any schools. She only rents a studio for her classes. So in that case there is probably no checking involved whatsoever.


As far as making money is concerned, I am not saying that schools and teachers should not make money. Far from that. They deserve making good money and likewise, the students deserve a good education, whether they go for an exam or not. The point I was trying to make - if it wasn't that clear in my original post - was that some schools tempt adult students into taking the RAD exams (as the only or the desirable option) rather than presenting them with the option of a "free class" for the sake of hooking them up for years to come. Nothing wrong if a student wants to do that out of his or her own free will. But in the case of my city, there is a lack of studios that offer free classes that are "serious" in nature; so if you want to make solid process and have more serious teachers and classmates, you sort of have to choose the RAD syllabus classes. Of course there are a few exceptions, but very very few. And when the teachers are teaching the syllabus, they all tend to focus on the syllabus too much (meaning, doing all the steps and dances according to the prescription) rather than paying attention to some of the other things that are worth paying attention to, such as basic techniques, musicality and safety issues. Strange, eh?

Edited by airchild
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The RAD syllabi are worked out very carefully in a graded system which builds up from one grade to the next. Its target students are children and teenagers and their growth and development both mentally and physically were therefore taken into consideration when the syllabi were being devised. A syllabus, however, is just something written on paper and it is up to the teacher to bring it to life. There are many excellent teachers around the world in all the various teaching methods and there are equally incompetent or unsympathetic teachers, who can destroy the syllabi rather than build on them. The exams give both children and teachers extra motivation to get the most out of themselves, because the work that the students are showing to the examiner reflects on the teacher. With this enhanced motivation, unfortunately, comes added pressure and it is up to the teacher to keep things in perspective. An examiner sees what a student manages to show during the hour he/she is dancing in the exam - this may or may not reflect the maximum that student can achieve - some people crack up under the pressure of exams, others flourish. As far as I am concerned therefore, whilst I obviously want my students to do well in their exams, I always tell them that the process is even more important than the final exam mark. The work that they do, the extra practising, the higher motivation and the learning and developing process in all the different aspects of the exam work are what is important and what spurs them on to advance significantly.


I do believe that adult beginners can benefit from the RAD exam syllabi, because they are very carefully thought out and the work is normally not as demanding physically on less than perfect bodies than for example, the Vaganova system. Repetition is very important for beginners of any age and the fact that exercises are learnt off by heart allows the beginner the freedom to concentrate on improving the technique and quality of the exercises and dances. The Grade 6 Higher Grades exam work is a beautiful, extremely "dance-y" syllabus which needs a great deal of maturity to bring out its artistic and musical qualities above and beyond the quite demanding technical work. It is very difficult to make it boring, because there is so much in it at so many levels. In the exam the marks are graded in different categories and 30% at least goes for musical and performance related qualities. Another 20% goes to the free movement and character exercises, 10% for the technique shown in the dance (which can be either the classical, the free movement or the character dance), so only 40% actually goes to classical technique. The students I've had who got the highest marks were those whose interpretation of the syllabus displayed musicality, expression, dance quality and sensitive interaction with their partner during the exercises which are performed in pairs working together.


I am really sorry that you have had such a negative experience with the RAD and I do hope that you will manage to find a teacher who will truly teach you, rather than torment you! I am amazed that you managed to learn the whole syllabus in a few lessons - my students took months of twice a week lessons to remember it! You sound a delight to teach, so do perservere - there must be RAD teachers who will enrich your training with their wisdom and enthusiasm and understanding of what an adult beginner needs.

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Hi Hamorah,


Thank you so much for offering a teacher's perspective in such an eloquent way. I do believe that if the teacher breaks apart the syllabus into small chunks and spread them out over a long stretch of time, it would be easier to digest and become an enjoyable process. This teacher whom I had was trying to teach me everything in 3-4 lessons and then do the "fine-tuning" in a 3-month period before the exam. Granted, the other women had learned most of the stuff before my arrival, so I was a late-comer trying to play catch-up. But, do you think that teaching the whole syllabus and preparing students for exam within a 6-month period is too short? Should it be at least one year?


One thing I remember that teacher saying to me is that she believed I had great potential - considering I had only studied ballet as a beginner for such a short period - so much as that she wanted to push me further because she knew I could do better.


Do you think that starting out with Grade 6 is a mistake? Perhaps I should go back to the lower grades if I want to take the exam in the near future, so that I can hone down the basic techniques first?


What about the vocational grade IF exam? I know some adult beginners taking this exam after about 1 year into their studies as their teachers told them they would be ready. But these students all reported that they had poor grades and it was "very hard". For this exam they had to do some basic pointework. Isn't that too soon though for any beginner? I mean, to even go en pointe, one has to train the intrinsic muscles of the feet for a long period so they are strong enough, and to attend at least three classes a week for a year. But none of the women I know who took the IF exam was doing that.

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We have exams here just once a year - this year they are at the beginning of April, so I generally don't start teaching the syllabus immediately, but work on the new exercises that are introduced in that grade. I start teaching the set steps gradually after that and then once they "sort of" know them, I fine tune them and work more intensively with them, demanding more and more until we reach the exam. I explain to them about the style of the exercises and what they need to bring out of them according to the music and yes in around five months they are ready - they can always be better, but by the time the exams come around I feel that it is enough! Once we finish with the exams, we have free classes (un-set) and start working on the dances for the end of the year performance. That's also the time that I start working on new technical additions to their vocabulary in preparation for the next year.


If I could work with them more I would, I have to admit, but not necessarily on the set work. The vocational schools in England for instance use the RAD exams as an extra. They have free classes every day at the level of the exam or beyond and just once a week those that want to do the RAD exams have a lesson on the set syllabi. My students only come to me twice a week, so if I want to enter them for the exam, I have no choice but to concentrate on the set work, at least for part of the year.


There is a different system of marking for the Higher Grades (6,7 & 8) and the Vocational grades (Intermediate Foundation, Intermediate etc etc). It's far easier to get a good mark for Grade 6 for example than for IF. This is because the technical demands are higher for IF than for Grade 6 and the emphasis in the marking is on technique - as far as I remember the proportion is 60% technique and 40% musicality and presentation/quality. Grade 6 has only 40% for classical technique plus another 10% if you do the classical solo, and the demands are not so specific. Grade 6 has marks for Free Movement and Character, IF has marks for pointe and only a classical dance with no alternative choice. That's probably why your fellow adult students didn't do so well in IF. I know my students generally get lower marks by at least ten points(sometimes more) when they move from the Higher grades to the Vocationals. The 8 students that I am entering for Intermediate this year all got quite high Distinctions for Grade 7 last year (80% and above). I think that perhaps two or three of them might just scrape through into the Distinction bracket. I will be pleased if the others get a Merit in the 60's! They really need extra classical classes to do well at this level and my best ones are those who do take additional ballet classes. The more you dance the more you improve!


I imagine that because the teacher saw your potential, she wanted to push you on to do the exam - she probably doesn't normally work that fast and I think that you should look on it as a compliment that she thought you could do it. I don't as a rule get adults, but I do get much older beginners working with my younger students and because they pick up and remember so much better than them, it's possible to push them on. I had a nearly 16 year old begin this year - she started in Grade 5 with 10/11/12 year olds and I moved her up to IF, which as you noted is very good for learning the basic technique and beginning pointe work. Now, she is doing both IF and Grade 7 to enrich her knowledge and dance quality. She didn't want to attempt either exam and I respected that. Next year she will work on the Intermediate exam and because she is very serious, I know she will work hard even she decides not to do the actual exam.


I actually think that Grade 6 is a nice level to try and do as an older dancer, because you need maturity to present it properly and it is so interesting and varied. I think you could well benefit from taking extra classes in the lower grades, if you are not embarrassed to work with young children. As I said, IF is particularly good because the teacher has to be very pedantic in the way she teaches it and it covers a wide range of basic vocabulary. You sound serious and talented, so why don't you try and talk to your teacher and explain some of your feelings to her. As an adult I don't see why she wouldn't listen to you and take your opinions into consideration in her dealings with you. Talk to her respectfully and I am sure she will respond in kind. :shrug:

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When I read your post I was like "Gosh, she goes to the RAD school in my area" but then I saw that you are from the other side of the world. I can only speak for two schools (which are next to my hometown) and there the same things happen. I don't mean the money-part but more that students are pushed into exams and also that the classes are very repetitve and "unflexible". I don't know if this is a problem of the system in general or of the teachers. I personally don't like the whole thing with the exams but I know from a friend who takes RAD that she really likes to work towards them. Maybe it is depending on what type of training the individual is looking for.

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Hi Airchild,


I don't have much knowledge about other types of syllabus and all, but I just wanted to say that it is sad that you've had such an unpleasant encounter. From experience its been tricky looking for suitable teachers (not impossible!) but when you do get one that is right for you, you'll find that ballet lessons will be something to really look forward to.


Good luck for future lessons! :shrug:

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Guest ingve

When i said english teachers, maybe i was unclear. i meant: "teachers following the english (RAD) syllabus)


I do not like the RAD classes.


it makes me stiff, cold and not having fun. Actually, all I feel like is a cup of tea :shrug: (on my heel)


You will always, as an adult, have to figure out who is trying to "cheat" you, and who not. it is a part of the game. It seems like though that you have figured a couple of problem "Zones" out on your own.





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ingve - I'm sorry that you seem to feel that RAD lessons are always boring and unenjoyable. As an adult student the system may not suit your needs, but I really don't understand why you think the teachers are trying to cheat you - cheat you of what and why would they want to? :shrug: I think you've just been unlucky with your experiences. The RAD teachers that I know are not money grabbing and do not try to force people to take exams against their will. Teachers don't make extra money from their students taking exams - on the contrary many RAD teachers add on extra lessons and exam rehearsals without even charging their students for their time. At school having an exam at the end of the term makes the pupils work harder, which in turn means that they will know the work better. The same principal applies to dance or music exams. That's why we encourage our students to enter for the exams.


I take free style adult ballet classes to keep in shape, so I can continue to demonstrate when I teach. Many of the people in the class do not have sufficient ballet training to do the steps properly. They may be able to pick up and make an attempt at the work and it may be fun for them, but that doesn't mean to say that they are going to improve from these classes or gain anything much from them. A more basic class which repeated exercises and where the teacher corrected them would probably be better for them. I guess it all depends on what you want out of a class.

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Hi all,


Thanks so much for your responses.


Since that episode with the RAD teacher, I have switched to another school (which unfortunately I have left also because I got injured from dancing on their concrete floor.) After three intense RAD lessons - during which I didn't even have a chance for a sip of water, let alone a cup of tea :D - I decided that to run away was the best way to preserve my passion for ballet. I am glad I did because I was inspired again to dance. If I had gone further with the exam program, I think I would most likely feel burnt out and quit dancing altogether. So, yes, I'm going to be absent from the exam which I had originally signed up for. The RAD teacher told me that there would be a "no show" record associated with my candidate number with RAD "for life". I felt so disheartened that I would get a life-sentence type penalty for this one-time mistake. So I wrote to RAD and asked if that was indeed the case. But the reply was that the record would not stay with me for life. Whew! It dawned on me that the teacher was lying to me in order to get me back to class! So yea, that was IT - no more lessons with her.


I think that my biggest mistake was not to have tried the exam class before signing up for the exam itself. Well, I was tagging along with another G.6 class in another studio before, but the pace was much slower and it was not too difficult for me. So I thought it would be similar with another teacher. It turned out that the style of the teacher makes such a big difference. So, surely, teacher-shopping is of utmost importance. So far I have tried about a dozen teachers. I have found one or two whom I really like. Unfortunately, one of them don't hold any classes for adults anymore, and the other works at the school with the hard concrete floor.


I will not rule out taking RAD exams in the future, but I'm going to take it real slow next time and make sure it is the right pace for me. But one thing is for sure: the RAD exam is not for everyone - they surely can be very good for children and teens but not necessarily for adults. There are those who really benefit from it, especially when they find an experienced teacher (wish I could have a teacher like Hamorah :shrug:) , but for some of us, a free class might be able to offer more of what we need.

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I go to a RAD school in Australia, which also offers several open classes each week. I attend both syllabus classes (advanced foundation) and open classes.


I enjoy the syllabus classes because I know the exercises, which allows me to fully concentrate on technique. I also attend open classes to take me out of my comfort zone! Doing different exercises stretches me mentally, and adds variety, but often my technique suffers because I am concentrating so hard on remembering the combinations!


I don't do the exams at all, but that is my choice. My teachers have never pushed me one way or the other regarding exams.


The RAD is a good syllabus, but it does depend on how it is interpreted by the teachers. And it is specifically designed for children & teens, not us adults. I'd love to see a syllabus that took into account the different experiences and bodies that adult dancers bring into ballet!

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...I'd love to see a syllabus that took into account the different experiences and bodies that adult dancers bring into ballet!


Wembley, that is such a great idea! Let's suggest it to the RAD :D

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Hi Ingve:


Regarding your latest post (see quotes below), although I think it is nice to be able to honestly express one's feeling on this board, I think it is also important to show some respect to different types of syllbi and teaching methods even though you don't personally like them. I personally perceived the way you put your feelings about RAD rather blunt. Also, accusing teachers (be it RAD teachers or those of other syllbi) of cheating money our of students without a firm ground doesn't seem to be a good idea either. Thank you.


Eun Hee


"I do not like the RAD classes.


it makes me stiff, cold and not having fun. Actually, all I feel like is a cup of tea :D (on my heel)"

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