Battements, barres, jetes and grandes might not come up in average everyday conversation, but they are well-known terms at Brooks Academy of Dance in Tillsonburg.
"Our ballet program has grown immensely here, we're really proud of it," said Brooks Academy of Dance co-director Brittany Brooks. "It took a lot of work - from Tracy (Konigshofer) and the kids. We now have kids doing exams in all grades, and we have enough that the examiner is actually coming to our studio to examine our kids. I think it's in April.
"We're really excited about the program now because Tracy is an official RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) certified teacher, which means she can enter kids in exams. It's very hard to find a teacher to be able to enter kids in the exams, so we're really proud of Tracy."
The first group of six senior dancers from BAD to take their ballet exams - Breanna Kyle, Rae Jones, Tia Antoine, Alana Luciani, Madelyn DeLaere, and Ella Cowan - were tested for Intermediate Foundations on Nov. 22, 2017 in Waterloo, and about two weeks later received their official certificates.
"We had been working on it for like two or three years probably," said 16-year-old Alana Luciani.
"I've been working on it maybe a year," said Ella Cowan, 12, the youngest of the six.
They are tested in all areas of ballet, including barre work, which Luciani said includes plies and tendus.
"It's kind of hard to explain," she laughed.
"They do exercises," noted BAD co-director Brittany Brooks.
"It's kind of like warmup for us to get ready for the centre," said Cowan.
"Yeah, it's like a warmup - it's just like small exercises," said Luciani, adding they are also tested for floor work and centre work.
"We have a lot," Cowan nodded, continuing the list with "pointe."
"I'd say centre is probably the main focus of it all," said Luciani, but noted the most challenging elements are different for everyone.
"For me, pointe," said Luciani.
"Probably freework," said Cowan.
"Oh yeah," Luciani agreed, laughing.
"The examiner will give you some choreography," Cowan explained. "And we have about three times to pick it up. Then we get to try it once with the music. And then we do it with the music full-out and she marks us."
"Based on the third try," Luciani nodded.
It takes about 60-75 minutes to complete the test, depending how many are tested at the same time (typically 2-4). Upon completion dancers get a 'thank you,' but no immediate feedback on their performance.
"It's a little bit unnerving," Brooks smiled.
It was challenging, said Luciani, but the BAD dancers all seemed confident they had passed.
"I think we all had the sense of 'pass'," said Luciani.
"Yeah, I think we all felt we like we did pretty good," said Cowan.
A week or two later they received results in the mail.
"That was fun - everybody passed," said Luciani. "We jumped up and down the room when we got the certificates. We heard we all passed."
"I heard a lot of screaming," Brooks laughed.
"And there was even some crying - tears of joy," Luciani smiled.
With their Intermediate Foundations, the BAD dancers are eligible to do their Intermediate level exam.
"We're aiming for November," said Luciani.
"What they can do is move up every year if they take their exams," said Brooks. "It ends essentially when you are able to take your teaching exam - you can be a registered ballet teacher. It also helps, obviously, if you're going into a dance program of any kind. They love to see that."
Each grade changes, said Luciani.
"There's new stuff you have to learn. You have to get your mind off of the old grade and into the new grade."
"It gets harder," Cowan nodded, "and the exercises get longer..."
"And it's stressful," Luciani laughed.
"There's a few exercises for the barre, there's like 10-ish for the centre, or more," said Cowan. "Every year there's usually a few new steps."
The long term goal, said Cowan, is to eventually teach dance and ballet.
"I'd like to teach, just not in dance," said Luciani. "But I want to take the exams because if I were to teach dance at schools, I'd be qualified for that."
"When you get your certificates, it also helps on your resume," said Cowan.
The BAD competitive dance season starts March 23, and both Luciani (group) and Cowan (solo and group) will be competing in ballet this year, as well as other styles. They agreed the Intermediate Foundation will help their competitive routines.
"Most of the moves we learn in class are put into the routines," said Luciani, who is in her fourth competitive year. "They're just meshed together differently and it's a whole different thing."
In addition to ballet, Luciani competes in contemporary, musical theatre, jazz, open, and hip hop.
"Open is a mix between a whole bunch of dances. A lot of people do acro with it. So it's like acro and jazz, or hip hop could be thrown in. There specific category for open.
"I'm really excited, this is my first year as a soloist (contemporary and musical theatre). It's going to be a good year, I hope. We don't actually sing (in musical theatre)," Luciani noted. "That would be really rough. It's mainly a jazz routine but I lip synch it."
"I love your honesty," Brooks laughed.
"A lot of studios will do singing lessons too," said Luciani. "We don't do that here. I mean, I'm told if the music cuts out I'm supposed to sing, so... I'm prepared. I sing it when I actually rehearse it - really quietly."
"This is my third year doing it (competing)," said Cowan, who competes in jazz and contemporary in addition to ballet.
"I have two solos - lyrical and ballet. I like ballet, but lyrical and contemporary are very close behind."
"She's the known ballerina here," Luciani smiled. "That's what we call her."
Brooks said another BAD student, Aiyana Baird, recently took her ballet exam and is waiting for results.
In addition to her Diploma in Dance Teachers Studies, a two-year program of online studies followed by an in-class exam, Konigshofer will also be going for certification in the Silver Swan program this summer, which will allow her to teach adults 50-plus proper and safe ballet training.