Exam refusal?

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There seems to be a recent reluctance among students to enter exams. Why is this so? Michelle Dursun investigates.

Comdance Examiner Deanne Smith with students.
Comdance Examiner Deanne Smith with students.

Exams are a rite of passage for students as they progress through their dance syllabus. Though not compulsory, they are a recognised method of assessment against set standards. They can provide a range of positive outcomes, with students emerging with a sense of achievement and improved technique, as well as growth in confidence and self-esteem.

However recent feedback from some dance exam providers has indicated a new reticence to take exams, from both students and their parents. To understand the issue and weigh up the pros and cons of dance exams, I spoke to Diane Gepp, President of Comdance, and Teagan Morton, the Exam Coordinator at Australian Teachers of Dance (ATOD).

The change in attitude is not universal, says Gepp. “Comdance also operates in Asia and parents and students there are nowhere near as reticent as Australia.” Some of the difference can be attributed to the schooling system in Asia and the expectation and importance of a “well-documented portfolio” for dancers. 

Some factors at play in Australia might be fear and anxiety and the pressure to achieve experienced by both students and parents. Financial stress might be another. Exams carry necessary fees, which go towards paying the examiner, the venue, trophies and certificates and other administrative costs. 

In addition, despite the outstanding on-line initiatives that dance societies and syllabus organisations put in place to support students during the Covid-19 pandemic, many students’ dance training was interrupted.

Both Comdance and ATOD have introduced initiatives to encourage more students to undertake exams because, as Gepp explains, “exams are a major form of recognition of a standard in the dance world”. Comdance has improved its communication about exams with students, parents and teachers. It is focused on supporting teachers in preparing their students. It is also explaining to parents “where the exam fee goes”. Gepp adds “we are also offering group examinations in an effort to keep fees down”.

The ATOD has introduced an ATOD@Home app which grants the students “convenient access to their syllabi content for revision and practice in the comfort of their own environment”, Moreton says.

“Our aim is to foster an examination atmosphere that is not daunting, but rather inviting and nurturing, ensuring students feel supported by examiners,” she adds.

“A positive exam experience can be a pivotal moment in a young dancer's journey, offering a multitude of benefits that extend well beyond the dance studio from early to senior years.”

So what is the justification for dance exams and what are some of the benefits for students?

Improved commitment and discipline

Understanding the dedication, commitment and consistency required to work towards a goal is an important life skill. These attributes are as important in the dance studio as they are for life in general. It’s about learning “the concept that everything isn’t one click away”, as Gepp says. There is a “major life lesson in setting a goal, working for an extended period and pitting yourself against a standard. This is how the workplace works”.     

A young dancer performs in the Australian Teachers of Dance Queensland Championship. Photo by BWP Studios.
A young dancer performs in the Australian Teachers of Dance Queensland Championship. Photo by BWP Studios.

Enhanced technique, artistry and performance skills

Dance exams provide “an independent assessment of their technical progress”, says Morton, “as well as valuable information and feedback on their skills and artistry”.

Going through the process of preparing and completing a exam “can have a significant impact on a dancer’s development both as a performer and as an individual”. Mastering the technique and steps at each grade level within a syllabus establishes a sound foundation. Dancers should not underestimate the benefit that dance exams have on their technical progression. For those looking for a career as a performer, dance exams can provide students with the opportunity to practise channelling nerves and stress into polished, self-assured and accomplished performances.    

Boost to confidence and self-esteem

The sense of pride and elation at completing an exam can boost students’ commitment to dance and their motivation to succeed. It can also provide a sense of satisfaction after all the dedication and hard work. Gepp explains that this boost to confidence can translate to life. Dance exams “act as preparation for some of the far more intimidating experiences in life, like job interviews and school exams,” Gepp says.  


Learning how to pick up the pieces and dust yourself off when something hasn’t gone well, or to persevere when something is harder to achieve than you first thought, are valuable lessons.

Failure and disappointment are a part of life. “As parents and educators, we play a role in guiding children and teenagers through failure and disappointment,” Gepp says. “We must encourage children to do their best, to be diligent in their efforts and to pursue excellence.”

Teachers must also model the ability to embrace the unexpected and to manage disappointment constructively. Learning acceptance and resilience in the face of disappointment is one of the lessons that exams afford students, “a time where self-judgement and fear of failure can be high”. 

Rambert Grades, photo by Nicole Guarino.
Taking part in the new Rambert Grades syllabus. Photo by Nicole Guarino.

Credit towards further training

Some dance exam results can be counted toward senior school certificate and/or formal qualifications in dance and dance teaching. While different rules apply in different jurisdictions, Gepp explains that completion of different levels or grades within a syllabus, along with the formal certificate and recognition, can provide “a pathway to a career in dance performance and teaching”.

Eligibility for scholarships and competitions

Many dance societies and syllabus organisations hold competitions or provide scholarships whose entry requirements are the achievement of various levels or standards. The completion of dance exams can open up the options for students wishing to compete at national or even international levels.

The benefits of completing dance exams are clear. In summary: exams can provide dancers with the opportunity to develop resilience and confidence as well as provide them with a sense of accomplishment. They can also provide a formal mechanism by which to reward dancers for achieving their goals through the application of dedication and hard work. Dance exams also provide a range of benefits that are transferable to life beyond the dance studio.



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