Around this time two years ago, TLFCB held ISTD ballet exams for the first time ever in India. I sat in on all the exams because I played the music (some might even say ‘DJ-ed’) for ones that didn’t have a live pianist. In a few days, I’ll occupy the same seat next to the examiner. As the second exam session approaches, I am reminded of the eventful 2016 exams. I also consider what the dancers may have ahead of them this year.
Over the past few months, students taking exams have been working hard at set exercises, free combinations, and variations. Last time, most students were scared because they had never taken a ballet exam before. This time, however, their nerves are probably explained by the higher stakes, since they have all advanced at least one grade in the past two years. These students simultaneously know what the exams are like, and have no idea what to expect this year. Examinees from last time can attest that the exams were a breeze compared to their regular classes. Despite their nervous energy in the last session, veteran examiner, Vivienne Saxton, created a calm environment for the students. She made it a point to encourage students regardless of how they were performing. With her support, students celebrated their individual achievements in ballet.
Last exam session, certain students stood out because of their joyous dancing, some because of their excellent technique, and still others because of their beaming faces. I can still picture a particular fun trio of examinees from among the 110 that I saw. The examiner asked them to do a travelling step around the room (maybe ballet runs?). As they had practised countless times before, they started far away from each other, in a rough circle. But as they kept running, they got closer and closer together, forming a line. The girl in front wasn’t moving quickly enough and the girl at the back wasn’t holding back enough. So, at some point, they were nearly touching, like three little ducks chasing after their mother. And of course, spatial considerations being relatively low on their priority list, they almost bumped into the examiner’s table.
They didn’t let these tiny mishaps sway them. Instead, they turned their heads in the examiner’s direction just as they passed and flashed 1000-watt smiles at her. This was the best way that three 10-year-olds could have dealt with a potentially stressful situation. If nothing else, it made the examiner (and yours truly) laugh a little.
This year, I anticipate six days of precise technique, perfect ballet buns, and sparkling allegro. I’m also looking forward to the examinees who will take it upon themselves to entertain the examiner, and by extension, me. This year’s examiner will be seeing 166 students, so making a positive impression is key. If technique or memory fails (and chances are that the teachers have prepared all students well enough for this to easily be avoided), big dancing and bigger smiles will probably help!