Becoming a Ballroom Examiner
By Izabela Jaworska
Published in Issue #29 (Fall 2015) of Topline, the official magazine of the USISTD
I have been a dancer since childhood, and it always seemed as if something was pushing me to share my love of dance with others. After many years as a ballroom competitor and teacher, becoming an Examiner for the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing was a natural step for me. It turned out to be one of the most challenging things I have done.
Here are some of the methods that worked for me. You’ll probably come up with other ways to prepare for this difficult but rewarding goal.
Most important, the ISTD has a series of certifications that will lead candidates to acquire the knowledge they need. This includes getting the highest marks on exams for the Associate, Licentiate, Fellow and finally Examiner certifications. The time required to learn the material and complete these exams is approximately five years. It’s like going through a university!
All candidates for the Examiner certification will need to study The Ballroom Technique by Alex Moore. The exam is based on this book. But surprisingly, although I have plenty of other books, I still could not find answers to some of my questions.
That’s where my mentors came in. These are people whose calling in life is to go beyond their normal roles as teachers. You’ll be amazed to find how eager they are to help you.
While working through my ISTD exams, I decided to participate in intense teacher training in Montreal. Under the strict supervision of experienced teachers including Pierre Allaire, Mérye Pearson, and Pierrette Chartier, I was able to close the gaps in my knowledge.
One day during my Fellowship training, Pierrette handed me her own personal notes taken many years before. She said, “Honey, I see you are a very conscientious student; you might find these notes handy in your preparation.” It was a tremendous gift! I studied her notes and was drawn into ballroom technique like never before.
Pierre Allaire coached me to make the techniques become reality on the dance floor, with questions like: “Give me the position of the second step for the man and the lady in all Feather Steps.” He helped me develop precision and confidence.
Lori Woods-Gay of the ISTD gave me a long list of topics to research. For example, she said, “Go through the entire technique and find all steps that have Footwork With Pressure.” Another was “Find the steps that have ‘Brush’ in them.” Examiners are expected to know it all! When I had completed my Fellow exam, she was the person who urged me to pursue the Examiner certification in ballroom.
After such training, you need to practice everything you learned. I was able to do this while teaching private lessons and group classes of ballroom students. I found that my students were some of my toughest questioners!
I encouraged them to ask me as many questions as possible. Even the most basic were important. I asked my best student to test me from Elizabeth Romain’s Questions and Answers booklets. So, she pretended she was the Examiner and I was the candidate. It created additional pressure on me to do well in front of my student.
At last, my most reassuring moment came after a review session the day before my Examiner’s test in London, England. That’s when one of the most experienced Examiners in the Society, Anne Lingard, told me, “Darling, you can sleep peacefully tonight. I caught you on only two mistakes during our four-hour session. You are ready!”
Becoming an examiner has opened new doors for me. For a start, I hope to organize ISTD Medal Tests for the students where I teach ballroom dancing in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I also plan to train other professionals in the Midwest for their ISTD certifications. Having gone through the difficult process, I know how important the training is for maintaining high standards for teachers.
With the Associate, Licentiate, Fellow, and Examiner certifications, I’ve gained a thorough understanding of ballroom technique. I can clearly demonstrate how the advanced figures are built upon the basic syllabus steps. This gives me the confidence I need while teaching at all levels.
A major goal for me as a teacher is to find the exact moment to push a syllabus-trained student to become a more dynamic dancer. Through it all, I’ll work to become a mentor to others, and to share the wisdom and encouragement that my mentors shared with me.