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Dance Exams Survival Guide

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I still remember my first ballet exam. My aunty had made my ballet skirt for me, complete with the top layer of chiffon. My mum had everything laid out for me, my leotard, pins, ribbons, tights etc. Then being the wonderful mum she was, she ironed the skirt so it looked perfect……and that’s when disaster hit! Burned a great big hole in the skirt, with just hours before my exam!! A mad dash to my Aunty to see what could be done, and with only minutes to spare she had just enough material to make the top layer again and I was ready to go!

The thought of exams can raise the blood pressure of both students and parents, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Good preparation (and remembering to breathe!) will see you through a successful examination. Here are some tips to make your examination experience a smooth and positive one!

Know your exam work - Know exactly what you are going to be examined on including each exercise, your routine and theory! Listen to your teacher, they will discuss what the examiner is looking for, including technique, musicality, rhythm, performance quality, style etc. Have a private lesson with your teacher to help boost your confidence and knowledge.

Practice - Purchase the practice CD from your studio and spend some time practicing your exam work at home. The more confident you are with the work, the better you will do in the exam.

Attend all classes and rehearsals - Most studios will host a ‘mock exam’ to familiarize the students with the process of the examination. Make sure you attend all rehearsals and the mock exam to build confidence and receive last minute tips.

Uniform and Grooming - Grooming and presentation should be exceptional for exams. Hair should be perfectly tied back with no loose bits coming away. Uniforms should be clean and in good condition. Remove all nail polish, fake tattoos etc. In most examinations jewellery is also to be removed.

Set out your uniform the day before to ensure you have everything you need. Your exam bag should include:

  • Leotard or uniform
  • Tights - plus an extra pair in case of accidental ladders or holes.
  • Shoes - give them a good clean and touch up with shoe paint if needed. Make sure elastics or ribbons are sewn securely.
  • Hair accessories – plain coloured bands, hair spray, gel, pins, bun net.
  • Light snacks if your exam is later in the day. Fruit and nuts are a great snack food. Keep away from anything heavy.
  • Deodorant
  • Water

Sleep - Take a relaxing hot bath and get a good night sleep the night before. Practice some meditation and visualization of a wonderful, successful exam.

On the Day - Eat a light breakfast and drink water. Arrive at the exam 45 minutes before the scheduled time to allow for a complete check from the teacher, a thorough warm up and to have ribbons and numbers pinned on.

Warm up - Your body will not perform if it is not warm and limbered. 10 minutes of big, circular movements through all joints followed by jumps, runs, leg swings, plies etc will help to get fluid pumping around your body and through your joints and muscles. Follow this with a 10 – 15 minute stretch of all muscle groups.

Observe exam etiquette - Always use your best manners and show respect towards your examiner. Absolutely no talking during the exam, listen carefully and always thank the examiner at the end of the exam. The examiner wants you to do well, this is your chance to show how wonderful you are and what amazing skills you have been learning!

Keep calm – even if you are making mistakes - Sometimes it is very easy to let one small mistake affect the rest of the exam. Each exercise or step is only one small part of the exam, if you make a mistake, don’t worry about it, just move on and perform the best you can for the rest of the exam. Take a deep breath and listen carefully to the examiner.

Perform your routine - The routine is the chance to show how you are able to combine all the wonderful skills you have learned with musicality, rhythm and personality! Don’t be shy, put yourself out there and perform your routine as if you were on stage.

Keep it in perspective - The exam is just one tool teachers use for your training. The examiner is just one person, on one day, for one hour. Go in with confidence, try your best and enjoy it!

For the parents - Watching your child walk into the exam is heart-wrenching for parents! In the weeks leading up to the exam support your child with any rehearsals and practice sessions and try and boost their confidence with encouragement and positive language. Don’t place any expectations on what marks they will receive, keep reinforcing the saying ‘as long as you do your best’. Tell them how proud you are of how hard they have worked and that entering the examinations is an accomplishment in itself. Make sure you are organised with your schedule for the exams and have all the necessary items for hair, uniforms and grooming. If you panic, so will they!

Stay calm and remember to breathe!!! 


Prue has had dance in her life for over 30 years! Experienced as a student, dancer, studio owner, teacher, retailer and dance mum, Prue is excited and thrilled to be able to share her knowledge and passion with her readers!

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