What are ISTD examination

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What are ISTD examination

Post  mpr9b on Sun Aug 15, 2010 4:43 pm

I'm probably not the best person to explain what the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) examinations are, but I can give my take on them, why I am going to take them, what I hope to gain, etc.

Their mission statement can be found here:
http://www.istd.org/about/index.html

Note that ISTD covers more genres than just ballroom and latin, but also includes ballet, modern, jazz , greek, modern theater, and many more.

What does passing an ISTD examination give you?
In short, one could argue not very much. Upon passing of an ISTD exam (there are many different types of exams in the many different styles, of various levels of difficulty), you are presented with a diploma outlining your success, and in some cases you are able to become a member of the ISTD. As far as what this does for you, I would argue not a lot. Some of the greatest dancers of today are not trained under the ISTD, and have achieved remarkable success without going through this tiered examination system.
However, training through the ISTD can be an very beneficial process. Each exam becomes progressively more difficult in what it requires to pass. An outline of the various tests can be found here: http://www.istd.org/ballroom/syllabus/modballroom_syllabusoutll.pdf.
Some important things to note are that the tests test you on more than just your ability to dance. You are also expected to know technical details of figures (such as alignment, body positions, foot positions, appropriate timings, possible precedes, possible follows), technical information of the dances (the time signature, tempo, accent scheme), technical information of dancing in general (posture and poise, connections, holds), appropriate warmups (they categorize this as "Safe Dance Practice"), as well as teaching techniques (some examinations require you to run a "mock class" to demonstrate some particular concept). I have lumped some categories together here, and that previous link will separate them appropriately, but it is evident that these are all things that are essential to becoming a great dancer and/or a great teacher.
So when I said previously that some of the great dancers of today never went through the tiered system, that is not to say that they would not be able to if it pleased them. It is just like the modern dancing "Syllabus". Some dancers never competed in syllabus, and are still doing very well in Amateur open or Professional competitions. One could argue that they missed out on the structure of the syllabus, as it is there to foster important concepts for dancers of all levels. The same can be said for ISTD. You can study on your own and become a great dancer/teacher, but often some things will be left out. The ISTD examinations provide a way of monitoring your progress and making sure you are staying on an appropriate track.

Whew, that was a finger-full, so why do I want to take them
I think in the previous section I made it pretty self-explanation what I see as the main benefit of this examination system. My dance instruction history has been quite speckled. I've had two professional instructors, my first one for about a year, and my current one for 4 months now. I have also taken numerous privates from dancers at the pre-champ levels and above. Much time has been spent taking group classes, including attendance at Independence Day Ball and New Years Day Ball. There are two main differences I notice between what I'll classify as three groups of people.

Group 1: The currently competing amateurs (and newer professionals)
Group 2: The currently competing, world-class, professional dancers
Group 3: The retired-from-competition professional dancers, who now teach

All three of these groups offer lessons. As a disclaimer, all three of these groups have been essential in my growth to who I am today as a dancer, so any things that one might interpret as negative are always relative. All of these groups can foster growth, they will just train you in different ways, and often at different rates. The only time a teacher can truly be negative is if they tell you something that is actually incorrect

To compare all of the groups to eachother I will start with group three. The third group tends to have a great holistic view of dance. No longer currently competing, they often are able to look at dancers and train them under different concepts. They understand the importance of each and every element in dance, and can often tell you which one (or many) are your best/worst. This allows them to train dancers as evenly as possible. They can also 'focus' dancers, based upon the students desires.

The second group of people are what I call 'focused teachers'. Many professionals, though they understand the importance of everything that makes great dancers (movement, musicality, expression, choreography, posture, poise, character, etc.), have a focus. If you go to a dance camp where you have the fortune of being instructed by the great dancers of our era, you'll find that there are often common themes to the courses. These common themes are what they have used, and are using, to take their dancing to the level it is at now. Basically what I'm trying to say is that if you have the basics of each category down, and consider your primary focus movement, then maybe a coach who personally focuses on picture lines might not be the best coach for you to train in your focus. These coaches can be quite valuable in working on what you consider your weaker forms, so it is important to understand who they are as dancers, because that is often similar to who they are as teachers.

And finally the first group, who I will lovingly name the regenerators. I myself am guilty of this, but I use guilty light-heartedly, because it is not necessarily a bad thing. This first group hasn't quite settled into either of the first two styles yet, and can often bounce between them. The disadvantage is often they are expressing concepts that are still quite fresh to them. As they are working on developing both a focus to their own dancing (or if they have it) and the ability to look from afar at dancing as the ex-competitors have, they often will bounce between these two styles. What they consider most important in lessons they teach can frequently be compared to what they were told is most important in their last lesson. They thus can become a middle-man between their coach (who often falls in one of the other two categories) and their students. The only reason I mention this chain is that one should be weary of the length of the chain. If Bob takes from John, who takes from Bill, who takes from Mary, who takes from Carol, it really doesn't matter how good the information Carol receives from her coach is. If it is passed on down the chain to Bob, it will have changed just as if the game telephone were being played. The biggest disadvantage to this category is that they are often teaching and preaching concepts that they themselves are still working on. It can be a gift and a curse.

So I'm particularly verbose today, so I'll conclude by answering that question I just posed. I am looking at ISTD to solidify my knowledge so as to make sure I am a well-rounded dancer and instructor. My current coach has an amazing ability of seeing what needs work then and now, and teaches his different couples vary differently. That is something I idolize and wish to take to my instruction.

I will post more later about ISTD, including some insight into the following questions:
How do I train for the exams?
ISTD, what about IDTA and other groups?

Dance hard,
Mike

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Re: What are ISTD examination

Post  stevepny on Tue Aug 17, 2010 3:17 am

I don't think training for the ISTD exams directly makes you a better dancer. Yes, indirectly by having a stronger knowledge of the most basic technical details of the figures you are using, you have a better chance of dancing them well. Though I do admit, I believe that it was a great experience for me. But ultimately the ISTD technique ignores a lot of important fundamental technique about movement, weight transfer, balance, body alignment, musical interpretation, connection, frame, style, and on and on. The information in the technique book is the bare minimum technique that you should know for any given step AFTER you already know how to dance it. That is how the book was designed. It does not teach you how to dance the step. It is best used as a guide, or a checkup. For example, dance your natural turn. Now ask, "Did I step HT T TH?" If the answer is yes, good, the book technique helped. If the answer is no, then you'll have to figure out why your dancing created some different footwork. The exams themselves are teaching exams. They are not really designed to test your dance ability, only your ability to present the information contained in the technique book, both visually and verbally.

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Re: What are ISTD examination

Post  mpr9b on Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:50 am

Yes, they are very teacher-oriented, but that is not to say that it isn't possible to discover nuances of dance. The most benefit I've found is as you've said, doing what you "know" and then checking for consistencies (or inconsistencies) in the book. For example, I always try to at least read through any step that I'm shown, and often discover things that there just either wasn't time to discuss, or wasn't noticeably wrong. Two examples: The footwork for the Man's part of the Natural Spin Turn includes a THT step. Didn't know that "fact" until I had been dancing that step for a year and a half. I still doubt I know exactly what it means. And dancing the rumba crosses, I was never told to dance the first step as a toe, but I wasn't told otherwise, so I ended up doing that. I then looked at the book a week later and noted that it begins with a HT. So it can be useful to keep you in check. I think the technical definitions (PP, CBM, Poise, Holds) are as you said, minimal. They might just be outdated. I'm referring to "The Ballroom Technique" in all of this, and there are other books out there that have different focuses that do a better job of many things. I've had recommended to me "A Technique of Advanced Standard Ballroom Figures" by my coach, which I assume is what you were mentioning when you said there are "open syllabus book" or something of that flavor. For those who haven't heard of it, it is organized in a similar manner to "The Ballroom Technique", with a definitions section in the beginning, and a chart-like analysis of future figures. One major difference is that the definitions are much more intense. They span 13 pages as opposed to the other books three. They are a brain-full, and are probably quite useless unless you are a very mature dancer or have someone to talk to about them. The figures are also paired as actions rather than by dance. Because it is designed as a furtherance of "The Ballroom Technique" for open dancers, there is no point in saying "DO THIS IN WALTZ AND ONLY WALTZ", so they group them under 9 categories (picture lines, Swivels, Large turn figures which include pivots) etc. I'll write up a short bio in the Literature section.

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