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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Syllabus classes


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I'm sure this has been discussed on the parents forums for their children, but I've not found a recent adult thread on it.

I've now been dancing about 5 years, progressing steadily up through the open classes my school offers.  I adore my school and my teacher, and wouldn't give up any of my classes for anything.

In the last year, an RAD intermediate foundation class started.  I've watched several of my classmates improve through taking it, and have drawn the conclusion that a syllabus class would probably be good for my technique - if I could stand doing the same exercises week after week!  Our RAD class runs at the same time as one of my current classes, which I don't want to miss, so I'm looking around to see if I can take a syllabus class on another day, potentially elsewhere. ( My teacher is totally fine with this - it's because I don't want to miss her class that I don't want to switch to our RAD class!)

So - my questions to the "panel" are these:

First - what would you look for in an adult syllabus class?  And second, I'd be really interested to hear if others have experience of both syllabus and open classes, and what you got out of them...


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I have taken both. The positive in a syllabus class is that you do perfect technique because you aren't spending a lot of time thinking about what comes next. The negative, apart from boredom, is that you might loss the ability to pick up combinations quickly because you ARE only doing the same exercises over and over. If you could combine syllabus with a couple of open classes a week, that would help keep your brain sharp.

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An RAD "Syllabus class" as such at Intermediate Foundation level should still contain some unset work for 2 reasons - 1) unset work is examinable in the allegro section and 2) when taught well a teacher should not be opening the syllabus book, teaching the exercise as set and then continuing to practice it for 12 months (or however long). Yes, nearer exam it's "drill, drill, drill" but in the long lead up the teacher should be breaking down the elements and steps of each exercise in smaller parts, hopefully using other music that is appropriate to the steps being learned, and only when the concepts have been mastered should the whole exercise be put together.  Don't forget the set syllabus work is a "showcase" of your technique, not a training methodology - that part is the teachers responsibility.

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I'm going to see a school and class tomorrow.  They are doing Intermediate, and possibly moving on to Advanced Foundation next year, so I'm not sure.  Looking at the videos, I know the steps, but also know I don't do them to the required standard!  I would feel more comfortable in an intermediate class, but I suppose that is the point of my doing this - I don't really have an interest in taking the exam (I've spent my entire adult life sitting exams!)I just want to spend time focusing on my technique.  The principle was lovely on the phone, so I'm looking forward to discussing it with her, and seeing if it's going to be the right class for me or not.

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Sounds like a good plan, let us know how you go!

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It was interesting!

It was the last class before they both broke up for the summer, and before a few of them took their exam, so I wasn't expecting to do very much.  I'd done a bit of swotting on the Intermediate syllabus exercises to help me pick up what I could, which was definitely helpful!

The principal (who teaches this class) was very complimentary - after the first exercise (plies) she said "Doormouse, we'll be keeping you! Lovely legs and feet...." which was incredibly flattering!  Most importantly, from my point of view, she thought I was "good" and had a good grounding, which meant I had not disgraced my teacher who has taught me more or less from scratch! (She, incidentally, is familiar with the principal, and thinks it will therefore be a good class, and a good challenge!)

I think, given the choice, intermediate would be the most appropriate level, and they are planning to start some advanced foundation work in September.  That said, this didn't seem to worry the teacher in terms of my keeping up etc.  I'm really not fussed about the exam (and couldn't sit it anyway without inter.found or intermediate) and its really the repetition and different focus which I'm hoping to try.  To be honest, looking at the variations and the pointe work for advanced foundation, there is stuff I may never be able to do - my feet and ankles just aren't built that way!  But I'm thinking that even learning the exercises in flats is potentially useful, and whatever I do eventually learn en pointe will be a bonus.

Still, I have a couple of months to figure it out, but I think I'll be giving it a go for a term or so :)  My 'main' classes and teacher will still be my favourite and my first ballet love, but this might be a way to do more and do better in them.....

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On 15/07/2017 at 9:39 AM, doormouse said:

 I'm really not fussed about the exam (and couldn't sit it anyway without inter.found or intermediate) and its really the repetition and different focus which I'm hoping to try. 

Just as a clarification, it is only Intermediate you need as Intermediate Foundation is not a pre-requisite :) Just incase you change your mind....

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, I guess we'll see!

That's always the risk of getting into something like this, I might just get ideas about taking the exams! :rolleyes:

I think it will be an interesting experiment, regardless of how it turns out :)

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i so loved your post! It made me smile and visualize being there. I'm sure your dancing is as expressive as your writing! By chance, do you live in or close to London? I was their last August and this March, and it looks like maybe again in November. I would love to meet you! You seem like an amazing person! I hope you enjoy the class and the principal. As for exams, I think I would be hard pressed not to give in and take them (I've never studied syllibus classes, just exam class for Vaganova training.) Stressfull but exhilarating!

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  • 1 month later...

Bless you FrailDove!

I wish I could dance with the same skill as I write (although that isn't so brilliant!  Went to school with the now bestselling author Jessie Burton, so my compositions were never going to be too fabulous in comparison......)  I grew up in London, but moved to Manchester for university about 15yrs ago, and never left.  I totally recommend coming up North if you are visiting from the other side of the pond - Much more to the UK than London and we have some pretty awesome ballet classes round here too :wink:

Classes at this new school start this evening, so I'm looking forward to it.  We're lucky in my main school that, being primarily an adult school, we don't stop for school holidays.  I think I'm going to give the new class a term, at the very least, and see how it goes!  Even if I do start getting strange ideas about taking exams, it would be quite some time before that was feasible, so no chance of cracking for a while yet!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I started ballet at 21yo and for a year and a half I had adult open class. Than at 23yo I decided I would do intermediate foundation RAD class and did the exam that same year. The programe wasn't very hard, but then last year I went to some Intermediate classes and felt that the dificulty level had improved quite a bit. This year I'll be doing grade 7 from RAD.

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Yes - the jump between inter-found and intermediate seems a fairly big one.  We started on some of the advanced foundation last week, and I've been 'cribbing' from the RAD video!  The barre all seems do-able to me, and I'm working on the port de bras - which is a beautiful exercise, I just can't make it look it yet!  The allegro is where the holes in my technique become obviously very quickly, but working stuff like that was the object of the exercise.  I've had a random break-though with sisson-doubles, just from hearing them described in a different way, so thus far, so good!

The biggest jump seems to be in the pointe work, but I'm just not worrying about that for now!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I was invited to take syllabus classes by the school director tonight. Can't really express how honored and happy I am, it's a big accomplishment for an adult dancer and, at my studio, cross over "never happens." I'd really love to go on pointe but I want to earn it and be very ready. I was watching some RAD exams on youtube and also noticed that the combinations weren't as complex. Anyways, congratulations! Keep updating this thread <3

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  • 2 years later...

RAD and Cecchetti both offer syllabi for recreational and for vocational (facility possessing dancers) ballet training.  Syllabus class taking is the only way to improve technically that is cost effective, meaning unless you want to pay for private training, I think.  Look for a teacher who understands well that children and adults learn differently.  Most teachers have experience with 1) how they were trained as a youngster 2) teaching children and teens.  These teachers often lack the insight to present ballet to adults effectively, most but not all such teachers.  

Teachers who are ex-professionals with Class A companies who were principal rank or above may well have attended an academy for years, so are more technically adept than teachers who didn’t follow that pathway.  If these ex-pros well understand how adults learn neuro-motor sports, then they can be the best most efficient teachers in my experience.

Ballet pedagogy in general is pretty hide bound, compared to modern elite sport training which is science based, so you can end up paying lots of cash without seeing substantive technical improvememt if you stick with the traditional approaches.  If you don’t cross train, then your progress will be glacial.  Ballet for late starting adults tends to derive and be adapted from methods developed for youth under the age of 25.  It depends on your patience and pocketbook how long it takes you to progress.



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As a teacher, I don't agree that syllabus class taking is the only way to progress technically at all.

As an RAD Examiner, I teach both syllabus classes, and non-syllabus classes.  I have taught in Australia and America in RAD and 'Vaganova-styled' schools.  What is important is not the method or syllabus - it is that technical improvement is correctly structured, and there is appropriate and adequate progression.

It is absolutely possible for a knowledgeable teacher to work without a formalised syllabus, as long as there are clear objectives and goals to what they are teaching.  For example - If a teacher understands all of the ingredients that are required to be learnt before learning a pirouette ie. Suitable core control, ability to releve, ability to spot, sense of turning action, knowledge of retire, knowledge of en dedans and en dehors, correct co-ordination and ports de bras - if all of those have been put in place, no matter what syllabus or method is being used, the student will have a fair shot at a pirouette.  It is up to the teacher to identify the skills required at each level of training, and ensure they are secure before moving on.

The reason this "seems" easier to do in a formalised syllabus class (RAD, Cechetti, ISTD, BBO, ABT etc etc) is the someone else has gone and written down all the stages required before hand.  But that does not mean it is the ONLY way - many roads lead to ballet Rome.

As for ex-professional vs non-professional teacher, I do not agree this is always the case.  Yes a higher level of technical mastery equates to a better technical knowledge of ballet.  But, I have seen many an ex-professional dancer who cannot communicate that knowledge from their own head to a student.  Teaching is a skill set all of its own, regardless of ones personal ability.  Some of the best teachers I know never danced professionally.  Yes, they did achieve high enough levels in their own training to give them the required knowledge, but just being able to do something doesn't mean you can teach it to someone else.

Cross training has its places, but it can never replace ballet and can never substitute for an un-learnt skill.  The students who wants to pirouette before they can releve, or spot,or hold their retire, will not progress regardless of the method, syllabus, or amount of cross-training.  You might be strong as an ox, but still un-coordinated :)

The same way fashion comes around in cycles, everything old is new again ballet.  There is no new magic shortcut to getting better faster in the 21stC.  It's just the old, tried and true methods which are now being re-interpreted in modern dance science.  Dance science has come an incredibly long way in the last 20 years and is very scientifically based (IADMS is a great example).

But I do agree, if you are paying someone big bucks and not getting anywhere, find another teacher. There are many, many great teachers in this world who teach in a safe progressive and intelligent fashion in group classes for adults.  It is not the method or the syllabus who is to blame for lack of progress.  It always comes back to the teacher and the student.

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