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. (This is under the RAD syllabus at least, I don’t know what the situation is with the other exam boards.) 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.
(Teachers may decide to teach pointe anyway to kids for fun, because going en pointe always feels like the ballet dream.)
Intermediate Foundation takes a lot of work. In addition to the usual classes, kids would need a few extra exam classes, possibly on their own or with just one other child. They should also practise at home and the RAD has a DVD for this.
With Intermediate Foundation, it can feel like nothing you have learned before has been quite good enough. Everything has to stretch that bit further. It’s almost like you have to pull your arms out of your sockets and your head off your 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.
The pointe element isn’t too painful, although going en pointe can be painful initially. For Intermediate Foundation, it is little more than rising up and down en pointe. It is only worth 10% of the final mark, so it isn’t really a big deal.
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. To get a merit for a child at a normal ballet school would be a good achievement.
While the grade ballet exams, particularly the lower grades, can be pretty quick, the Intermediate Foundation exam lasts about 50 minutes. Then there is a very long wait for the results…