Growing up, I attended the public school system. I had two working parents, so homeschooling was not an option, nor was a private tutor. We were middle class, paycheck to paycheck, and your typical suburban family. Three kids, all in sports, just trying to make ends meet. At an early age, my mom discovered I had some talent and put me in dance. I attended a moderately sized conservatory that emphasized ballet, and I loved it. But ballet conservatory style dance studios are demanding to say the least and it is common knowledge that these pre professional programs are what professional ballerinas are made of. If you want to make it to the big leagues, you have to be in class every day, taking from top-tier teachers, and dedicating yourself to becoming the best. But attending public school while also attending a conservatory causes a little bit of an identity crisis, not to mention a significant time management challenge. You might be asking yourself, “Should I be an involved straight A student, or should I be an amazing ballerina?” Many conservatory students attend homeschool so that they can pace their studies to match a schedule that works for them and their ballet training. I was not afforded such an opportunity. Instead, I had to figure out how to make my conservatory schedule and public-school schedule work together. This was especially true in high school. So let’s break down the ways you can manage your time to be successful in both school and dance. You do not have to sacrifice grades for a dance future, and you do not have to sacrifice dance for good grades. You can have your cake and eat it too…
It’s imperative that you believe you can do it if you want to be successful.
The first issue is logistics – how to manage time as a student. It’s no secret that you cannot be in two places at once. So, how do we balance the schedule? Well, when I was growing up, school ended at 2:30pm and sometimes my first dance class was at 3:00pm. This is where I learned the term HUSTLE. Doing both is possible, but it takes serious dedication and time management. I always… I repeat ALWAYS… packed my dance bag the night before. I then carried my dance bag and my school bag with me from class to class every day. The key to making the schedule work is not caring what anyone else thinks. On days where I knew the transition to dance was going to be tight, I would wear my bun to school. I was absolutely willing to not have a cute hairdo or potentially look out of place for the sake of my ballet training. If you want it badly enough, this will not be an issue. As soon as my mom picked me up in our minivan, I would jump into the back and change. By the time we rolled into the dance studio parking lot, I was ready for barre. This was my life. On Fridays I would leave school, go take my dance class, and then change back into my school clothes so I could make the high school football games. I have fond memories of high school even still. I was in school leadership and Vice President my Senior year. I led our French Honors Society. I volunteered for school charity functions, I attended several school dances, and graduated with a 4.5 GPA. You can have high school memories while also training pre-professionally, you just need to know how to manage your time.
Here are some of my best tips when it comes to time management and how to achieve work life balance, so that you can set yourself up for success in your dance education journey:
1. Use your extra lunch break time to work on your homework. Don’t be afraid to be the kid who needs to work in the library during lunch - but of course, prioritize eating your meal and taking a moment to rest. This doesn’t have to be an everyday thing, but it will help you maintain good grades while lightening your evening homework load.
2. I know I’ve already said this one, but it’s that important… pack the night before. This includes dance clothes, snacks for the dance studio, and all the other bits and bobs you need to make it through the day. This will reduce that “chicken with your head cut off” feeling. Knowing you have everything you need to be successful with you for the day will be one less thing to worry about.
3. Be prepared to make some sacrifices (on both sides). While the goal is to help you manage time as a student and dancer, there will be times where something has to give. There will be weekends where YAGP collides with Senior Formal. This is life. Being prepared to say no and let some of the opportunities go by is important. But it’s up to you to decide if you say no to the ballet training or the high school function. At the end of the day, what helped me make choices was my heart. If your heart is in the activity you choose, you will not have any regrets, at the end of the day.
4. Become friends with your teachers and make them aware of your situation. While some teachers get a reputation for being “tough”, I think you’ll find that the majority of them are amenable and want you to succeed. This advice applies to your teachers at dance and school! I remember one weekend where I was assigned a huge project, but it was the same weekend as Nutcracker. I was panicked to say the least. When I told my teacher about Nutcracker, she gave me a one-week extension and even bought a ticket to see the show. Do not doubt the kindness of the people who want to be in your corner and contribute towards your dance education.
If your heart is in the activity you choose, you will not have any regrets, at the end of the day.
5. Involve your high school friends in your dance world. Trying to keep the two separate will only add to that “double life” feeling. Your school friends are super curious about where you’ve been spending half of your life and they want to know more about your ballet training, trust me. Invite them to your next performance!
6. Look for high school involvement opportunities that take place during school hours. I chose leadership, because the leadership meetings happened during 0 period. This is key if your ballet conservatory starts classes early.
7. Do not hold an opinion in too high regard if that individual has not walked in your shoes (pointe shoes to be exact). There were a lot of people who had a lot of opinions that did not serve me. I had to let that go and focus on what I knew to be true: that I was capable of being a successful dancer and student. Not everyone can handle the demanding schedule of both, but I believed I could, so I did. Have confidence in yourself, because you can have a quality dance education with the help of time management.
8. Don’t let family be the sacrifice. Family has to come first, always. They’re the ones who will support you through the madness so stay grateful and show them love, always.
Do not doubt the kindness of the people who want to be in your corner and contribute towards your dance education.
9. Work with your ballet conservatory to develop a schedule that is doable and doesn’t leave you so exhausted that you become at risk for injury or burnout. They are the ones who are MOST passionate about your dance education and want you to succeed. Make sure to meet with them about your schedule and say something if you notice your body or mind fatiguing.
10. I saved this one for last, because it was honestly the best thing I did to help myself in high school. Submit an appeal to the school board to sign off your PE requirement through dance. I decided to do this after a particularly tough PE day Freshman year. We had to run the mile under 8 minutes to receive an A. I obviously wanted the A so I ran as fast as I possibly could. From there I had to go to dance, and we had a YAGP adjudication that same day. Well, long story short, I ended up fainting. After a month-long appeal process I was able to waive PE and replace the period with study hall (which helped with homework)!
I truly hope these time management tips and personal anecdotes help you succeed in balancing your schoolwork and your dance training. It’s imperative that you believe you can do it if you want to be successful. Do what you can to make life easier for yourself, but be ready for a challenge. Being a dancer is not easy (as you already know). So much is demanded of us, and our class load can be quite intense. So please take these tips with you to ease a little of your stress and better tackle how to manage time as a student. And best of luck.