Welcome Back and Exams

Hello everyone!  It’s been awhile since we talked.  At this point I’ve hit on most of the major points I wanted to with this blog so rather than force myself to write weekly posts that will inevitably fall by the way-side, Dancing Through the Recession will be switching to monthly updates.

There is a reason I haven’t been posting lately, however, and that goes beyond not having enough to talk about and even beyond internet laziness: I haven’t had enough time.  Since March 2009 I was preparing to take my full bronze smooth professional certification exams, and the last two months were spent in very high intensity study.  I’m pleased to announce that I not only passed but did so with Honors and am now a DVIDA certified instructor.  These are not the first exams I’ve taken, however – I passed smooth and rhythm junior bronze professional exams through a franchise – but since the test is still on my mind, we’ll use testing to ring in the new year.

What Are Dance Exams?

There are actually two types of dance examinations: student exams (also called, “Medal exams”) and professional exams (“Certifications”) and, as we’ve said before, they differ greatly but also share many characteristics.  Both are intended to provide a quantifiable goal to work towards, establish benchmarks for technique and knowledge, and provide a sense of accomplishment upon m eeting those standards, but those standards differ greatly between the two exams.

Student Medal Tests

A medal test is conducted partly for the reasons all tests are conducted, as described above, but also to determine what the student is ready for.  Many studios, particularly franchise studios, will require students to pass a medal test before attending higher-level classes.  This ensures that everyone in the class has demonstrated competency with basic material that may then be built upon.  These tests can be thought of college final exams.  One benefit of such a system is that higher-level classes proceed at a faster pace.  While all-level classes or open classes must occassionally proceed at a slower pace to review basic material for unprepared students, a studio that employs medal exams is unlikely to have these problems.

Medal tests are usually conducted much more formally than typical lessons.  Some studios will bring in an outside examiner, while others will employ a senior teacher to conduct the exams.  Students are typically required to dance specific figures, explain how the figure works in their own words, and demonstrate competency while dancing a freestyle round (i.e. a waltz will be played and students have a minute or so to dance waltz while the examiner makes notes).  Afterward, the examiner will review his or her comments with the student and the student’s teacher, explaining the students strengths that should be developed and weaknesses that need improvement.  As such, the medal test should be thought of as a report card rather than a final exam.

Medal tests may be conducted at each medal level (i.e. bronze, silver, gold) or at various points within each medal if a studio breaks down the levels along such lines (i.e. Bronze 1, Bronze 2, Bronze 3, Bronze 4).  They are usually done by dance (i.e. Bronze 3 waltz, Bronze 3 swing, etc.) and take from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the number of dances, the level, and so on.

In addition to comments, students will receive a score for a medal test and an evaluation of pass/fail based on the score.  It is very rare for students to fail medal tests, though this is typically because most instructors will not permit their students to test until they are certain the student will pass, rather than because of lenient grading.  There is some jsutfiable concern about inflated scores in medal tests, esepcially among studios that conduct their own testing rather than bringing in an outside examiner.  Keep two things in mind when reviewing your medal test scores:

  • These scores are based on expected proficiency at level one is testing at, not overall dance proficiency.  For example, a medal test in bronze 1 American waltz would not penalize a student for lack of sway.
  • Even inflated scores will generally be accurate within that inflated range.

Professional Certification Exams

Certification exams are much more involved than student medal tests.  While student tests evaluate one’s ability to dance, professional exams evaluate one’s ability to dance, one’s comprehension of the material, and one’s ability to teach that material.  Like medal tests, certification exams may be broken down into style and level, though it is most common to take an exam in an entire division at a full or half-medal level (i.e. all of silver American smooth or all of international Latin at the junior bronze level).

Requirements for certification vary from organization to organization, but generally candidates must be able to dance every figure from the dances and levels they are testing as both leader and follower, explain the technical elements of every step of each figure (i.e. foot work, dance position, rise and fall, etc.), answer questions relating to teaching that material, and demonstrate understanding of the background and use of each dance.  This is a very long exam, usually two to three hours depending on the number of dances and the level being examined and candidates usually spend six months to over a year preparing to take them.

Note that teaching certification is not required in the United States, though it is in other countries (i.e. Australia), and so many teachers opt to forgo certification testing due to the time and expense involved in testing.  This does not mean they are unqualified teachers, nor does passing a certification exam mean that someone must be a good teacher, but they are indicators.

Should I Test?

If you’re considering testing, whether as a student or professional, speak to your teacher well in advance so he or she can help you prepare.  If one is previously familiar with a dance and is simply adding the medal test on, it may only require two or three lessons to prepare, while if the level is new to you it may require a half to a full-dozen lessons.  For professional certification, allocate at least six months to preparation, including study and taking mock exams.  Regardless of what type of exam you’re studying for, private lessons are essential.  The examiner will be evaluating details and even small mistakes can result in lower marks.

Above all, keep in mind why you’re testing.  Whether you want to work towards a non-competitive goal, become a teacher, or hold yourself to a new standard, testing is an excellent way to focus on improving your dancing!

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3 Responses to “Welcome Back and Exams”

  1. Apache Says:

    Hey, I found your blog through danceforums.com and came upon this post that I found interesting.

    I’m a swing dancer (Lindy Hop/Balboa/Collegiate Shag) and I have heard about certifications from different franchises (AM, FA, et cetera) for swing dancing. The odd thing though is while having these certifications in the ballroom world seems to be a badge of honor or a sign of credibility. Whereas having one for swing dancing seems to be irrelevant or in some cases has a negative stigma. Any thoughts on that?

    • Alex Says:

      Some dancers have resisted the trend to issue certifications or create formal syllabi for their dances, particularly in salsa and Argentine tango, but also in Lindy hop and west coast swing to a lesser extent. The reason is these dances are constantly evolving and as soon as an official structure is created, evolution slows down, or worse, splits and the dance that is danced socially becomes radically different from that which is written down. Generally the older the dance is, the less this is an issue of dispute; thus no one objects to having waltz syllabi or certifications, but salsa and hustle are much more divisive.

      What every teacher should know, however, is that certification does not equal mastery or ownership. My east coast swing certification does not mean that I know everything there is to know about east coast swing and that if someone disagrees with me they’re wrong; it means that I know a number of steps in east coast swing, can dance it with a guaranteed level of proficiency, and am capable of teaching what I know to someone else.

  2. http://www.swingdanceandlindyhop.com/blog/jive-lessons.shtml Says:

    What is there to say except Lindy Hop and Swing Dancing are great dances! Old school with new twists added all the time. The people, the music, the movement, the price of a night out…

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