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A young professional finds a connection between dance and school

 In Dance Training

Submitted by Jackson Miles, CCD Alum and incoming Houston Ballet 2 (HB2) dancer

While the connection between dance and academic schooling may not be obvious, constant learning betters one’s ability to master new skills, strengthens memory and increases the speed of the brain’s processing abilities. These skills, which deal closely with absorption and retention of information, are important for dancers as our livelihood boils down to being able to do what we are told, as best as we can, as quickly as we can. While dance in itself is a challenge mentally, fully committing myself to the continuation of my academic studies has helped me keep my brain in working shape and has laid groundwork for potential life paths following a performing career. 

I spent my years of high school in an intensive ballet boarding school, where continuation and ultimate graduation from the program relied primarily on one’s progress and ability in dance and secondarily on one’s achievement of a high school diploma. Leaving home at age 15 to live in a dormity of like-minded peers with little in the way of adult guidance was a major adjustment for me in nearly every aspect of my life. In essence, there was nobody around to ensure that I was living a structured life besides myself. Most significant of these new life challenges was navigating both self-guided online schooling and a dance schedule with upwards of forty hours of training a week. To say I learned the value of time management early on in this experience was an understatement. 

In my particular case, time management quite literally meant having a detailed understanding of the hours that made up everyday and scheduling how my time would be used. The schedule put out weekly by the ballet would inform what part the day would be reserved for my dance training, with most of the evenings after being dictated for schoolwork and other necessary chores. Initially, I kept track of all this in an hourly planner until this timetable became second nature. This same planner also came in use for further managing my coursework, as I planned out all of the weekly assignments due and what day I would do them. Learning to use lighter academic weeks to get ahead would be an advantage, especially when ballet required more hours out of the day during performance seasons. 

As I graduated from the upper division of my ballet school and earned my high school diploma, I opted to dedicate myself fully to ballet the following year, so as to finish preparing myself for the rigors of being a contracted professional. This break from academic schooling gave me a certain balance that I had been lacking in the years prior. This allowed me to repurpose the time previously used for school to socialize with my peers, repair and strengthen my body, and explore new hobbies and activities that I hadn’t previously had the chance to. I wish I would have implemented this balance more before I had finished high school. General health and well-being are critical to optimal performance in both academics and ballet, so prioritizing a healthy and functional ballet/school/life balance can be extremely beneficial, though this idea may seem counterintuitive. 

My outlook on ballet as a full-hearted, full-minded endeavor changed dramatically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This absence of the “normal” ballet life that I so closely cherished had me grappling for some sort of an outlet for my energy. I needed something both productive and satisfying to fill this newfound abundance of free time and lack of personal purpose. Interestingly enough, this void in my life was filled through beginning a college degree in Business Management. 

Starting my post secondary education early on in my dance career gives me a certain flexibility being that I can pace my course load as I wish while still being able to devote myself to my dancing. If I could give a final tip for a dancer pursuing a college education, I would suggest seeking a major or program that will bring a deeper meaning to their goals as a dancer and as a person. Since taking up schooling again, I have a new appreciation for the business aspect behind the art that I have always loved. Being the best dancer that I can possibly be is my ultimate goal for the time-being, but one day helping to ensure longevity for this rich and important artform following a performing career feeds my academic pursuits. 

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