Syllabus organisations have been keeping pace with the times since they were founded many years ago, writes Karen van Ulzen.
SYLLABUS organisations go back a long way. They were originally established to improve teaching standards or to codify and preserve the teaching methods of pioneer dance teachers, which until then had been handed down by word of mouth. Methodical, year by year teaching programs were devised and examination boards established. The earliest syllabus organisations were set up in Australia around the 1920s and 30s, and came from overseas. Over time, Australian branches were added or home-grown organisations established. Australia now has an astonishing number of syllabus organisations, some devoted to a single genre, such as tap, others covering the whole spectrum. Each has adapted to Australia’s unique conditions and culture. They have also responded to changing attitudes to children’s education and welfare.
Exams have long been the driving force behind each syllabus, marking the progression of students through each level of learning and awarding them with qualifications. One of the most obvious differences between today’s exams and those of yesteryear is in their strictness and formality.
Many of today’s dance teachers will remember their childhood dance exams as terrifying experiences. The examiner would sit out the front, stern and strict, with very little communication with the candidates. “In my day,” laughs Cecchetti Ballet Australia chairman Carole Hall, “the examiners wore hats and gloves!” These days, most organisations ensure that childrens’ exams are an enjoyable experience, especially at the very young levels. The emphasis on remembering the exercises and mastering technique is balanced with a similar emphasis on play, imagination and creativity. Carole Hall (OAM) is a senior examiner and Fellow of Cecchetti Ballet Australia. “When I started teaching,” Hall says, “childrens’ exams were much more rigorous. Now they are more flexible.” The Cecchetti exam for the youngest candidates, for instance, marks technique as only one of five elements, among others such as musicality and sense of enjoyment. As the exam levels go higher, the importance of correct technique increases, until it is weighed 70/30 at majors level...
This is an extract from "The modern face of syllabus", published in the February/March '18 issue of Dance Australia as part of the 2018 Syllabus Guide, a guide to Australian dance syllabus organisations. To read the rest of the article and the guide, buy the new issue at your favourite magazine retailer or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app or subscribe here.
Pictured top: Cecchetti pupils from Dare 2 Dance school on the Gold Coast.