22 January 2021 11:14

RAD Registered Teacher Jennifer Back celebrates 40 years of teaching and returns to being a student

In 2020 RAD Register Teacher and Principal of The Ballet School in Caboolture, Queensland, Jennifer Back celebrated a significant milestone in teaching and chose to continue her lifelong study of ballet with the RAD’s Discovering Repertoire classical ballet performance programme.

In 2018 when the RAD launched Discovering Repertoire, Jenny leaped at the chance to be a teacher on the pilot programme, teaching Discovering Repertoire to her students but also learning herself.  She and her students successfully completed Levels 2 and 3 (there is no level 1) in 2018 and 2019 and were excited to continue in 2020 with the final Level 4. Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption to their studies and the students decided to focus all their efforts on working towards their RAD Advanced 2 examination instead. Undeterred, Jenny decided to take on the challenge of Level 4 alone. This is her story.

Reflecting on Repertoire in her own words

Wow!…what a journey the Discovering Repertoire program has been for me.

When I decided to be part of the initial pilot program thinking what a wonderful dimension it would add to my student’s dance education I never realized what an incredible dimension it would eventually add to mine.

I fell in love with the work and concept and although it had been 30 years since I had taken part in a class I decided to participate alongside my students.

Initially, this was quite daunting but having trained under Tessa Maunder I could feel some of my solid technical foundation still there and the fire started burning again fuelled by this wonderful syllabus.

In the first year, my students and I completed all 3 units of Level 2 with strong results. In 2019 we completed all 3 units of Level 3 and I absolutely loved being in the exam room alongside my students. This was a privilege afforded to few teachers and I felt really honoured and drew strength from their support and presence.

In 2020 with all of its challenges and restrictions my Advanced students had to apply all of their energy into their Advanced 2 preparation, so this meant if I continued with Level 4 that I would be doing it alone. The Level 4 units involved performing the Odette Swan solo, and the Sugarplum Fairy solo which I knew would demand a very high level of technical proficiency.

It has always been a dream of mine to perform the swan solo (isn’t it every classical dancer’s dream?) so this fuelled a determination in me as never before. My 55 years became irrelevant, and no excuse, and I committed myself to train 3 to 4 hours 5 days per week for the entire year to prepare myself. I worked through many moments of exhaustion and frustration but as I became stronger the elements became steadily easier for me and eventually I was able to relax into the pure joy of performing the work.  The pointe work element was very challenging and I enjoyed using it as part of my careful strength training.

I started to surprise myself with how much I could actually achieve, and the more I accomplished the more I demanded of myself; I never stopped raising the bar.  I was positively driven to complete this work, and complete it well.  I thought ‘ Miss Maunder would be proud of me’

I self-trained so I also wondered how it would eventually be in the exam room with the examiner to be the first person over the year to be in front of me instead of the mirrors and video camera which was my constant source of feedback. One of my Advanced 2 students operated the music on exam day and again I could feel the wonderful energy of her support. I wanted so much to provide a source of inspiration for her and my other students.

I took great care of my body and health throughout the entire journey and on November 28 and 29 I was examined in all 3 units of level 4 by our visiting examiner Miss Annette Roselli. I believe I was the first (and the oldest J ) to do this and for this, I am immensely proud, being a Royal Academy student and teacher my whole life.

The endeavor to complete all 3 units of the level 4 Repertoire and thus the entire syllabus was possibly my greatest ever challenge. The performance of the work in the exams gave me some of my greatest joy, and the recent receipt of Distinction results for all 3 of the exams was one of my greatest ever rewards. Admittedly I was so anxious when the results arrived that I had to go and clean the pool for an hour to be calm enough to read them!

The dancer inside me is alive again motivated by this beautiful syllabus and I know that my students are very keen to progress further with their Discovering Repertoire journey next year.

This die-hard ballerina was finally a Swan, and a Sugarplum fairy and the joy this completion has brought me is immeasurable.

The Academy has indeed created a wonderful tool to inspire, motivate, and challenge classical dancers around the globe.

My heart is full.

Jennifer Back
Principal teacher of The Ballet School Caboolture in Queensland Australia


What did her student think?

It was truly inspiring being able to dance alongside Miss Jenny for Repertoire Level 2. Not every student has the opportunity to dance with their teacher, but I was extremely lucky to do so. It was a unique experience training alongside my teacher as not only were we both learning together but we also learned from each other.

I think it is absolutely amazing and also inspiring that Miss Jenny was able to do repertoire at Level 4 because it takes a lot of strength and determination. I’ve seen Miss Jenny come so far from when we both embarked on the repertoire journey to what she has achieved to date with completing all of the repertoire.

I was lucky enough to watch miss Jenny perform Repertoire Level 4 as I was controlling the music, and I was so impressed with the advanced level she was performing at, she has worked so hard all year to be able to complete this repertoire and she did it at an amazing level.

Advanced 2 student Daihna Collier