5 ways to find a balance between school exams and dance

The run-up to exams can be stressful. Trying to find time for dance classes can sometimes feel like a near-impossible task.

It’s understandable that, for many parents and children finding themselves in this situation, their first thoughts will turn to quitting dance classes. But this is a drastic step that will be difficult to reverse, especially given how many classes you might have missed. The good news is that there are alternatives. This blog post will hopefully provide some tips in helping you to find the right balance at these tricky times.

In my teenage years, I was extremely active: I attended a school that gave copious amounts of homework; was preparing for high-grade music exams on two instruments; and was also dancing in the evenings, ready for my higher-grade exams. I am the daughter of a dance teacher, too, so whenever classes were on, I was there whether I had a class or not! I was also an active member of school choirs, orchestras, string quartets… so I had to quickly learn how to juggle commitments.

As a dance teacher now, I find it sad to hear of students struggling to find balance in their life and, consequently, giving up the hobby they love.

If you find that you yourself are currently in this situation – or maybe your child is considering giving up dance to allow extra time for studying – here are some thoughts to perhaps bear in mind:

1. Don’t presume your work levels

It is all too common to see students giving up dance either as they go to high school or as they enter their GCSE/A-level years. They, or their parents, have often presumed their workload will be too great to allow for extracurricular activities. While there may be some weeks where the workload is greater, there will equally be some where it will be much less. It’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that a dance class might last an hour – the same amount of time that a young person might spend checking social media or watching videos online. I have even had students who have provided me with a list of classes they’re unable to attend, usually those that occur the night before an exam… only for them to come along as usual, as they had found themselves desperately in need of a break from revision!


2. Remember that exam periods are just that – a period

Although it may, at times, feel that you are spiralling into a never-ending cycle of exams, remember that they do come to an end. The summer holidays are just around the corner, when you can look forward to more dance and no school work. These holidays might be the ideal time to attend a dance summer school, workshops, performances, competitions – or maybe even some extra classes. Choosing to give up your hobby entirely is a decision that many regret having made in response to what was a temporary situation. Which leads us to the third point!

3. Speak with your dance teacher

Dance teachers do understand. Many of us have been through similar problems ourselves as students and remember all too well the difficulties of fitting everything in. We know how important school work is (especially if you are in the middle of sitting public exams) and we would never want these important exams to suffer. I would strongly advise speaking to your dance teacher and explaining what problems you are having and how they’re affecting you. Is it perhaps a certain day you are struggling with? A particularly long evening where you can’t fit in any revision? Or a week where you have lots of consecutive exams? You might just be pleasantly surprised by the solution your dance teacher proposes – for example, they may be able to temporarily rearrange your timetable for your exam period. I will admit that there were even some nights when I had to miss a dance class – yes, even me, the dance-crazy student! – as I had a deadline due the following day that I wouldn’t have been able to meet had I not missed class that evening.

4. Exercising can refocus your brain

We all remember a situation where we have been dwelling on something that was making us anxious or sad – and then stepped into a dance class and immediately forgotten all about it! Dance classes provide a wonderful release from day-to-day stresses, so go and have fun dancing with your friends. Chances are, you will probably return to your revision fresher and revitalised, ready to tackle those quadratic equations! You might think that, as a dance teacher, I’m biased. But here are two quotes from the NHS Choices website: “Physical activity is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain, which can help to positively change our mood. Some scientists think that being active can improve wellbeing because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to a challenge. “Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy

5. Remember that dance offers qualifications and helps with your career, too

While concentrating on academic qualifications, remember that dance isn’t wasting your time. Through some exam boards, you can receive UCAS points for certain exams. These can be used in applications for university entry. And don’t forget: saying you are a dancer is very impressive to future employers and universities, regardless of your field of study or occupation. It shows that you are a highly-committed individual and the fact that you have been able to balance study and dance throughout your school life shows valuable organisational skills.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that many of the above points are relevant not only to dance, but other hobbies, too, whether that’s gymnastics, playing a musical instrument, swimming or sports.

When it comes to finding a balance, everyone is different, so it’s important to find what works for you.

Here are some things I found helpful:

1.Time management

I cannot stress enough the importance of time management. In order to balance dance and school work, I had to be well organised and structure my time carefully. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by aimlessly scrolling down your social media feed or watching series re-runs on TV for endless hours. During exam periods, I used to create a timetable for myself – much like the one you have at school. I would give myself ‘slots’ for revising certain subjects. This also made sure that I wasn’t getting carried away revising one subject for too long. I could also timetable slots for when I would be at dancing classes, time for practising my musical instruments, rest breaks between subjects, and free time. Now, I will be the first to admit that I didn’t always adhere to this… After all, you can’t predict what will happen on some days and, in spite of your best efforts, there are times when you will get distracted! On days where I was able to implement the timetable, however, it was a big help. If you spend an entire evening at dance, you can still use your time wisely: perhaps do some revision on the journey to dance or, if you have some breaks in your timetable between classes, ask your dance teacher if there is a quiet area where you can go to do some studying


2. Rest!

It is absolutely impossible to work all of the time. That’s why it’s important to go and hang out with your friends, go to the cinema, listen to music, go shopping and watch TV. Rest is just as important as the work itself. If you are not allowing time to rest then the quality of your work will diminish. I found that it was more productive to work in shorter chunks of time, resting in between, rather than pressing on for hours while your brain is turning to mush. Think quality, not quantity!

3. Talk to someone

If it is too much for you, you must speak to someone: a parent, dance teacher or school teacher. Even the parent of an older dance student might be able to offer useful advice from experience. We have all been through school and remember the stress of exams. You absolutely must not suffer in silence. Find someone who you can speak to openly about the difficulties you’re having – they’ll be only too willing to help you through this period.


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