Balancing Pre-professional Dance Training With Academics

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One question we receive most often from our young dancers and their parents is, “What is the best way to balance the requirements of pre-professional dance training with the demands of school, other activities and a healthy lifestyle?” At times it seems overwhelming! We know this first-hand ourselves. Growing up in Cuba and attending a school devoted to dance training (the prestigious National Ballet School), we were required to keep up with the rigors of a very intensive dance and academic program. In fact, we were required to pass difficult exams for each compulsory course (dance and academics) every year to maintain a place in our school, so it was a matter of survival. Through this and by listening to our current pre-professional students, we have compiled some advice for success:

1. Plan

One of the foundations of success for a busy student is to plan…for everything! Start by simply writing down all of your known activities over the course of the school year. Include exams, competitions, performances, family holidays, special events and other activities which may seem more personal in nature. Also write down what you would like to achieve in the short and long term. Plan big! With small steps every day, you will get there.

2. Organize

Organization is key. Get a monthly calendar and fill in all of the known important dates listed in your plan. Write in your dance class schedule and all-important school dates. You will quickly see the flow of your days, weeks, and months throughout the year. Be sure to note special dates and events. These are important too! Now, carefully look at the schedule. Which days are most busy? How much free time do you think you will have? Where can you save time? Sometimes a parent will execute this activity. We highly recommend that the student take the lead. This way, responsibility and pride in ownership is achieved by the young dancer. We are building tomorrow’s leaders and an organized life is a big first step.

3. Commit

The act of purposeful commitment is an essential step to achieving a goal. Dancers already know this. When they learn a new move, they consciously process information for their arms, legs and torso and translate it into beautiful action. Set your intentions every day. Review your calendar or schedule at the beginning of every week and visualize your goals. This is where your heart and mind meet the actions of your body. You can do it!

4. Execute

Execution of a long journey requires many little steps. Here are some tips. Become an expert in using your time wisely. Look at your schedule…there are precious few hours in a day! Use all your free time wisely and plan to go for help as problems arise. Try studying very early for an exam and avoid cramming. Maybe devote a special day to your hardest class and try to get ahead. Focus when you are in your class and take excellent notes. Study when you are rested. Set little goals, maybe minute to minute or hour to hour, and achieve them. This will really build confidence! A common time-robber is social media. Turn the text off and concentrate only on your work. When you switch between your work and your friends, you work less efficiently, and time seems to fly away. Dancers should know this.

Imagine being called out of dance class every 10 minutes while learning an important role for the show. You certainly would not learn as quickly, and you would end up confused and frustrated. Plan to check your phone or social media at special times during the day. Your friends and social media may not be on the same journey as you. That’s ok. It can wait.

5. Support

Build a solid support network of friends who are like-minded and are seeking the same goals. Make a commitment with your friends that you will all seriously study at the same time, so that you are not tempted to bother each other. This also goes during time in the dance studio or during rehearsal practice for shows. When there is free time, commit to catching up with school work. If everyone has the same goal, it is easier to achieve.

6. Reward

Take the time to reward yourself! You deserve it! Don’t deny yourself the fun of “being a kid.” But set the rewards appropriately and be sure that they come at the best time in your schedule.

The journey of entering a pre-professional training program and doing your best in school requires discipline and hard work. It is like any serious athletic endeavor attempted by a high achieving academic. But it also has high rewards and will serve you very well later in life, regardless of your career path. It teaches you to be strong, both physically and mentally, and it trains you to look forward and plan your own path. Most importantly, it CAN be achieved through planning, organization, commitment, proper execution, support from others and allowing for personal rewards.

Vilma Machin

Vilma joined the Cuban National Ballet Company under the direction of Alicia Alonso. She danced professionally with the Cuban Company for over 6 years; some of the roles she danced included Giselle, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Les Sylphides, Ballo de la Regina ( Balanchine), and many others, including choreography by Alicia Alonso which she had the opportunity to stage for the first time as Romeo and Juliet, the Magic Flute and others.

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