Keeping Ballet En Pointe - Special Feature on Classical Dance

With its graceful poise and elegant movement, Ballet tops the list of after activities for children in the UK. Popular characters involved in classical dance such as Billy Elliot and Angelina Ballerina have captured the imagination of thousands of youngsters. Many have been inspired to pick up their ballet shoes and arrive at the barre to learn the technique and dance of their idols.

In this blog we take an in-depth look into the magical world of ballet. We explore the benefits for both boys and girls alike, and look at the two leading teaching methods here in the UK. We also round up some local activity providers for all those budding ballerinas or determined dancers out there.

But first …

Did you know:

  • Dancers at the English National Ballet can use more than 4,992 pairs of pointe shoes in a year! (1)

  • The Royal Academy of Dance has a presence in 85 countries and has 14,000 members worldwide. (2)

  • Around 230,000 students from all over the world take RAD dance exams each year. (3)

Ballet - An Overview

The art of Ballet can be traced back to the 15th and 16th Centuries. From the Italian Renaissance courts this classical form of dance with the help from Catherine de Medici spread from Italy to France where Ballet flourished. The world’s first Ballet academy was created by King Louis XIV in 1661. (4)

There are two main examining bodies in the UK for ballet: the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).

With more than 250,000 students being examined on their syllabus, the Royal Academy of Dance sets the standards for dance teaching in the UK. The academy has a rich history spanning over 95 years and has Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as their patron.

Originally created as the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain in 1920, RAD was born after a meeting of minds between top dance professionals which was organised by Philip Richardson. The first ever RAD syllabus was also launched in 1920, with the first exams being taken in 1921.

There are three levels under the RAD syllabi for children of all ages and abilities. Children aged from 2.5 to 5 years of age follow the Dance to Your Own Tune curriculum. From age 5 children can then progress onto the RAD Graded Syllabus. This level gives children a broad practical dance education as well as the opportunity to develop their technical, musical and performance skills. Examinations in the graded syllabus are from Pre-Primary in Dance, Primary in Dance and Grades 1-8.

Children wishing to follow a career in dance can participate in Vocational graded examinations from the age of 11 years plus. These exams are broken down into Intermediate Foundation, Intermediate Advanced Foundation, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2.

Candidates that take part in RAD examinations receive certificates, medals and bars in recognition of their work. Gold, Silver or Bronze medals are awarded dependent on the result of distinction, merit or pass.

The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing or ISTD is another popular dance examination board here in the UK. The ISTD covers a number of different dance genres - eleven in fact. When it comes to Ballet their focus is on two faculties in particular - Cecchetti Classical Ballet and Imperial Classical Ballet.

The ISTD was born on the 25th July 1904 at the Hotel Cecil in Covent Garden, London (5). Under the presidency of Robert Morris Crompton, the first Congress of the ISTD was held in 1906. With the exception of the war years between 1915 - 1917 ISTD Congresses have been held annually ever since.

In present day the ISTD has over 7,500 members across 50 countries worldwide and holds around 250,000 examinations every year.

The ISTD syllabi for children is divided into three separate levels: Class Examinations, Graded Examinations and Vocational Graded Examinations. (6)

Class Examinations are graded from Pre-Primary, Primary and then through from grades 1-8. These particular exams are for children aged 5 years plus and are assessed out of 100 based on technique, presentation and musicality.

Graded Examinations are assessed from Primary through to Grade 1-6. Minimum age for the Primary Graded exam is 5 years old. Children aged 6 years upwards can take the Grade 1 examination. This particular syllabus is suitable for both boys and girls, as it is designed to develop all-round strengths and abilities. Children are assessed on technique, presentation, musicality and response as well as performance.

Children who wish to pursue a career as a professional dancer or a dance teacher can take Vocational Graded Examinations with the ITSD. These are suitable for dancers aged 11 years plus and range from Intermediate Foundation to Intermediate and Advanced 1 and 2. Again children and young adults are assessed on technique, presentation, musicality and response out of 100.

Whether you opt for a dance school who follow either RAD or ITSD ballet syllabus, there’s plenty of scope for your child to attain and achieve in Ballet. What about the other benefits of classical dance? We take a look at some other attributes Ballet can bring.

Ballet - The Benefits

Ballet Boosts Brainpower!

Ballet as an art form helps to boost concentration and focus as children have to listen to instructions and follow different techniques. It also helps to build self esteem and gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment. This is not only achieved through examination conditions and by winning certificates and medals, but also through gaining confidence with performing in groups or as individuals in front of an audience.

Ballet for all

Ballet is a dance accessible to both boys and girls of all ages and abilities. There are some strong role models in the world of ballet for both boys and girls. With incredible dancers to aspire and look up to. In 2000 Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt founded BalletBoyz. Both Michael and Billy had amazing ballet careers with The Royal Ballet, and with their strong belief that “everyone should have the chance to enjoy dancing” set up their successful dance company. (7)

Ballet Buddies for life

Children can make long lasting friendships outside of school and the classroom at Ballet lessons. There are many social benefits as children learn, practise and perform together. To take part in a performance, dancers need to listen and communicate with their peers as well as work as a team.

Body Building Ballet

Dancing is a great way of burning off any excess energy after the school day. Ballet in particular can help to build muscular strength and promotes physical strength and agility. It is a fantastic discipline for poise and posture and also helps with coordination and balance.

Musical Mindfulness

Children who undertake Ballet instruction learn to develop a great understanding of music, musicality and rhythm. Allowing children to express themselves through movement to music is also great for their own mental wellbeing and mindfulness. As it allows them to ‘switch off’ from the day to day and focus on the creativity of the dance.

Ballet - The Kit

Looking the Part

It’s always best to check first with your activity provider before purchasing any clothing for your child’s ballet lesson. They may already have a particular Ballet school uniform that your child will wear to lessons. Usually girls will wear a leotard and ballet tights (although they may also wear a ballet skirt and cardigan as well). Boys can often wear a t-shirt or vest with leggings. Again, it’s always best to check with your activity provider for the best kit list.

Happy Feet

It’s important that your child wears a comfortable pair of soft ballet shoes to their dance lesson. Ballet shoes can be made in leather, canvas or satin and often available in a range of colours. Find out from your activity provider which dance shoes would be suitable for your child to learn in before making your purchase.

Stay hydrated

Dancing can be thirsty work! So it’s important that you provide your child with water after their lesson. They might also benefit from a quick healthy snack as well to give them a bit more energy.

Local Ballet Schools

Dynamic Dance Studios

Danceforce Kingston

Step on Stage Academy of Performing Arts

Twickenham Academy of Dance


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