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RETURN TO BLOG Posted 15 September 2020

How To Prepare For Your Exam

By Claudia Dean

Exams are an important aspect of your dance training and an amazing opportunity to showcase what you have worked on throughout the year. By completing an exam in any genre, you are able to track your progress and receive honest feedback from an unbiased opinion. Feeling both nervous and excited when you think about your upcoming exam is completely normal, however today I’ll give you my top tips to boost your confidence leading up to all your exams!

Knowing that you are heading into exam season well prepared and at the top of your game, is key to dancing your very best. It’s important to attend all your classes in the lead up so you feel prepared with the choreography & corrections. An exam is similar to a mini performance, so you also want to feel confident performing both the technical and artistic elements required.

To increase your chances of getting a higher mark, there are particular areas of your work that should be strong in the lead up to an exam. I’ve rounded up a few areas & exercises that you should focus on when preparing for your exam:

First and foremost - confidence is key! The difference between looking confident & being confident is not visible to anyone, especially not an examiner who has never met you before! Your posture gives away a lot about how you feel and the energy that you bring into the exam. If you stand with your chin down, shoulders forward and eyeline low, the examiner will automatically know you’re nervous & unsure. If you stand with your chin parallel to the floor, shoulders pulled back against a brick wall & eyeline towards where the ceiling meets the wall, the examiner will believe you are confident immediately! 

To master your exam posture, make sure you complete my ‘Wall Posture’ Key Exercise, as this will help you focus on the correct placement of your back, shoulders, chin & eyeline. Try doing this key exercise before all your classes to encourage correct muscle memory of how you stand.

Turnout is without a doubt one of the most fundamental elements of classical ballet. Many dancers choose to prioritise other details, such as the height of their legs or number of pirouettes, rather than focussing on correct placement. Learning how to give the illusion of having more turnout is key, and the answer to this is to strengthen your VMO muscles! Your VMO muscles turn out the lower half of your leg more which will then give the look of more turnout. You should try my ‘VMO Flamingo both legs’ Key Exercise to learn how to master this. Also, a step we use regularly throughout classes & exams is Retire. A Retire is the position we pass through for a developpe, pirouette & balances. Improving your turnout in this fundamental position in the leadup to the exam will improve the look of all those steps & also assist you in tackling even the most challenging elements in your exam! Work on your Retiré position with my Key Exercise: ‘Retire Turn Out with Powerband’

Every examiner will spot clean and articulate footwork! Your exam may include anything from speedy petite allegro, to tricky hops en pointe. Working on your ankle stability and also strength will help you with your foot articulation and speed. We all want archy, hypermobile feet, but pointing your foot too hard in an exam can often lead to over stretching & sickling instead.

My ‘Barre Foot Stretch’ Key Exercise will teach you how to safely stretch the upper part of your instep and toes, while improving the line of your leg. Also to avoid sickling in an exam, working on the ‘Fishing One Foot in Powerband’ Key Exercise will help you safely strengthen your calves and lower ankles to correctly pointe your foot in the ideal alignment, as well as prevent any tendency to sickle!

 Artistry and presentation is an area that we all think can be fixed ‘in the exam’, however I always recommend practicing your exam presence in your everyday classes. If you do that, you’ll find when you get into the exam you’ll be able to bring even more artistry on the day. Along with artistry comes arm placement. Remember that your arms should make steps easier for you & also frame your body to highlight your dancing. In a high pressure situation like an exam, we tend to stiffen our upper body, so work on articulating your arm & hand movements to avoid this. A natural flow through the upper body prior to your exam is very important! My ‘Head and Eyes Training’ Key Exercise encourages the correct use, placement and coordination of head, spine and eyes when dancing, so you can be the most expressive version of yourself!

Holding tension in your fingers when you feel nervous is natural. Working on your ‘Paper Practice’ Key Exercise will teach you the correct muscle memory for perfect hand placement, even when you have butterflies in your belly. Try practicing this key exercise during your ballet classes each week to see the magic happen!

For those extra marks, booking a private lesson with your coach will give you an advantage in your exam. Personalised corrections will not only refine details in your dancing, but will help with your overall confidence. Knowing that you have fully prepared yourself for your exam, will allow you to remain calm and enjoy the experience. 

Trust the work you have put into your training for the exam and know that the examiner wants to see you do well, because she’s also completed exams before too! Learning to deal with adrenalin and dancing under pressure is an essential part of every young dancer’s journey. Turning your ‘nervous energy’ into ‘positive energy’ is key and remember that this is excellent preparation for school & company auditions later in your career. 

Every challenge is an opportunity to grow, learn and mature, as a dancer and an artist! I want to encourage you to put all these tips into practice. I’m so excited to see your progress dancers and wish you the very best for your exams. Remember to tag #coachmeworld so I can see your work and for a chance to be featured on the Coach Me World Instagram page!