Preparing For Your Ballet Exam - 10 Top Tips by Kimberley Berkin
For most students studying classical ballet, taking ballet exams is an integral part of your training. A ballet exam is an opportunity for you to perform a set sequence of exercises and enchaînements that you have been practicing and refining over a period of time. An examiner will mark your work against a set of criteria which could include technique, performance, musicality and more.
So how can you best prepare yourself for an upcoming ballet exam? What can you do to ensure that you are ready to perform at your best once you are in front of the examiner?
These 10 Top Tips will hopefully help you to focus your energy on the right things as you prepare for your next ballet exam.
Ballet Exam Tip 1:
Know Your Examination Class Work
It should go without saying that you should be very clear on your examination class work before taking your ballet exam. This means that you should be able to perform all of the exercises by yourself without the need to follow or copy your teacher or other students in the class.
Remember, everyone makes mistakes. However, if you are clear on your examination class work then you will be in a much stronger position to be able to pick up the exercise and carry on dancing if and when you do go wrong.
Be aware of always practising certain exercises on the same leg. Make sure that you can perform each exercise with the right leg and left leg equally. You should also be equally clear on what your arms and head are doing as much as your legs and feet!
Try this: Try performing your whole examination ballet class but only use your head and arms. You will quickly realise the areas in your exam work that you are not so clear about!
It is also important that you are clear on your musical counts, as this could have an impact on your final ballet exam mark. More importantly, though, knowing the correct counts in your exercises should give you more confidence when you are dancing. Learning to dance on the music is an integral part of learning classical ballet and it also increases your skills of being accurate in your ballet training, which is a key component for any aspiring ballet dancer.
If you are unsure about something then ask your teacher, who will be more than happy to help you. You should ask these questions with plenty of time before the exam to allow you time to practice and fully understand the answer.
I used to write everything down in my ballet notebook from corrections to counts to help me remember them from one class to the next and this can be a very helpful way to make sure that you are clear on your counts and corrections as you prepare for an upcoming ballet exam.
Ballet Exam Tip 2:
Preparation Is Key
As well as knowing your examination class work you should also be practically prepared for your ballet exam. Make sure you know what time and where your exam is taking place and arrive with plenty of time to warm up properly.
Prepare your ballet bag the night before. Nobody wants to arrive at their ballet exam to find that they have left a ballet shoe behind or that their tights have laddered! Where possible always have a spare of everything, but a spare pair of dance tights is always a must.
Whilst packing your ballet bag double check the stitching on your ballet shoes and if any of the elastics or ribbons look loose, then get them fixed as soon as possible as you don’t want to be stitching shoes right before you go into your ballet exam. You should also prepare all of your hair products in a tin or bag where the hair nets won’t get ruined so you can access them easily.
If you have a ‘lucky charm’ that you like to have with you then pack this the night before as you don’t want to be looking for it at the last minute, getting unnecessarily stressed out when you are supposed to be leaving for your ballet exam.
Leg Warmers and Tracksuit to wear before and after the exam
Small Sewing Kit
Hair Tin with Hair Accessories e.g brush, comb and hairspray
Clear Nail Varnish (just in case your tights get a small ladder)
A ‘Lucky Charm’ if you have one
Your Ballet Notebook
Ballet Exam Tip 3:
Attending Your Ballet Class
It is extremely important that you attend all of your ballet classes in the lead up to your ballet exam and if your teacher is putting on extra exam lessons for you then it is a good idea to attend these extra lessons too.
These extra classes can be an excellent opportunity for you to refine your technique and performance skills. By regularly attending you will have less time in between your lessons making it much easier for you to remember your corrections and retain important information.
Ballet Exam Tip 4:
Make sure that your leotard fits you correctly so you won’t have to keep adjusting it throughout your ballet exam. If you prefer or need to wear underwear underneath your leotard then make sure that it can not be seen. You can get great dance underwear, made specifically for dance that usually comes in nude colours so it can’t be seen under the leotard.Your dance tights should be well fitted, clean and relatively new so that they haven’t faded in the wash.
Your shoes should also be clean and I would avoid wearing brand new shoes for your ballet exam as they will feel alien on your feet and could be quite off putting. There should be no holes in your ballet shoes or visible dirty scuff marks so check your shoes in plenty of time before your exam.
Your hair should be neatly tied back in your ballet bun with wispy bits either pinned back or held down with hairspray. If you need help with doing a classical ballet bun for your exam, then visit my how to do a ballet bun video and guide.
Did you know? Most soft ballet shoes can be washed in the washing machine on a low heat. Remember to stuff them with some paper when you are drying them to keep their shape and stop them shrinking! Never wash your pointe shoes in the washing machine!
Ballet Exam Tip 5:
Learn From Your Previous Behaviour
Think back to your last ballet exam. How did it go for you? If you noticed that you got nervous during pirouettes or tired by the allegro section then the chances are the same pattern will happen again this time round.
Being prepared for these moments in the class that you know you need more time to focus on will help you to steer away any unnecessary nerves. Too many nerves will see old habits coming back but it is good to have a little bit of nerves as the extra adrenaline in your body often enables you to push that little bit harder.
Ballet Exam Tip 6:
It is your responsibility to practice your exercises in the lead up to your exam. Practising is a skill that if done well can have a huge impact on your overall learning and improvement.
It is very important that you are clear about what you are practising. Try and focus on a specific area to practice as this will allow you to make the most of your practising time. For example take an exercise from your upcoming exam and just focus on practising closing your legs correctly into the 5th position each time. Another example is you could just focus on practicing how you are finishing your pirouettes in your pirouette exercise. Take this part out of the exercise and just practice this particular section until you can feel that there has been improvement and then put it back into the rest of the exercise.
If you are in your class and your ballet teacher asks you to ‘go through the exercise’ then when you are marking it make sure that you are practising with your arms full out. If your ballet teacher gives you a correction then don’t just nod your head, but practice what you have been told to do as this will help you to remember the correction for next time.
Try This: Write down 3 areas from your exam class work that you feel you need to improve. Then before your next class just focus on practising one of those things. It is important to reflect on whether or not this process helped you and if it did then repeat the process with the next area on your list.
Ballet Exam Tip 7:
Listen To Everyone’s Corrections In Class
There is always something to learn. As you get close to your ballet exam and you have practised your exam class work a lot then make sure that you are still finding ways to improve. It can be really easy to get stuck in a rut with exam work, especially if you have been doing the same class for a long time. As a professional ballet dancer you are often performing a role that you have done many times before and it is part of the challenge to keep the role fresh and exciting.
To help you to keep your exam work looking and feeling fresh don’t just focus on your own corrections but listen to other student’s corrections as well. It may not be relevant to you but you should take advantage of this new and different information and see if this will help to improve your own class work.
Ballet Exam Tip 8:
Your Mock Ballet Exam
A mock exam is an excellent way to prepare yourself for your ballet exam. If your ballet teacher is holding a mock exam session for you then you should definitely do this. It is such a useful process for you to go through so that you are not so surprised in the exam itself. It is important that you treat the mock exam like the real thing to really gain the most out of the experience. Use the mock exam to see where you are still unsure of something.
Many exams have a section where the examiner will set an exercise for you and you can not prepare for this in the same way as you prepare for your set exercises. The mock exam is an excellent opportunity for you to practice picking up exercise similar to those that the examiner may set for you.
The main thing to remember is to listen. The examiner is not trying to trick you so take your time and listen carefully to what he or she is asking of you. You can only do your best with the information that you are given and if you really don’t know what they mean then don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
Ballet Exam Tip 9:
Warm Up - Both Mentally And Physically
Before your ballet exam take the time to warm up properly. Your muscles should be really warm before you start your exam so bear this in mind if you are waiting around before your exam is due to start. Keep a tracksuit, leg warmers and booties on for as long as possible so that your muscles stay warm. You should incorporate some gentle stretching into your warm up and perhaps some specific exercises that target your core stability to help you find your centre.
If you are nervous then you are likely to hold tension in your upper body and work with your weight back so doing some core stability exercises can really help with that. Don’t suddenly start trying new exercises and stretches just before your exam. Any warm up and stretches that you do before your exam should be the same warm up and stretches that you are used to doing, otherwise you run the risk of injuring yourself before you start. Include a few demi pliés, rises and battement tendus in the centre as this can really help you to find your correct weight placement before the exam starts.
It is also important that you mentally warm up as well. Different people like to prepare themselves in different ways but you should use this time to focus on what is coming up. Listening to some music can help you to focus your mind or saying some positive affirmations to yourself can also help to put you in a positive frame of mind before you begin. Avoid looking at your phone or accessing social media as this will put you in quite a sedentary state and is an unnecessary distraction when you want to be alert and ready to go…
Ballet Exam Tip 10:
Work Hard And Don’t Leave Things To Chance
You should take pride in your exam class work and enjoy working yourself to the highest possible level that you are capable of. It is not enough to just work hard in the examination - the success of your exam is in the preparation and the consistency in which you apply yourself in every lesson, practice class and mock examination in the lead up to the exam.
So get your ballet notebook, put your ballet shoes on and get yourself prepared for your next ballet exam…
This blog post was written by Royal Ballet School trained ex Professional Ballerina, Kimberley Berkin. Kimberley co-founded the PDE Dance Supplies online dance shop along with her husband, Michael Berkin. You can learn more about Kimberley Berkin here.
Kimberley Berkin - PDE Dance Supplies Dance Blog
Main photograph by Professional Dance Experience Ltd
- Kimberley Berkin