istd national dance
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The NaTioNal daNce FaculTy
The National Dance Branch, as it was then called, was founded in 1952 by Irene Grandison Clark (18921985) and Joan Lawson (19072002). It arose out of the ISTDs General Teachers Branch which had included a section for
National and Historical Dance. It was decided to sub-divide this
section in order to create two discrete branches and Joan Lawson
agreed to prepare the syllabus for National Dance.
This more specialised branch was much needed as during
these post-war years there had been no body of knowledge for
teachers to make an in-depth study of folk dance and very little
opportunity for them to travel in order to gain primary source
material. This had resulted in a lack of authenticity in much of
what was being taught.
The first committee was chaired by Irene Grandison Clark
and included Joan Lawson, Sheelagh Elliott-Clarke, Betty Hassell
and Carol Moverley. Joan Lawson was a great traveller who
visited many European countries, collecting a vast amount of
material related to folk dance, music and costume. She was able
to pioneer much of the work through her teaching at the Elliott
Clarke School in Liverpool and it was at this time that she wrote
European Folk Dance (pub. Pitman, 1953) which became the first
key text for students of national dance.
In 1953 Helen Wingrave joined the Committee and she too
made a great contribution to the development of the branch.
Unlike Joan Lawson, whose particular interest lay in pure folk
dance, Helen Wingrave was keen on using the steps of folk dance
to choreograph solos, duets, trios and groups for theatrical
settings such as dance performances and competitions. She
had a great gift for choreographing dances in this way, many of
which are still in the syllabus today.
The examinations were introduced over the first two years
of the new branchs existence. They consisted of three levels of
what were then known as Major examinations Elementary,
Intermediate and Advanced; four levels of Grade examinations
and Bronze, Silver and Gold Medal Tests at Junior and Senior
Established in 1904 the Imperial Society of Teachers
of Dancing (ISTD) is one of the worlds oldest and
most influential dance examination boards. Ever since
its inception the ISTD has developed new styles and
dance genres, and today with 12 faculties, no other
dance examination board has the breadth of genres
that the ISTD offers.
Our mission is to educate the public in the art of
dancing in all its forms, to promote the knowledge
of dance, to provide up-to-date techniques, and to
maintain and improve teaching standards across the
globe. The ISTD is always moving with the times to
keep pace with the latest developments in dance.
We regularly update our syllabi and introduce new
faculties to respond to changes in the world of dance.
Above: Image from the ISTD archives
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levels. All the examinations were very well received by teachers
and students alike and went on to be very popular.
The Major syllabus consisted mainly of folk dances chosen
because they were still being performed in their country of
origin. The syllabus also included lists of individual steps,
fi gures and holds (ie the various ways of holding partners and
other dancers in a group) for each country which also had to be
studied together with details of style, music and costume. As
well as being valuable information for the candidates, it was also
extremely useful for teachers who wished to create their own
dances for theatrical purposes.
The Grade syllabus consisted of group dances and solos and
the Medal Tests comprised solos only and were designed for
students who were interested in focussing on solo performance
but who may not have had the opportunity of working in a class
situation. Apart from a few minor alterations and additions, this
basic syllabus structure has remained the same throughout the
In the early 1960s, Robert Harrold became a committee
member and examiner. He worked very closely with Helen
Wingrave and made an important and lasting contribution to
the development of the branch through his teaching, writing
and choreographing of many dances both for the syllabus and
In 1972, Helen Wingrave conducted the fi rst overseas
examinations which were held in New Zealand. There was great
enthusiasm for the work which subsequently spread to other
countries such as Canada, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Mexico and
In 1977, Audrey Bambra (19172004) became Chair of the
committee following the retirement of Irene Grandison Clark.
This was quite a departure from the norm as she was not an
ISTD teacher or examiner. She had been principal of Chelsea
College of Physical Education in Eastbourne for many years but
had an understanding of the ISTD through being a member
of Council. Although she did not have a detailed knowledge
of the ISTD national dance syllabus, she was extremely
knowledgeable about folk dance in general and over the years
had visited many folk festivals and countries where folk dance
was still practised. This resulted in her book Teaching Folk
Dancing (Batsford, 1972) co-written with Muriel Webster. She
laid great stress on the in-depth study of the style of each
country and arranged several courses delivered by specialists,
which concentrated on one country only. She was an excellent
Chair who was very clear thinking and who brought a very
educational approach to the branch.
In 1985 Robert Harrold was elected Chair. This was also the
fi rst year of the Choreographic Competition in which there
were cups awarded for the choreography of a solo and a duet.
After a few years, this competition became the Grandison
Clark Awards, in which the performance rather than the
choreography was judged.
Top left: Helen Wingrave
Centre left: Joan Lawson
Above left: Robert Harrold
Top right: Irene Grandison Clark
Centre right: Audrey Bambra
Above right: Nigel Allenby Jaff and
Margaret Dixon-Phillip (Mrs Allenby
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In 1986, Margaret Dixon-Phillip, another key contributor to
the branch, joined the committee. She too travelled a great deal
and, together with her husband Nigel Allenby Jaff, produced
several books on national dance which are invaluable sources of
information for both teachers and students.
Another important development in the 1980s was the
introduction of Folk and National Character streams in both
the Grades and Major examinations, thus enabling teachers to
make a choice of how they entered their candidates. A further
development at this time was the introduction of Folk Dance
Studies. These are assessments in which candidates present
traditional group dances chosen by the teacher together with
a written, visual or practical project, in order to build up the
required units for the various levels.
In 1993, the Scottish Dance Branch came under the umbrella
of the National Dance Branch; it established a sub-committee
which sent a representative to report at National meetings.
This arrangement lasted for about eight years until there was
a further decrease in Scottish examination entries, after which
Council reluctantly decided to close the branch.
There is still a nucleus of interest in the National Dance
Faculty, as it is now called, with a number of very enthusiastic
and loyal followers. In accordance with the needs of the 21st
century and government recognition, most of the examinations
have been revised and streamlined by a very able team drawn
from the committee, consisting of Heather Rees, Marion
Roberts, Barbara Simons and Robina Smith.. The Grandison
Clark Awards, which are held every two years, still attract a
substantial number of high quality entries, and a teachers
summer school continues to be offered annually. Although the
Faculty, chaired by Jacqueline Ferguson since 2001, is not large,
there are many teachers who choose to teach the work and find
it to be an extremely useful addition to their timetables, as
it offers their pupils an opportunity of working together and
co-operating with each other in a skilled and very enjoyable
dance activity. There are also a number of students, both in the
UK and overseas who still take the teaching qualifications, thus
ensuring, for the foreseeable future, a continuation of the work.
Dame Ninette de Valois DBE, formerly Patron of the National
Dance Faculty, wrote in her foreword to European Folk Dance
Series: The Netherlands (Allenby Jaff, N & M, p.9) Folk dance
offers a wealth of material to choreographers, teachers and
dancers and they in turn must understand its value and
potential. She concluded by saying I should like to see every
ballet school in the country have a weekly folk dance class in its
On a more general note, in