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Finding Balance in Ballet and Academics

Company Dancer Cara Shipman standing next to outdoor sign reading "Southern New Hampshire University"

By Cara Shipman

Balance has several meanings within ballet. While it pertains to being able to physically balance, we also have to find balance in our lives outside of ballet. This is something that comes with time, adjusting to a daily work routine and implementing other interests and social activities. One particular area that many of the dancers, including myself, have applied to our daily lives is our academics. Many dancers stay within the dance world, whether that is teaching or choreographing, but some also weave their passion for ballet with a completely different field. In order to accomplish this while dancing full time, many dancers take online college courses to earn a higher education degree. For me personally, my online schooling journey started before that.

I was 14 when I was given the opportunity to train full time in New York City, requiring me to attend online high school to accommodate dancing all day. This was my first encounter of learning to balance my schoolwork and ballet. It was not an easy transition, as I had gone to public school prior to this change, but I soon learned how to manage commuting from my home in New Jersey to dancing all day and then going home to sit at my computer and do homework. I did this for all four years of high school, adapting to online learning which felt a lot like I was having to teach myself. With that being said though, I do not think I would have been able to motivate myself to do online high school without the discipline and motivational skills I have gained from my ballet training.

Now I am about to begin my eighth season with Texas Ballet Theater and so much has changed! When I started at the company, I thoroughly enjoyed not having to do schoolwork after graduating high school and enjoyed transitioning into becoming a professional dancer. However, I knew I lacked that balance in my life and struggled to figure out what I wanted to do or study if I were to go back to school. As my brain continued to turn to mush, I knew I just needed to start looking into online college courses. I began attending Tarrant County College, which provides wonderful online academic options. I enjoyed getting back in the swing of school, finding interesting subjects to study while giving myself some time to figure out what career path I wanted to go down as my post dance career.

After an injury earlier last season left me off stage for a month, I was given the opportunity to think clearly about what that path might be. Subtracting the variable of ballet left my equation incomplete. I needed to find that new variable and the time I spent recovering from my injury allowed me to think more clearly about what it may be.

I have been an online student at Southern New Hampshire University for the last few months and am working toward earning my bachelor’s in Communications with a Marketing minor. The decision came so organically and my experience at this university has been outstanding. It has presented a different kind of transition, more schoolwork to juggle while working, but the degree I will be earning will allow me to still be part of the ballet world…just from a different angle! Those earlier steps in my online schooling experience, coupled with the focused attitude ballet has instilled in me, helped prepare me to take that “grand jeté” into the next steps toward my future.

Aside from my own personal experiences, I also have had the privilege to pick my coworkers’ brains about their transitions as many of them have taken the exact same steps toward a higher education degree and post-dance careers. Several of the dancers are working toward a degree alongside me, from recent graduates celebrating their achievements and bright futures ahead of them, to some going on to serve as nurses to entrepreneurs who have created their own brand, to graduates who have just earned their bachelor’s degrees in science and business administration.

I still plan and hope to have a healthy and amazing dance career, but knowing I have taken the steps to further my education and career goals for after my ballet career leaves me excited for what is to come. Everything I have learned from both ballet and online schooling will only continue to prepare me for a bright future. Finding the balance of schoolwork and being a professional ballerina did not come easy, but once I found my balance there was an endless possibility of what I could reach for.

Company dancer Cara Shipman standing on a balcony with a city skyline behind her.
Company Dancer Cara Shipman is an online student at Southern New Hampshire University.