“Never take your shoes off at the lunch interval…”

A collection of accounts providing an insight into what life was like when RAD exams were introduced around the world as well as highlighting how much times (and attitudes!) have changed.

Exams in the UK

Claude Newman

Within the first three months of the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing (now the Royal Academy of Dance), the first examinations were announced at Madame Cormani’s studio near Goodge Street station in London. “Practice dress should be worn – not ballet costume. Nothing would be more suitable than a dark ‘gym’ costume,” said the announcement.

A year later examiners requested pink ballet shoes and stockings or tights, and ballet skirts. The suggestion was necessary: one candidate had turned up in a butterfly costume. But there was some confusion. A candidate appeared in the secretary’s office to complain “I may spell Claude with an ‘e’, but that’s no reason to tell me to wear pink tights and pink satin ballet shoes.”

Claude Newman went on to become director at a ballet school at Bahia.

(Pictured: Claude Newman (aged 19) partnered with Kathleen McVitie at the beginning of his training with Phyllis Bedells in 1923.)

Kathleen Gordon

The examiners at the first examination were Dame Adeline Genée, Tamara Karsavina, Lucia Cormani and Phyllis Bedells; Edouard Espinosa had set the work to be examined. Kathleen Gordon remembered the first two or three examination sessions well.

“In those days they began at 9:30 and finished at 5PM; there were 42 entries in at a time, with four judges and the examiner. The slogan was “Never take your shoes off at the lunch interval, or you won’t get them on again for the afternoon session.” I had to get down to the Association for 9am and number the candidates back and front. Mr Richardson stood over me barking in a shattering way, but this had its uses as it engendered a certain alliance between me and the candidates, one of whom hissed: “Tell him to buy a cough lozenge, give himself a good brush and go home. Strange to say I did not.”

Account by Miss Kathleen Gordon, Assistant Secretary.

(Pictured: Kathleen Gordon (right), Ninette de Valois (centre) and Phyllis Bedells (left). The judges in conversation with a young audition candidate. A Central Office of Information photo, 1952.)

Exams in Canada

Canada’s association with the RAD had in fact began in 1932, when Dorothy Cox was the Academy’s only member. But it was Bettina Byers who really got things moving. She had been taken to London to study, and in 1939 Phyllis Bedells told her, in so many words to go back to Canada and be the first local organiser for the RAD. Two months later she opened a school in Toronto and was teaching the syllabi. It was uphill work persuading other teachers to participate: the whole idea of holding examinations in ballet was new and unattractive – too much like hard work. Dame Adeline Genée’s help was invaluable – she gave lectures and coached a number of pupils in the syllabus, with Ms Byers as her demonstrator.

Exams in Australia & New Zealand

Developments in New Zealand were slower: in 1932 Jean Horne, having studied with the Academy; went home to a severe economic depression which made it difficult for her to spread the word; but eventually organisers were established in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, Palmerston North and even as far afield as Wanganui and Hawkes Bay. In due course, Miss Horne heard that Felix Demery was visiting Australia and he was to be the first RAD examiner for Australia in 1935; she arranged for him to be the first examiner to visit New Zealand, in 1936; and in 1940 Lorraine Norton examined five children in Christchurch – the first-grade entrants in the South Island. There were considerable difficulties in keeping the Academy’s work going during the war, when a Government permit was needed in order to travel, examinations were organised on a shoestring, and even after the war it took some time for things to get going on a large scale.

(Pictured: Felix Demery from his book with Ruth French, ‘First Steps’ first published in 1934.)

Exams in Singapore

Florrie Sinclair went out to Singapore in 1955, two years after the first examinations were held there, and stayed for over a quarter of a century; organising for the Academy between 1968 and 1981. As usual, the language proved something of a problem at first – though teachers did their best.

Exams in the Caribbean

When examinations were introduced in the Caribbean in 1954, examiners found the children charming and inventive – one little Jamaican girl performed the Sailors’ Hornpipe with great enthusiasm, and when asked by the examiner what was happening during the section when she was coiling the rope, replied: “Stirring the tar, miss.” All the children were charming and unhibited – Normandelle ‘Punkie’ Facey, for many years a local organiser in Jamaica, remembers the little girl who instead of gracefully leaving the room with the others ran to the examiner, put her elbows down on the table and said ‘Now how did I do?”

Exams in Malaysia

Pauline Dibbe remembers Malaysia in the early ‘60s, when she did her first examination tours there – four weeks to cover Hong Kong, Singapore and Cyprus and the Federated Malay States.

“Conditions were not as easy as we know them today; it was hot and humid, with torrential thunderstorms, and air-conditioning had not yet arrived. We examined in the lovely old style Malay houses that had no real walls or windows, but rather screens that were raised to let in the breeze. Exotic butterflies flitted around the room, birds of vivid colours flew through, and the occasional cat wandered in looking for shade – while the candidate continued her exercises quite unconcerned…”

Exams in Switzerland

The RAD’s expansion was not always entirely smooth: when a Swiss teacher’s pupils were examined for the first time, and passed, a teacher in the same small town put around the notion that her rival had actually invented the RAD, which did not really exist except as a publicity gimmick! Swiss students were soon found all over the country, and sometimes developed in somewhat unexpected ways! Conny Kissling, for instance, passed all of her RAD grades before her hobby, ski-acrobatics took precedence, and she became a world champion at the Olympic Winter Games in 1992!

Exams in Mexico

Those first wartime examinations in Canada and Australia were followed before 1960 by examinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, the USA, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Germany, Italy, Malaya, Singapore, India, Ceylon, Rhodesia and Hong Kong.

Ana del Castillo, a Mexican teacher, started a school in Coyoacán, south of Mexico City, and two of the students who worked with her on the RAD syllabi – Diana Alanis and Duice Maria Silvera – subsequently became RAD teachers. Nellie Potts was the first examiner to go out to Mexico, in 1955, and among the students she examined was Carlos Lopez, who later became a well-known dancer and choreographer, and Director of the National Dance Company. Señora del Castillo was the local organiser for many years, and her successors, Perla Epelstein and Julieta Navarro helped to ensure that the syllabi are taught from coast to coast, from the Guatemalan border to the US.

Exams in Malta

An examiner in Malta – where the first RAD examinations were held in 1963 while not faced with that problem, became somewhat disturbed when loud pop music almost drowned the sound of the piano, and told Lillian Attard in no uncertain terms that the music must be stopped. The studio was – and is- a narrow Sliema street surrounded by a slum area where it was considered obligatory to turn your radio on at full volume every morning at ten, when there was a request programme. Ms Attard had to go round to every one of a large number of doors asking for the volume to be turned down.

(Pictured: Lillian Attard in a group of Presidents Award recipients from 1993: L-R: Lillian Attard, Ann Hutchinson Guest, Alcira Alonso, Antoinette Sibley and Noriko Kobayashi. Photo by Chris Davies.)

Exams in Israel

The first visit of an RAD examiner, in 1967, coincided with the Six-Day War, and Elizabeth Glass found her schedule severely disrupted – she was even allowed to examine on the Sabbath in order to complete her schedule.