When I first started taking dance classes, I was about three-years-old and didn’t have to worry about balancing school and family time. My greatest worry was having enough sunlight and warm weather to jump on the trampoline and run through the sprinklers. However, as I grew up and started advancing in both dance and school, I had to make sure I could balance my school responsibilities, my dance schedule, other extracurricular activities, and family time.
I should note that I attended public school from kindergarten through high school (that’s seven hours of school time a day). So this piece is based on my experience as a public school student who was focused and determined to meet her own expectations. My parents also made it clear that my education was to be my top priority and dance was a privilege—if my grades declined or if I showed signs that I was too overwhelmed then dance would be eliminated.
The balancing act started gradually. I took two years of combo classes and moved on to take individual tap and ballet classes once a week. When I was seven, I decided to add jazz into the mix—which made a total of three classes a week. This schedule was consistent for a couple of years, with an additional ballet class added here and there. The slow increase in my dance schedule allowed me to establish my academic habits. I had time to fine-tune a homework and study regime that I carried with me through college.
Every student is different; each one will have a different way they learn, study, and grow, but it’s important to establish your academic habits early because this will be the foundation you build from.
By honing in on a homework and study regime that worked for me, I didn’t feel overwhelmed when I danced at two studios in fifth grade. Yes, I danced at two studios. I took three to four ballet classes at one studio and I took jazz, tap, lyrical, and hip-hop at another. I split studios for four years, and I added another jazz class to my schedule and joined the Colorado Youth Ballet along the way. By knowing my routine and needs as a scholar, I knew how much time I needed to set aside for homework, how much I needed to work ahead (I would often read ahead in my text books and take notes to review so I wouldn’t forget the information during class), and what order I needed to do my assignments in so I wouldn’t burn myself out at night.
It was also during this time that I had to start balancing family time and activities—family dinners, movie nights, game nights, football Sundays, etc. My parents were also helping my grandparents with their medical changes, financial responsibilities, and yard work. I often spent my Saturdays going from dance classes and rehearsals to my grandparents’ house where I would help finish raking leaves, do some homework in the sun-room, help with dinner, or just play checkers with my grandpa—depending on what was happening that given Saturday.
This might sound like a crazy schedule (and don’t get me wrong, sometimes it was), but I wouldn’t change it for the world because I was blessed to have each and every opportunity God gave me. I had a wonderful school experience and I loved learning, so I tried my very best to master all the material I could. Not every child has the option to dance at a studio, let alone having a family who supports the idea of dancing at two studios—but they made it work financially and my mom didn’t complain about chauffeuring me around. I also had the amazing opportunity to spend a lot of time with my grandparents, having family meals and playing games. Even though I might have been stressed about remembering choreography or a certain assignment at school, the mental break my family gave me was an energy boost full of laughs that turned into priceless memories.
My main ballet studio began to offer more of a variety of classes, and I decided to eliminate the second studio at the end of eighth grade, which saved my family time, money, and gas. In terms of dance, I had more rehearsals and performance opportunities, and at school I took honors classes and joined academic clubs. My parents and I weren’t sure about the added responsibilities of the clubs, but I wanted to give the new challenge a try, promising I would drop the extra activities if it was too overwhelming.
I would also like to note that I was very honest with my teachers. I attended all the open house nights and parent teacher conferences because my parents taught me from an early age that it’s important to show my teachers that I’m invested in my own education. By building this type of relationship with my academic teachers, they became very easy to approach if I needed help with a concept or if I decided to work ahead on a paper; they were often willing to read a rough draft earlier than suggested on the syllabus. They knew I was a dancer and had added responsibilities. I would talk about my schedule with them in every day conversations; and when it came to clubs, I made sure I helped with donations if I couldn’t attend certain events. If I missed school, my teachers were willing to work around my schedule as a dancer because I had proven myself academically responsible—this was extremely important when it came to dress rehearsals and performances.
High school did complicate my schedule a bit more due to homecoming games, dances, clubs, honors classes, and AP classes. However, I b