After being trained at The Cone Ripman College, now known as Tring Park School for Performing Arts, June Christian opened her own school in Oxford. During that time she was invited to become a Children’s Examiner for the RAD, and later became a full-time member of staff. She has toured extensively throughout the world examining, giving teachers courses and as a member of Summer School faculties. She was a member of the panel to create the ‘new syllabus’ (1991) and Grades 6 and 7. June left the RAD to become Deputy Head of Dance at Elmhurst Ballet School (Camberley).
As part of marking the RAD’s centenary year, June sat on a panel of guests in an online discussion, reflecting upon RAD experiences and special memories. The discussion was inspired by our commemorative book Royal Academy of Dance: Celebrating 100 years, and touched on music, choreography and costume, and the many traditions of RAD exams.
Here June elaborates on her part of the discussion.
There have been three entirely new syllabi introduced since I became an RAD examiner. In the beginning there were only four Grades, and no specific work for boys. Through the years a number of revisions have been made, and several different syllabi have been introduced, meaning the RAD’s work has completely evolved.
There are some elements of old syllabi that I miss. Particularly music interpretation and gesture, as they were so interesting and educational when students were taken to watch ballet. I would also bring back mime – so good for developing use of imagination and expression, and free enchaînement, which was useful training for combining steps quickly.
In my opinion, the most significant change to exams is the number of candidates, changing from one to two, to four!
The RAD has always been looking for ways to help teachers and improve standards, and therefore the standards of dancers we examine has risen too, through the increase of courses and knowledge of teaching methods.
The RAD has a panel of over 200 examiners across 25 countries, and examiners undergo a demanding selection process. There is further training and quality assurance, and regular seminars for standardisation, learning new work and discussions on many topics. This is not without its challenges; for me the hardest part is keeping to the recommended mark/standard set within the standardisation courses.
That being said, there have been many memorable moments, which makes it difficult to choose one, but it is always exciting to examine a former pupil who has moved to another part of the world.
I feel it is also important to talk about music. It is such an essential part of a syllabus, and as pianists became less available, it became necessary to introduce CDs. The music changed from specially chosen or composed piano music to selected orchestral music.
The compiling and documentation of a syllabus is also important to mention. It is a long process which takes much effort and consideration, which is not always realised: it is necessary to go through many stages and adjustments before coming to the final product. When the Fonteyn syllabus was first taught, teachers had to write down each exercise in their own words as they learned it, there were no videos or CDs to back up the syllabus at that time, unimaginable now. Even the new and present syllabi were read through and edited many times before being videoed and put into print.
Exam reports progression
In the early days of examining, the report and given marks were written on a large postcard. Since then there have been a number of changes to the way marks and overall results have been given.
Back then, examining could be quite challenging. We were very much left to our own devices – there were no Satnavs, and car routes were seldom given which necessitated leaving early to be sure to arrive on time. Most venues were very cold church halls with broken windows, with the wind and snow coming in under the door sometimes! A few teachers would provide a very welcome rug but a heater was very seldom seen.
It is very different now, and teachers are very helpful and thoughtful. Examining overseas has always been much easier as the examiner is collected and returned to their hotel, and studios are either privately owned or a large (warm!) school hall. My favourite part is observing the candidates’ reactions to entering the studio and following instructions – these can be very interesting and unexpected! And keeping control of the very exuberant and outgoing candidate, who could be capable of running the entire exam, and putting the nervous and unsure candidate at ease. It has always been an examiners’ aim – and job – to put candidates at ease in order to allow them to do their best. It is always a joy to see a nervous or timid candidate relax and enjoy the exam.
When I became an examiner it was an unwritten rule that hats and gloves should be worn, which was a first for me! As styles changed and dress codes became less formal, trouser suits were permitted. These were much more practical in cold halls and on long journeys.
Candidates wore white tunics with a circular skirt, which progressed to a straight white tunic with split sides. With the introduction of the Fonteyn syllabus, white, blue and pink leotards were introduced, and later, short skirts. Over the years the style and colour of these have changed considerably, and pink tights instead of socks are worn more frequently. Hairstyles have progressed through the years, and what was the usual hairnet and band has become a fascinating selection of plaits and buns. Generally, male candidates have always worn a t-shirt or leotard with tights or socks.
Travel has changed greatly over the years. Gone are the days when you could arrive at the airport an hour before a flight and, without standing in a queue, go straight to the check-in desk to get your boarding pass. There were no barriers or electronic scanning. Flights were seldom full and it was often possible to stretch out over three or five seats. Travelling by train was more difficult as trains were usually single compartments with two benches facing each other, and six very uncomfortable seats on either side.
One of my most memorable travel experiences is arriving in Australia, and after a 24-hour flight being taken straight to a newspaper and photo interview. All I wanted was a cup of coffee and a bed! One was often away for much longer periods of time than today. Once I did a ten-month tour around New Zealand, Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Over the years the number of countries and exam candidates has increased enormously, which necessitated expanding the Panel of Examiners: now tours are much shorter.
Here’s to the next 100 years, and seeing where this takes RAD examinations.