Royal Academy of Dance’s framework for learning
By Steve Sucato
For nine decades, London’s Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) has provided ballet teachers around the globe with the framework and tools necessary to become great educators.
Often mistakenly called a ballet style or technique, RAD is instead a curriculum. It offers a ballet teaching methodology that can be adapted to virtually any technique or style of dance, says Patti Ashby, the organization’s U.S. national administrator. “In our programs, teachers learn to teach,” says Ashby. “We promote sound, clean technique, pure lines, and musicality, while showing teachers how to bring their own experiences into their classes.”
In addition, RAD’s teacher training provides instructors and studio owners with a blueprint by which they can more effectively organize and guide their own approaches to teaching and run their businesses.
RAD, one of the world’s oldest and largest dance teacher-training and certification organizations, was founded in England in 1920 by a group of teachers representing the French, Italian, Russian, Danish, and English schools of ballet. The goal of the co-founders—Edouard Espinosa, Lucia Cormani, Tamara Karsavina, Dame Adeline Genée, and Phyllis Bedells, respectively—was to create standards of excellence in dance that teachers could follow and measure themselves against.
The Academy’s website states its mission as the “promotion and enhancement of knowledge, understanding, and practice of dance internationally by educating and training teachers and students . . . so preserving the rich artistic and educational value of dance for future generations.”
The nonprofit international organization earned a Royal Charter in 1935 and Queen Elizabeth II became a patron of RAD in 1953. Today, with former Royal Ballet principal dancer Dame Antoinette Sibley serving as president, the organization has nearly 13,000 members in 79 countries and annual earnings of more than $255 million that pay for its many education programs, training courses, examinations, summer schools, competitions and events, membership services, and administrative costs.
The Academy offers several full-time and part-time teacher-training programs, from beginner through postgraduate certifications, BA degrees, and a professional dancer’s teaching diploma. (Visit radusa.org for course overviews.) Courses can be taken at RAD’s London facilities or via distance learning. The bulk of RAD’s 550 members in the United States study via distance learning, says Ashby.
One of the more popular distance learning programs offered in the United States is the Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies. This two-year program is designed for those who wish to obtain Registered Teacher Status (RTS) of the Royal Academy of Dance. It’s composed of six modules (three per year, broken into 10-week increments). The first-year modules concentrate on introducing the RAD syllabus, covering such content as the principles of progression in learning and ways to educate students of differing levels of ability. Other modules cover dancer health, fitness, nutrition and well-being, and class lesson planning.
The Certificate program’s second-year modules continue to train participants in the RAD syllabus as well as prepare them for teaching careers and give them guidance on operating their own dance studios.
All of the modules are supported by study guides containing key source materials, tutor-guided tasks, and suggestions for further study. For each module, each participant works with a tutor, electronically or by telephone.
To complete each module, participants write essays, do case studies, and prepare other projects for assessment. Typically they spend about 20 hours per week on the course work. In addition, they are required to attend two six-day study intensives during which they are assessed on their practical teaching.
One grad’s story
Linze Rickles McRae finished the Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies program in January 2010. She’s the artistic director of Downtown Dance Conservatory, part of the Hardin Center for Cultural Arts in Gadsden, Alabama. She says she decided on RAD training because she wanted to give her students a clear progression between levels of training and because of RAD’s international reputation for quality dance instruction.
McRae describes her experience going through the Certificate program via distance learning as enlightening. “It is an absolutely phenomenal program for training young children,” she says. “It builds a lot of strength and increases children’s understanding of sound technique.”
In addition to the previously mentioned subject matter, McRae says she learned through the modules how to use character and folk dancing as a preparation to instruct students about the origins of ballet and to teach musicality.
McRae now has 275 students training in the RAD syllabus at her studio. She has a list of objectives for the students and lesson plans for each grade level (beginning with the primary level, or kindergarten-age students). The syllabus also outlines a time frame in which teachers should implement and achieve those objectives. One example of the objectives, she says, is syncopation. For her younger students, it serves as a building block from which other things are developed, such as the teaching of pas de chat.
“The syllabus is one of the best things I have been able to share with my students,” says McRae. “It’s corrected so many little things in my instruction and given me a clear path.”
As for entering her students in RAD’s testing programs, McRae has decided to wait a few years. First she wants to set up her grade levels and acclimate students to the new syllabus.
A veteran’s voice
A 20-year veteran of the RAD training and exam syllabuses, Kelly Oakes-Dent sees RAD training as a good foundation for her students. “The reason I like the RAD syllabus is because it is very pure,” says Oakes-Dent, a dance teacher at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta. “The arms are clean and nothing looks affected. I love the progression of how the syllabus builds each year and introduces more work in a simple and strong way. Students work at a slower pace and are not forced in their turnout and thus getting into bad habits. I see the training as a springboard to move into other styles of ballet technique.”
Like McRae, Oakes-Dent felt that as a young teacher she gained confidence through her training and interaction with RAD examiners. “The training pretty much followed what I was doing anyway, but it was a tool that kept my standards where they needed to be,” says Oakes-Dent.
Each year RAD’s 7,000-plus registered teachers instruct more than a quarter of a million students worldwide in the organization’s exam syllabuses.
There are two graded syllabuses: Graded Examinations in Dance and Vocational Graded Examinations in Dance. The vocational levels are designed for students who are studying classical ballet with the goal of pursuing a career in dance or teaching.
There is also a syllabus known as Presentation Classes, for recreational dancers. All are designed to recognize the students’ progress and achievement.
Students are tested on an annual basis by RAD examiners who come to their studios. Using a list of assessment criteria for each grade level, the examiners evaluate students on such things as technique, musicality, and performance abilities. In addition, upper-level female students are evaluated on pointe work.
Students are graded on a pass/fail system with levels of distinction and merit. Successful students are awarded certificates and/or medals depending on their results. Copies of the examiners’ assessments are made available to both the student and teacher.
Both McRae and Oakes-Dent have observed changes in their students and their businesses because of their RAD training and use of the syllabuses. Although she has been teaching the syllabus only a relatively short period of time, McRae says enrollment in her studio has increased since she added it. Both she and Oakes-Dent feel that RAD’s international reputation for quality training carries weight with parents who are choosing a dance studio for their children.
Oakes-Dent says she began seeing results early on, which she attributes to the consistency of class work and to her students taking exams every year. She noticed that the students had developed goals for themselves and that their exam results improved.
RAD membership for teachers offers the benefit of being part of a worldwide network of teachers who can offer support and guidance, plus a Continuing Professional Development program to provide established RAD teachers with opportunities to learn new skills, refresh or redirect their careers, or familiarize themselves with ongoing updates in the RAD syllabuses.
In addition, members have access to RAD publications such as Dance Gazette, RAD’s international membership magazine, as well as to the Benesh Institute, the international center for Benesh Movement Notation, located at RAD’s London headquarters. And upper-level examining students can participate in the organization’s annual dance competition, The Genée International Ballet Competition.
While costs for each of RAD’s certificate and degree programs vary, McRae says she spent about $10,000 on her certification program, including tuition, study guides, travel expenses, and other related materials. “It’s costly but beyond worth it for the knowledge I have gained,” she says. “It has given me confidence in my teaching and that what I am teaching my kids is of the highest quality.”
For more information on the Royal Academy of Dance visit rad.org.uk or radusa.org.