Holly Pooley

Australian teacher Holly Pooley describes the appeal of the Rambert Grades syllabus – and why RAD teachers should explore it.

Dance Gazette | RAD Q&A | Issue 9 – Feb 2024

What first drew you to Rambert Grades?
I wanted a contemporary syllabus that would support my students as I believed it should. The syllabi that were out there were very rigid and stuck in time. I was concerned that they weren’t very reflective of contemporary, which is this evolving, breathing, changing thing. I tried to create something holistic myself, that would advance kids technically, but also allow the creative exploration that I felt was so important. It went well but it was just me. As soon as I heard whispers about Rambert Grades, I absolutely knew that was what I needed and jumped on board. It is everything I hoped for. The syllabus is reflective and encapsulates all of the history but it’s evolving, just like contemporary dance.

How have your students taken to Rambert Grades?
The structure makes sense to them. My students primarily come from a ballet background and are familiar with the process of exams. They look forward to exams, because they like that structure and the reward at the end. The second thing is the ownership they have over the material. Because the music isn’t set, we work collaboratively to find a playlist that they love, and, they get to choose the exercises and film their exam. They have a voice.

For ballet dancers, contemporary dance can develop the creative choices that they make. Then, when they come into their ballet class, they’re already thinking very openly and broadly. It also helps on a technical level, and emotionally being able to connect with the joy of movement. I find that the two work hand in hand together.

Holly Pooley leads a Rambert Grades workshop. Photo: Belinda Strodder

Is Rambert Grades building a community of teachers?
There’s so much support for the teachers, and they carry you along each step of the way. 

How do you use the material by leading choreographers like Hofesh Shechter and Alesandra Seutin who contribute to the syllabus?
There are three strands: Technical, Creative and Performance. Within the Performance strand is a solo that the student performs, a different solo for every grade. They all are so beautiful and link together. At the moment, there are two separate streams – you can choose the Hofesh stream or the Alesandra stream, depending on the dancer and what type of music they enjoy. Both choreographers are so grounded, really connected with musicality and rhythm. 

What was your own dance journey? 
I fell in love with ballet very early on, and progressed through RAD levels here in Perth. I did dabble in a little bit of contemporary, but I was a ballet kid. I ended up the other side of the world at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, UK, which was a huge plunge. When I graduated, I realised that my passion was in teaching. I loved contemporary because it’s so inclusive and it can involve so many practices of pedagogy. 

What has Rambert Grades given you as a teacher? 
It’s made me a lot calmer. I feel supported, and it’s made me think differently. One thing I love is how accessible its language is: the terms are very anatomical. If you use that same kind of mindset in ballet, you get different qualities out of the students. It’s allowed me to explore different teaching practices to help the students improve and achieve a broader range of outcomes. 

What would you say to any RAD teachers who are curious about Rambert Grades?
I’d describe the unique opportunities that the syllabus provides in terms of its thinking: its inclusivity and individuality makes both the students and you stronger. The RAD syllabus already asks teachers to be creative and develop their own training exercises. RAD ballet teachers are incredible, and Rambert Grades draws on skills they already have.

Rambert Grades
Created in a landmark collaborative partnership between Rambert dance company and Rambert School, Rambert Grades is a progressive and inclusive contemporary dance syllabus. It was created by some of the most dynamic and relevant voices of contemporary dance in the UK. Training is accessible to all ages, abilities and bodies regardless of prior experience of formal dance training. Across 11 qualifications, Rambert Grades teachers are taught to promote a safe environment for students to develop lifelong skills.

The collaboration with the Royal Academy of Dance provides RAD Members across the world the benefit of discounted membership with Rambert Grades. Learn more at https://www.rambertgrades.com/rad-global

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