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The Tutu Tightrope: Balancing school and dance

Balancing academic schooling and dance classes is a form of extreme mega multi tasking. Often overwhelming and tiring it can also be challenging in an exciting way and a great life lesson. A young student positively balancing school and a full dance schedule will do well in any career later in life. The number one priority has to be PLANNING. Get a diary, electronic device, huge desk planner - whatever takes your fancy and note down EVERY school class, dance lesson, exams, competitions, deadlines, commitments, etc. Include your aims and goals for the year, any personal stretching and conditioning sessions and other daily/weekly extras you want to do. One glance in the morning or at the beginning of the week and you ideally should know what you are doing. Use colours, stickers or highlighters, etc to see what needs preparing in advance and work out when you are really going to be under the pump. You may need to prepare school work well in advance in order to get everything done without stress. Maybe a word at the beginning of the school year with your school or dance teacher about conflicting commitments will bring some much needed relief or at least a better understanding of your situation. Make planning your life FUN and be proud of how well you are coping. Very high on my list when I was a student, and then as a dancer, was Getting Enough Sleep! It might seem impossible but 9-10 hours is an absolute necessity for young dance students and incidentally for professional dancers too. Eight hours or less of sleep a night is not going to help your body recover from the physical extremes of dance exercises and any possible injuries. Your body needs a good amount of uninterrupted sleep to recover each night properly and set you up for the next challenging day. Too little sleep can lead to a weakened immune system and susceptibility to any virus or sicknesses going around, poor coordination, difficulties in learning dance combinations, syllabi and school requirements, crankiness, stress, anxiety and even depression. 'Time for Yourself' is a must EVERYDAY. Whether it's 20 minutes before the first morning dance class or even before you go to sleep at night. Make it a habit like brushing your teeth and you will enjoy the benefits of this personal quiet down time to de stress and listen to your body. Try some meditation techniques, relaxation music or simple Yoga exercises and remember it's NOT a stretching session but your personal quiet time to relax and revitalise your body and perhaps mentally review your schedules etc. Knowing when to take more time and focus for school or dance in advance is essential. Warn your academic teachers for instance if you have important dance exams or auditions coming up and will be missing a mass of classes and reassure them that you will take time to concentrate on school work when necessary once these are over. Give and take from both sides needs to be established at the beginning of the year.

Concentrating on school tasks can be difficult especially if you are trying to study in a busy studio corridor or dressing room. Try and plan when you really need a quiet place conducive to study and don't give in to friends, social media or a great film on TV. If you get really behind try studying for a set amount of time - no longer than 45 minutes and then ALWAYS have 10 or 15 minutes off to move around, get some fresh air or a healthy snack etc. Then back to studying. Focus 100% and don't multitask i.e text, watch TV or chat with friends. Having a Study Buddy can be helpful as you will encourage each other to concentrate on your work, take regular mini breaks and get everything done. Family and friends are your anchor and life line and need to be nurtured carefully. Without your parents' support you might not be where you are today so try to show your love and appreciation even when nothing seems to be going right. Non dancer friendships are wonderful although hard to maintain. They will help you recognise that there is a big wide socially exciting world outside of the studio. True friends should be proud and understanding of your crazy schedules and exhausting dance commitments but you will need to keep up your side of the friendship for it to last. Finally, recognising when it has all become too much and you need help is essential. Don't wait until you are totally overwhelmed or depressed with juggling school and dance. Seek out understanding teachers, counsellors, family or friends for advise and constructive help and remember to be positive and proactive in giving your dance friends a helping hand too.

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