As someone who sat in on each of the 50 or so ISTD ballet exams for The Lewis Foundation – I played the music for them – I can say that they were unlike the school exams that we know all too well in India. This past November was the first time we held ISTD exams in India, and we were honoured (and admittedly quite apprehensive) that the chairman, Vivienne Saxton, flew down to examine the students. In the days leading up to the exams, our classes were buzzing with a different kind of energy than usual. For most students, this energy was a combination of nerves and excitement, probably favouring the former. There was a feeling of not knowing what awaited them in the exam, mixed with the absolute sense of familiarity from having danced a myriad of possible combinations (set and unset) in the preceding months.
Despite the nerves and the fact of being thoroughly prepared for the exams – as Yana and her teachers left nothing to chance – the atmosphere that the veteran examiner created in the exam room was one of calm. If a student ever faltered during a combination, she encouraged them and made them feel comfortable. She demonstrated that the exam was primarily about seeing the best in each student, and not some kind of trap designed to confuse or trick them. More than anything, these exams were a celebration of dance and of each student’s individual potential and progress.
From start to finish, there was a tangible change in the disposition of each student. Almost every examinee entered the room with wide eyes and many with plastered-on smiles, and without exception, each left looking relaxed, relieved, and happy. Many said that they had so much fun that they wished they could do it all the again – the exams flew by compared to their usual classes.
In the couple months after the exams, we have seen a new level of kinaesthetic awareness in our students, and a sense of confidence that was not as readily apparent before. The hard work that the students put in before the exams has persisted in their weekly classes, even in the higher grades that they have been promoted to. There is more attention to detail, from port de bras to finishing combinations properly. As the teachers of the Foundation did each student’s ballet bun and checked every uniform (shoes, tights, leotard, and skirt) meticulously for the exams, the students have a newfound understanding of the importance of this sort of discipline and rigour.
It has been inspiring to see the progress in the students through this process, and they will only continue to spiral and grow!
– A reflection by Dayita Nereyeth