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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Feeling nostalgic about syllabus


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As a re-starter whose ballet experience spans 28 years, I suddenly feeling nostalgic about the classes of my childhood. As a background, I started ballet when I was about 7 yo in 1985, quitted ballet when I was 17 in 1995, and restarted ballet when I was 32 in 2010 until now. The reason of my nostalgia is because nobody seems to be remember the old "Fonteyn" Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus which I did back in the 80s. Anyone here could help me (Perhaps Hamorah or Miss Persistent?).


When I re-started ballet back in 2010, I couldn't help but feeling that the students technical standard seemed lower than in the 1980s. I am not sure whether this is real fact or just my biased feeling, but kinda puzzled to see current Intermediate Foundation students struggled so much to execute single pirouette (as one example), while I thought i learned it when I was in Grade 4 back in the 80s?


I found an old video of a school performance and the steps that my Grade 2's were doing in their dance then equalise the level of our Grade 4's today. Glissades, jetes, balance en avant and en arriere. And I can't see a Grade 1 today being able to do the Birdcage Dance with all its turning polkas etc. It's a shame, but I suppose they are trying to make it more accessible to kids who only train once a week.



Hamorah is correct, in old Grade 2 I already got exercise for balances, petit jetes, and glissades. The old syllabus Grade 1 had Exercise for Head Movement which is a preparation for pirouette, and the Grade 2 has exercise for preparing pirouettes already. If I am not wrong, we executed single pirouette ending at fourth position, after two releves, in old syllabus Grade 4. Also, the old syllabus senior grade (equals to Grade 5) taught echappe saute battu and entrechat quatre already, whereas in the current syllabus, it's not until Intermediate level.


I also remembered the RAD children syllabus examination back in the 1980s: other than having to execute a free enchainement given by the teacher, we were also given a task of improvising a set music to the student's own composition on the spot. I remember that I also had to memorize types of rhythms (i.e. whether it is minuet, gavotte, waltz, or mazurka), because the examiner will test us on that as well. Does my memory serve me correctly? Whereas the current RAD exam (except for the vocational levels) does not prescribe free enchainement at all. Since when the exam format changed so differently?


Anyway, my other mission in this posting is to remember correctly the dance title that we had to do for the old "Fonteyn" RAD exam, and if anyone can help me, please pitch in or correct me if I'm wrong:

  • Pre Primary Presentation Class (1986) - group dance about a witch cooking around a bonfire
  • Primary (1987) - doll dance
  • Grade 1 (1988) - birdcage polka
  • Grade 2 (1989) - bretonne dance (with an apron) OR hungarian branch dance (with flower sticks)
  • Grade 3 (1990) - italian tarantella (with a tambourine) OR polish krakoviak (a lot of noisy stomping)
  • Grade 4 (1991) - czech polka OR russian dance
  • Senior Grade (1992) - classical waltz variation

The reason I ask about this is also to ask where to get the music book of the old syllabus above. I have some editions of the Primary - Grade 2 book (published in 1981) from ebay, but it does not have the complete dance set. I have yet to find the pre-primary music book and the grade 3-4 book. These books are a rarity, if anyone have a copy, may I buy it from you (since you won't need them anyway)

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As far as I remember those were indeed the dances then. The interesting thing is that the new syllabi seem to be again introducing some steps earlier. Grade 3 for example includes sissone de cote, glissades and assemble porte and preparations for these exercises are introduced in earlier grades. I think though what I do admire about the RAD is their quest to keep up with the times and the different expectations of children and parents nowadays. Introducing the free movement exercises in the 90's gave the children a chance to dance more without worrying about turn-out. The new syllabi are again different and demand far more of the teachers, I think, because they are now shorter and instead of being comprised of basic training exercises they are made up of enchainements, where the teacher has to invent the training exercises and break down the enchainements. It certainly keeps us on our toes!


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Oh my Pianolady, thankyou for the walk down memory lane... I remember rhythm, free enchainments, the birdcage dance and the Italian tarentella... I also remember being a child growing up and seeing the props for all the older girls dances on the shelves in the studio, and not being able to wait to be "grown-up" enough to do them!


I think it depends on how you look at the syllabus sometimes. Back in the 80's, I don't think there was as much in the syllabus so more time could be spent working on bits and pieces at different times. When the new grades came in there were all these "extra" exercises and free movement etc, and it was more of a "training syllabus" which incorporated a lot of the musicality and thiings like that into the work. Now we are back to a syllabus I feel that is more like the 80's, where 'less is more' for the exam, but more groundwork must be laid by the teacher. Besides, students will strugle with single pirouettes no matter what age they encounter them! It's just a fact of ballet life :)


Musicality is a huge part of the new syllabus - some of the exercises in Intermediate have diabolical counts! The children really must understand it to have any hope of getting good marks in that area! And I hear the new VGE leves are very hard indeed.


I get nostalgic for lots of old syllabus too sometimes - especially the ones I grew up with (Girls 'Advanced 1988 anyone?!?) and now still teach to my students. However, I have never had some much joy as teaching the new syllabus - Graded and VGE - there is so much freedom to train the students how they need to be trained, which will differ for every class.


On the last note, I have vinyl copies of the old-old Graded work from the 70's/80's, but I wont sell them :) Sorry - I'm too sentimental!

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I think I have those too somewhere. I started my own small RAD school in the early 70's and I remember having to carry my huge portable record player with me to the church hall at the end of the road for my classes! I had no mirrors or barres, just backs of chairs and the mothers tended to sit inside the "studio" to wait. When I had my first son, those watching mums would keep him amused whilst I taught! What discipline and concentration those little kids had to cope with such distractions! Now I have beautiful studios, fully equipped and I struggle to maintain discipline and quiet! Ah well!

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^ This sounds just like the school I went to as a child! The first time I saw a "real" studio with mirrors and barres I was astounded. (I still am, a little) Looking back, I don't know how the chairs as barres worked for the older (ie. taller) girls...

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  • 2 years later...

I know this is an old thread but I found a lot of old dances on youtube, just write "uitvoering 1991".

They have the birdcage dance!

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In Australia this year we have celebrated 80 years of RAD, and each state has had a Gala event, part of which was a historical segment! So we've been birdcage polka-ing, Tarantella-ing and a whole bunch of other dances all over the place! I'm not sure if any of it got videod though - I must try and find out! It was a lovely experience to be part of - I think one state even went back to a character dance from the 1930's or something!

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  • 4 years later...

After my mother passed away, we found, amongst her things, certificates for our childhood ballet exams. I did Grade 1 in 1972, grade 2 in 1973 and (no idea why mum kept the certificate for) failed grade 3 in 1974. I still have the tambourine (though it's seen better days) and I'll be doing Grade 4 with its Tarantella  whenever they reopen for exams. 

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On 8/21/2020 at 7:43 PM, JeninOz said:

After my mother passed away, we found, amongst her things, certificates for our childhood ballet exams. I did Grade 1 in 1972, grade 2 in 1973 and (no idea why mum kept the certificate for) failed grade 3 in 1974. I still have the tambourine (though it's seen better days) and I'll be doing Grade 4 with its Tarantella  whenever they reopen for exams. 

Oh what a wonderful discovery! I love the Grade 4 Tarantella and what a treat to do it with your 'old' tambourine. Best of luck with Grade 4 :)

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  • 1 month later...

I don’t know if you will get this or if you are interested but I have 7 RAD music books for exams from the 60s/70s that were given to me as a youth. 

children’s, pre elementary girls, pre elementary boys, another pre elementary for boys with alt girls music, int book 2, senior and advanced with solo seal examinations. Also a 40 piece book of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. 

I can send pictures. Contact me if you are interested cindilmiller@gmail.com

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My daughter just did her RAD Intermediate Exam today and afterwards we were discussing the old RAD levels when I used to do Ballet.  Unfortunately, i could not remember the order of the levels way back in the 1980’s.

I remember I did a Pre-Elementary Exam, but couldn’t explain to my daughter what that would be equivalent to today.

Does anyone recall the old levels and explain how they relate to the levels today?


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Basically, the RAD overhauled its numbered grades and vocational grades some time ago to make the lower vocational exams more accessible to recreational dancers. So - I think !- the old Elementary is now Intermediate 1, and there are 2 levels in the Advanced syllabus. I'm not sure what's happened to Pre-Elementary. I remember doing that syllabus way back in the 1970s, and it was quite foundational to the later work (I then swapped to Cecchetti, who have pretty much kept the older style of progression). 

Miss Persistent will have more expert experience of teaching the new arrangement of the syllabus.

But a syllabus is just a way of organising a student's progress logically through ballet technique and repertoire of steps.

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Yes it is all very complicated! I have lived it and it’s still confusing 😂

If we ignore all syllabus prior to the late 80’s and the Fonteyn syllabus (just so we don’t get too muddled) the equivalent Vocational grades went through the following naming conventions;

Pre-Elementary > Intermediate Foundation

Elementary > Intermediate

Intermediate > Intermediate Part 1 and Intermediate Part 2 > Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate >  Advanced Foundation and Advanced 1

Advanced > Advanced 2

Solo Seal Award > Solo Seal Examination 

These levels were also renamed from Majors to Vocational Graded.

The Fonteyn Grades, including Senior Grade were replaced with Pre-Primary to Grade 5 in the mid 90’s. The Higher Grades, 6-8 were added a few years later.

The revisions in the 2000/2010s were not to make the Vocational Syllabus more accessible at the lower levels, rather to reinforce a strong Vocational pathway. The vocabulary of the Vocational Grades has not largely changed from when they were the Majors, and the intent remains they are for Vocational study, though teachers are always free to use them for recreational students if they desire.  That said, as an examiner, the amount of training a student is undertaking becomes glaringly obvious at some stages during Vocational examinations. This is work that requires regular and solid training.

The Graded examination system has always been, and continues to be designed for students at a pre-vocational level, or as recreational study.  Students can not enter Vocational examinations until the minimum age of 11.   This does not mean Graded exams are any less valuable than the Vocational Grades, just different objectives and different mark scales, although the same marking criteria is applied. A 7 is still a 7 in either Vocational and Graded examinations, it’s just the marking section as are divided up differently.  The Graded system also includes Free Movement and Character work as part of their learning outcomes.

Full details of all the RAD’s learning objectives, marking systems and syllabus vocabulary is available freely online here https://www.royalacademyofdance.org/exams/specifications-and-syllabus-updates/

The RAD is not a secret members society! 😀 



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Thanks so much Miss Persistent.  That is exactly the information I have been searching for.  Very interesting!

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