My daughter started working on the syllabus for the Intermediate Foundation ballet exam way back in early 2017. The RAD Intermediate Foundation ballet exam is not an exam many kids take. It runs alongside the usual grades (from Pre-Primary to Grade 8) and is around the equivalent of a Grade 5, but it is much more rigorous. Along with the subsequent exams – Intermediate and Advanced – it is a vocational qualification. As my daughter’s teacher summed it up: ‘It’s not a children’s exam’.
The Intermediate Foundation requires a greater level of technicality than the Grade 5. Kids need to take it if they may want to go on to teach ballet in future. It requires more commitment and not everyone wants to do that, or has the skills to be able to do that.
Grades up to Grade 8 are designed to be more inclusive for everyone from recreational dancers to serious dancers, and anyone should be able to pass them if they put the work in. But a lot of people actually fail their Intermediate Foundation.
You may be surprised to discover that kids don’t go en pointe in the standard grades, only in Intermediate Foundation and the later vocational grades. Again, this is to keep grades up to Grade 8 open to everyone. Going en pointe can be painful and not everyone wants to do it or should do it. Not wanting to go en pointe shouldn’t hold kids back from working through the grades, so pointe is only used in Intermediate Foundation and the later vocational exams.
My daughter had the option to do her Intermediate Foundation exam back in November 2018, when she did her Grade 4, but she didn’t feel quite ready for it. Three girls from her ballet school did it at that time, but they were two, three and four years older than her respectively. After the girls did their Intermediate Foundation, the class as a whole moved on to the Intermediate syllabus. But the plan was always for my daughter – the only younger girl interested in the vocational exams – to go back and do her Intermediate Foundation.
She started revising it a bit last summer. We bought the RAD DVD so she could practise at home and it all started coming back. She also realised how similar it was to the Intermediate syllabus and at times she got confused! Panto came along and the Intermediate Foundation work went on the back burner again.
After Christmas, my daughter started going to her old ballet class again. Even in this class, the girls are slightly older than her (years 10 and 11), but they are working on the Intermediate Foundation syllabus. It is unlikely any of them will take the exam, but it means they can go en pointe. My daughter also started doing one extra class a week to focus on the Intermediate Foundation, with one other girl from year 10, who had decided to take the exam.
With Intermediate Foundation, my daughter says it’s almost like nothing you have learned before has been good enough. Everything has to stretch that bit further. It’s almost like she has to pull her arms out of their sockets and her head off her neck to get them looking good enough.
It is a very long exam and the amount of control needed, particularly of the legs, is incredible. My daughter started practising at home twice a week and I could really see an improvement in her. She has so much strength and poise.
But it really hurts! Doing that much ballet every week (she was still doing her two regular classes with the senior girls) meant she was permanently aching. Strangely, the pain was nothing to do with pointe. Pointe is painful, but she has got used to the demands of the Intermediate syllabus, where she is turning en pointe. For Intermediate Foundation, it is little more than rising up and down en pointe, which she now finds very easy. It is only worth 10% of her final mark, so it isn’t even a big deal.
The teacher has told the girls they are aiming for a pass. The only people who get distinction in Intermediate Foundation are kids studying ballet full-time in a residential school at somewhere like the Royal Ballet or Elmhurst. There is a possibility my daughter may get a merit, but nothing more. I watched a couple of her classes just before the exam and she really looked good. To my untrained eye, a merit looked like a possibility.
The exam itself went as well as my daughter had hoped. She knew everything inside out, but the pressure of the day can sometimes cause people to forget them temporarily. Luckily, she doesn’t get nervous about ballet exams. The examiner was the nicest one she’d ever had, which is always a bonus. The girls did some of the exercises on their own and some together, just as they’d practised. The exam seemed to go on forever – about 50 minutes – but eventually she reappeared, bright red in the face and smiling.
Now we just have to wait for the result…