From Ballet to Business: 3 Skills Dance Taught Me That Helped Me Survive First Year


Transitioning from high school to university is a big challenge for young adults. As if it isn’t difficult enough to decide what you want to study and where you want to study it, these big decisions are just the start of your undergraduate journey. Perhaps the hardest thing to figure out once you start university is how to study in the most effective way possible.

After hearing rumours of students pulling all-nighters to finish assignments and sleeping at the library during exam season to keep their favourite study spots, I knew university was going to be vastly different from high school. I was part of my school’s elite athlete program in high school where I attended regular academic classes in the morning and trained for six hours daily as a ballet dancer. Dance was a huge part of my life that helped shape the person and student I am today.

Now that I’m in university, I realize that the work habits I developed as a pre-professional dancer have made me a much stronger student. While I can attest to pulling the occasional all-nighter, I was able to survive first year by applying these three skills that dance taught me to my working habits:

1. Time Management

The most valuable thing I learned from my dance career was the importance of scheduling and time management. When you’re a high performing athlete, the majority of your day is taken up by training and commitments. Every minute of the day is valuable, so keeping a to-do list and planning out what needs to be accomplished each day is the only way to ensure everything will get done.

I quickly learned that university is the same. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with work if you don’t plan your studying hours around your other commitments appropriately. It’s important to use small chunks of time effectively.

My biggest piece of advice to avoid falling behind in readings and assignments is to keep a schedule that you update weekly that includes everything from when you wake up in the morning to when you’re going to bed. Always start with the non-negotiable commitments such as class and extra-curricular activities, and then fill in the rest with other things you want to get done such as team meetings or going to the gym. Give each task a rough time estimate so you can plan the best time to do each task and make use of small chunks of time. For example, I like to spend the 20 minutes between classes catching up on emails so when I go to the library, I can get started on my work right away. Most importantly, don’t forget to schedule time for R&R! You’ll need sufficient sleep to make sure you can stick to this schedule and study effectively.

2. Perseverance

The path to success is rarely a simple and straightforward route, and there are always obstacles you have to overcome to reach your end goals. Through my experiences in dance, I learned that no goal is unobtainable as long as you persevere through the challenges and keep your eye on the prize.

University is filled with obstacles, such as working with a stubborn group or having your three hardest exams back to back. Because the workload is much more intense than what you’re used to in high school, it can be very difficult to persevere through these challenges to reach your academic goals.

I like to keep my to-do on my whiteboard in my room so I can easily check things off as I accomplish them. My strategy for staying motivated is to give myself something to look forward to after checking a task off my to-do list, like dinner with friends, or a manicure. Knowing that I have a reward waiting for me after a gruelling study session motivates me to finish a task faster and more efficiently.

3. Creativity

When I was training a dancer, I developed a strong passion for choreography because it enabled me to experiment with new movements and express my creativity in a unique way. My interest in choreography and expressing creativity made me unique as an artist, and ultimately helped me gain the interest of many companies that asked me to choreograph for their dancers.

I always try to leverage my creative thinking in the classroom and while working with teams. Coming up with unique ideas when working in groups has helped my teams differ from others, which always catches the attention of our audience in a positive way.

In school, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way because that’s how everyone else is doing them. To help maintain my creativity, I like to first give myself uninterrupted time alone to brainstorm at the library with a cup of coffee. I like to come up with a list of crazy ideas without worrying about what others think. Then, I narrow the list to ideas that make sense for the particular project, and decide how best to share them with the rest of my group.

How have your extra-curricular activities influenced your work ethic? Let us know in the comments!