Taking Level 6 ABT Exams: The Process

This past February, I had the great opportunity to take my Level 6 American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum Exam. It was an amazing experience, one I will remember for the rest of my life!

view out my window on the plane as we flew in to Newark International Airport in New Jersey

What is an ABT Exam?

I don't know that it is possible to fully understand an ABT exam unless you have gone through the process of taking one yourself. When I try to describe them to people, the common misconception is that they are a competition or a performance. They are definitely not. What they are is an examination of every move we are supposed to know at our particular level. It is a memorized, two hour ballet class consisting of barre, center, jumps, turns, and pointe combinations that our teacher created. In front of a judge, that you don't know, who is evaluating and scoring every movement you make, in ABT's studios in New York City. No pressure!

A picture I took of the entrance to ABT's studios at 890 Broadway


The intensity of preparing for dance exams, both mentally and physically, is unlike anything I've ever done or, probably, will ever do. We started learning the combinations slowly around November, and gradually built up to the full, two hour class that we were required to dance by February. In order to memorize the combinations we wrote them down as we learned them, and mine came out to 39 pages long by the time we were done. It also required an insane amount of endurance to get through the entire two hours of dancing, which we built by running portions of the class throughout the week, and then running the whole thing one or more times a week in the month leading up to the exam. Not to mention all of the time that had to be put in outside of class. The month before the exam I would come home after dance class most nights and spend additional time conditioning, stretching, or going over the combinations. I was completely devoted, focused, and zoned in to passing my exam.

A picture I took of the Brooklyn Bridge

The Mindset

In the two months leading up to my Exam, I underwent a complete mindset change that I attribute a portion my success to. In November, when we started preparing for the exam, I didn't have the slightest belief that I would be able to pass. I just kept telling myself I wouldn't pass, and that I just wasn't good enough to do certain moves. I became very discouraged. However, that all changed when I made a decision, a very important decision that would define the next few months for me. I decided that I would work so hard that I would have no option but to pass my exam. Failure was just not an option anymore. I didn't even let the thought of failing cross my mind after that.

The effect that this mindset had on my dancing was astonishing to me. I was able to do moves I had never done before, purely because I had never allowed myself to do them. I discovered that I had been limiting myself ,telling myself I wasn't good enough, when I could have done them all along had I allowed myself to just try. I discovered the power the mind has over the body, that when your body is saying "no", you don't have to listen to it. When your body says, "I want to stop", you can say "go a little further". It is a great feeling to discover how hard you can actually push your body, and this is one of the most valuable things exams have taught me.

Thank you so much for reading my post! Check to hear more about my exam and my time I spent in NYC! If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by going to the Contact tab!

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