Musings on RAD Exams

Recently I was chatting with a ballet friend about the Royal Academy of Dance examination. She is going to take part in one very soon. She told me she regretted signing up for it as it was putting major stress on her. I can totally understand how it feels. As an adult with a full schedule, preparing for an RAD major exam means extra work after work/in the weekends, and a lot of emotional pressure related to performance expectations.

Years ago when I first started learning ballet, I was constantly being talked into taking exams. But after seven years I still have not found the urge or the allure to participate. I doubt that I ever will. I did take classes that are designed to prepare students for such exams, but mainly because those classes were suitable for my technical level at the time. The old syllabus used to bore me to no end. However, since RAD has revised its syllabi and improved its musical choices, I find the content for the major exams—exams designed for those aspiring to become professionals—to be much more interesting. I actually took the Intermediate course for several months and really enjoyed the learning process. Here is me practicing in a rented studio (disclaimer: the movements are not entirely correct according to the syllabus!):

Generally speaking, I prefer to take “free classes,” a colloquial term here in Hong Kong meaning classes that don’t follow any exam syllabus. (In Hong Kong, many adult students take RAD classes—usually along with children—because there simply aren’t that many studios that offer “free classes” due to the small number of adult students. ) As I feel that my day-time job alone demands enough from me in terms of submitting a “report card,” I would prefer to keep my ballet hobby free from any judgment. I want to keep it sort of demand-free. The only true demand would be my own quest to improve. Of course, I love corrections and feedback from the teachers. I don’t regard those as “demands.” They are part of the learning process.

Some of my friends feel that they need the goal of taking an exam to motivate them, to keep them going to class and to do better. Others do have a practical reason for taking RAD exams—they aim at reaching a level that would allow them to become a ballet teacher. I have so much respect for those adult students who eventually got certified as teachers.

To my friend, who expressed regret in her decision—which somehow drove the joy out of her ballet experience—my advice is, just go for it as if performing for an audience, and don’t think about the end results, the “marks” and the “grade.” Enjoy the dancing itself!

As for myself, I don’t really need any extrinsic motivation to keep going (can’t wait for my body to completely heal from my surgery and get back to the classroom). The only thing that drives me is my insatiable passion for ballet—for the extreme beauty of its form, for the potential to express emotions through incredibly challenging movements, and for the never-ending desire for perfection.


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