In this section, we will be discussing teaching points and faults to be aware of in the Preparatory grade. There is a video supporting each exercise please click on the link below the theory explanation to view the demonstration video. This is for your own private use and to help you learn the exercise.
Girls are required to hold their skirts throughout the exercises unless otherwise stated. Boys are required to have their hands on the hips, executing a strong finger belt action unless otherwise stated.
The skirt should be held between the middle finger and thumb, and the skirt lifted from the front. The arms want to be in a demi second position with the shoulders down and starting to execute a good arm position.
NB, Holding the skirt can prove to be quite tricky. Ensure the correct posture is maintained throughout.
In Preparatory turn out is not forced.
WALKING & RUNNING 4/4
Coloured mats to keep circle
When it comes to deciding on exam groups always have a confident student leading the running, you need someone who will be able to keep the circle in a good shape.
There is a change of action from walking on the demi pointe, to running on the demi pointe. Your students will need to be able to recognise when the walking ends and the running starts.
How do you go about getting them to recognise the change in tempo?
Start by getting your students to count out loud, explaining that the first time around they count 2 sets of 8 for walking and 2 sets of 8 for running. The second time round they count 2 sets of 8 for walking and 1 set of 8 for running and then 1 set of 8 to get into a final picture which should be in the centre of your studio.
Girls are holding their skirt on the walking, this should be a smooth downward alignment remembering that the arm position should be shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers, boys are using the finger belt position.
- Keep the circle big to help your students understand this. Use floor mats or bean bags to help mark out a circle, and tell your students to keep on the outside of the circle. This will help in still good spatial awareness.
- When pulling up onto a full demi pointe, make sure that the ankles aren’t rolling, get the heels pulling together. Weight should be evenly distributed across the whole foot. Some children find it hard to lift right up onto the demi point. NB, the toes should make a secure platform.
- The best way of applying the above teaching points would be to start the demi pointe at the barre, this will give your students the stableness they need at this young age. Once you feel happy that they are gaining strength and stability, bring the work into the centre.
- Knees should be soft.
- When running, make sure that the feet are coming off the floor and not being shuffled along. The runs should be up on the demi point and feet shouldn’t be behind the body line, a light quality is required.
- The transition between walking and running should happen smoothly. To help your students achieve this, get them to listen to the music first so that they can hear when the change in the music happens. Once they can hear this, get them to either use instruments or clap the rhythm, this will help the student understand when the change is happening. Encourage this alongside counting the sets of 8.
- The final ending position is set by the teacher.
PONY GALLOPS 6/8
Coloured mats to keep circle
A pony gallop is a springy step.
- Your first initial task would be to get your students clapping the rhythm. Use instruments to keep the class fun and to encourage the understanding of the rhythm. Getting your students to count out loud also helps to get them to understand the rhythm.
- The clapping should be executed with one hand staying still and the other hand hitting against it. As we move up the grades the clapping will become faster, so this proves to be a more efficient method.
- Explain to your students that the clapping and the leg action are the same rhythms. Instead of using the counts &1&2 you could use words like Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta or Ti, Tum, Ti Tum.
- To start with, take the action to the barre as some students might try and make this into a skip action. By being at the barre this will help eliminate this action and give control and stability, plus start to build up the strength in the legs which is greatly needed for this action. Don’t rush coming into the centre build up the leg strength first.
- To help improve the leg action place hoops or scarves on the floor and ask your students to pony gallop over them encouraging the pick up leg action.
- To get a better understanding of how the clapping and leg action should work in unison, get some of the students to clap the rhythm whilst the other students do the pony gallop action.
- The position of the leg for the pony gallops should be at a 45-degree angle with the toes pointing downwards, making a good clean line from the knee. A common fault would be for the foot to be lifted up behind the body, the knee taken too high or the knee being taken out to the side.
- Heels must place down on to the floor after the pony gallops and promote good progression through the foot peeling the foot off the floor with a heel lead and reversing the action when placing on the floor with a toe lead. This action will help with the softness that is required with this step.
- Getting a good foot action in place now will help with developing future steps.
- Have a good foot action, working through the whole foot when elevating.
- Keep the arms still and in place when executing the pony gallops.
- The pony gallop wants to be elevated but because the action is quick this can prove quite hard and end up as low and travelling forward almost like a run. If your student thinks more “UP” this will help with the leg positioning and be able to execute the pony gallops efficiently, the action will naturally travel forward.
- Be careful that the jump isn’t taken too far forward. A neat placement is required with feet in parallel, keep the core engaged.
PONY TROTS 2/4
Coloured mats to keep circle
This exercise can be a tricky one to teach as you have a change in tempo. Co-ordination and strength in the legs can be an issue at this young age, some students may want to try and skip the action.
Take the exercise to the barre as this will give stability plus start to build up the strength in the legs which is greatly needed for this action. Don’t rush coming into the centre, build up the leg strength first.
To enable them to get used to the change of tempo get them clapping the rhythm or using instrument. Once your students have the rhythm secure split them into 2 groups so that one group is clapping whilst the other group is dancing.
Practice the pony trot action at the barre for stability and building up strength. The legs need to be coordinated with the upper body held in a good posture. When the step is bought into the centre place hoops or scarves on the floor and ask your students to pony trot over them encouraging the pick up leg action.
- Get a good stretch and bend in the knees making sure that the legs are working together.
- The upper back must be kept upright maintaining a good postural position. If the achilles are tight there may be a chance of the body leaning forward to accommodate for this. If this is the case tell your student not to bend their knees as much.
- Ensure good leg positioning, this needs to be the same as the pony gallops.
- The knees must point up to the ceiling and not be taken out at an angle.
- Hips must stay in place when the weight is transferred from one foot to the other, this transition should be seamless.
- Heels must be placed down after each pony trot.
- Get a good foot action working through the whole foot. Peeling the foot off the floor with a heel lead and reversing the action when placing on the floor with a toe lead. This action will help with the softness that is required with this step.
- The upper body must stay in place with no back or forward movement. Work on maintaining a strong core.
- Arms should be no higher than 90 degrees and held in place, keep them shoulder width apart and held in at the elbows at a right angle
- As the tempo increases the first leg action can prove to be tricky. The right knee needs to be lifted whilst springing onto the left foot. Making sure the action doesn’t end up looking like a running step and the leg placement should stay at the same height throughout the exercise.
POINT & CLOSE 4/4
This exercise is the beginning of introducing a demi plié. The weight should remain central working the knees over the toes and the pelvis pulled under with the back in a good postural position. Heels should be encouraged down on to the floor during the knee bend with the knees in an over the toes position. Legs should try and work in unison with each other, good coordination is required.
- This exercise can be broken down into 2 sections: the point and close action and the knee bend. Both actions could be practiced at the barre to ensure good placement and encourage core strength to develop.
- When teaching the pointes ensure that the heel is lifted upwards. The pointe to the front can sometimes get placed on the side of the foot or flat, explain that the bodyweight is wanting to be on the supporting leg with no weight in the working foot’s heel. Encourage the foot to lift and point onto the big toe.
- Start encouraging turn out even though in preparatory, only a natural turn out is required it is always good to start working on turn out straight away.
- During the pointe and close action, the foot should be in contact with the floor at all times, this is no different to a tendu. The foot can have a tendency to be lifted and placed into each position rather than sliding out and in with the supporting leg bending.
- Encourage a lifted feeling out of the supporting leg so that there is no sitting in the hips.
- The working foot can get pointed out to the side and not directly in front of the 1st position. When bringing the foot back into 1st position there is a tendency to bring the foot around the side and back into 1st. Explain that the foot needs to keep to a straight line.
- Look for a good fluid action between the pointed foot and the knee bend. Working both legs together, the pelvis can sometimes tilt back when closing into 1st position and the body can drop at the waist.
- The knee bend should have some depth to it. Practice at the barre first before bringing into the centre, this will allow the children to feel where the demi plié should be placed.
- Encourage an upright back and the pelvis pulled under.
DANCING ARMS 3/4
As the teacher you will choose the direction of the running action in this exercise depending on the size of your studio.
- This is the beginning of a Port de Bra so the arm action needs to reflect the feeling, which is smooth and continuous.
- Install from the start that the arms should be soft with control for the girls and strong with control for the boys. This can prove difficult at this young age as the children find it hard to understand the feeling of their arms.
- Creative ways can be used to get these feelings, such as using ribbons, cloth or wands.
- Practice the arms on their own before bringing in any of the other movements. Girls should be thinking about an elbow lead when the arm is taken up and down which will encourage softness, let the wrist naturally follow.
- Practice the rises at the barre so that core and control can be worked on. This will also encourage a good instep stretch plus making it easier to correct the foot positioning.
- Check that there is no rolling in the ankles on the rise and that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the toes. A good instep stretch should be made by the foot, some children can’t identify this feeling and rise up onto the tip of their toes. This is incorrect and needs to be rectified before coming in to the centre.
- Practice the running before combining it with the rest of the exercise, this could be done traveling across the floor from corner to corner depending on your studio space. Encourage the feet to be lifted and not dragged making the action light and up on the demi pointe.
- The running in this exercise should only be for 1 bar with the 2nd bar lowering to the heels. A common fault with the running is that the student runs too far. Encourage them to count 1,2,3 on the run.
Place floor mats down to indicate how far they have to run.
- Balance and core comes into play after the running, as the turn on the demi pointe can prove hard to achieve after running into the action. The ankles will have a tendency to roll out and there is a possibility of not enough rise on the demi pointe, with legs bending and feet not joining together. The weight will possibly shift backward because of the turn so the balance is lost.
- Once these separate stages have been taught add them together to form one exercise.
LITTLE JUMPS & BIG JUMPS 6/8
These are the beginning of sautés they just don’t call them that in this grade.
Once again we see another change in tempo from 8 quick crochets and 4 slow minims. Practice the tempo getting students use to clapping this rhythm. Crochets are worth one count and minims are worth 2 counts.
Sit the students in a circle, once you have practiced the tempo together split the class in half. Instruct half the class to clap or play the instruments to the tempo of the jumps, while the other half of the class jump in time with them.
Mind the arms don’t move up and down during the exercise. Keep them in a secure position holding the skirt with the shoulders down.
- This is the first time we have seen jumps, the plié position has already been practiced in the Pointe and Close exercise.
Make sure that the knee bend action is mastered with the weight central and weight evenly distributed in both legs. The pelvis is tipped under and the upper body is maintaining a good postural position. The bottom of the knee bend is an important action, as this is the springboard to getting off the floor without this good technique other issues will arise further up the grades. Leg strength is important and this will be built up when executing the demi plié.
- The bodyweight must stay central and not get thrown back when jumping.
- The heels need to be down and in contact with the floor allowing a soft landing to be executed, and landing the jump in a central demi plié. This is essential to avoid injury.
- On landing the jump upper body posture is maintained keeping control of the pelvis position.
- Power through the legs is essential on elevation to achieve a straight strong leg action in the air.
- Practice getting straight legs, by using the following 2 exercises this will help develop an understanding: a) sit on the floor, place legs in a frog position with flexed feet. Straighten the legs as if jumping and feel the tightness in the legs as this action is carried out. Or b) sit in the frog position, feet up against a wall and carry out the same action pushing away from the wall.
- As the crotchets are quick these jumps will be lower than the slow minims where there is more time to allow a higher elevation.
There are two ways in which this exercise can be executed.
1. In any pattern and direction.
2. In a circle.
Either holding hands with arms crossed or following in single file.
This is set by the teacher and determined by the space of their studio.
The final movement is a run into a straight line with an optional arm line set by the teacher. In an exam environment the students should be back in their original line up.
If you have an advanced class, encourage the use of pattern and direction.
Following a pattern can be challenging for children of a young age as they have no concept of direction. Practice by placing floor mats down in a pattern and direct your students to follow them. Don’t complicate the pattern as this action doesn’t come naturally to some children. As they improve, start making the pattern more complexed.
- Skipping is an exercise that children find difficult to execute, so it will need to be progressively worked on.
- Everyone has the a one-legged skipper, this is because they don’t have the strength in one of their legs to get off the ground. More often than not a child will have a dominant side, strength needs to be built up in the other leg. This will come in time and the more students practise the skipping action or any other kind of hopping action the quicker it will build up.
- A good starting place for teaching skipping is to hop on alternate legs making sure the raised leg is at the correct 45-degree position. This can be practiced at the barre to help with balance.
- The 45-degree position has already been seen in the Pony gallops and Pony trots exercises.
- This action can then be progressed into skipping by hopping on one leg 4 times, change to other leg for 4. Then reduce the hops down until you have 1 hop on each leg which becomes a skip.
- Encourage an upward action, not a moving forward action. A skip moves by the placement of the lifted leg coming into contact with the floor.
- Avoid what we call “playground skipping” where the child slides the foot along the floor and doesn’t get any height in the skip and travels too far forward.
- Once again we see the change of action at the end of the exercise, this can be hard for a young child as they are having to simultaneously execute several movements.
SWAYS & GALLOPS 2/4
This is danced in pairs.
On entering an odd number of children into an examination, one child can either do the exercise on their own or alternatively get one pair to do the exercise and then select a child to repeat the exercise with the 3rd child.
This exercise is the start of introducing the demi plié in second position.
This exercise is broken down into 2 sections, sways, and the gallops.
- Take the sways to the barre, facing the barre practice the demi plié in 2nd position, the 2nd position should be hip-width apart. Explain about the knees facing outwards over the toes, even though turn out isn’t enforced in the Preparatory grade it should be encouraged. The pelvis is tipped under and upper body in a good postural position.
- Once the demi plié has been achieved start introducing the sways. Understanding the hip-width alignment will make the swaying action easier to achieve.
If the placement of the 2nd position is not wide enough or too wide when coming out of the transference of weight, the legs will not be able to naturally straighten. This will cause the feet to move to accommodate the action.
Floor mats can be used to help students understand their hip-width positioning. Place their feet on the mats so that the correct width is achieved.
- A good weight transference should have no weight in the pointing foot, and a good projection onto the supporting leg with both legs straight as they come out of the knee bend.
- No foot movement should take place if the correct width is accomplished.
- Balance can be a problem within the weight transference as the weight can either be thrown forward or backward. Encourage a good straight back and pelvis tipped under.
- As this is partner work the hips and shoulders should always be facing the partner, and the sway action working as one.
- Start practicing gallops individually taking them across the studio. Explain that there should be good elevation with a join of the feet in the middle of the gallop.
- Encourage a toe lead on landing. It is very common for the heel to hit the floor first.
- If a student is struggling, then help them by holding their hands and galloping with them, encouraging all the above points.
- Once individual gallops have been achieved, join the students with a partner, enforcing that shoulders and hips should be facing each other. Both students should be traveling in unison, eliminating one student to be dragged along by their partner.
- Heads should be facing the line of dance (in the direction in which they are traveling).
- A well-controlled stop after the 7th gallop is required with and a good weight transference into the supporting leg so that the other foot is ready to start the sways in the opposite direction.
DANCE WITH THEME
Dance A 2/4
Dance B 6/8
This is danced as an individual but danced all together as a group.
This is the teachers choice to pick either Dance A or Dance B for their students. Ideally one exam group should be doing the same dance.
Make sure that the dance has a theme and uses a good selection of steps from the Preparatory grade. Use of direction and dimensions which will add interest.
The students must be able to tell the examiner what piece of music they are using either A or B and what their dance is about.
CURTSEY OR BOW 3/4
Don’t neglect the curtsey or bow as students get marked on this.
After the curtesy or bow, they need to say thank you to the examiner using the examiners name and thank you to the person operating your music.
Depending on where the door to your studio is, either student number 1 or number 4 will lead the group out.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
If you would like to have a go at some questions regarding this grade click the link below.