4 Pre-Semester Steps to Starting This Year of College Strong

July 25, 2023

The start of a new academic year is just around the corner and, for dance majors, that means the beginning of an incredibly busy season. The months ahead can become overwhelming without proper preparations, so instead of suffering from end-of-summer scaries, take a few simple steps to start the year on the right foot.

Maintaining Momentum

Summer can be a great time to infuse variety into your training and to carve out time to allow your body and mind to recharge. While rest is essential, it’s also important to keep moving during at least part of the three-month school break. According to Tamara Dyke-Compton, associate director of the University of Arizona School of Dance and director of graduate studies, not exercising over the summer can lead to a rocky start to the semester. “I see dancers take a long break, come into the first week, which is full of auditions, and get injured,” she says. “Even if you are not focused on conditioning all summer long, it is very important to continue training, especially those few weeks before school begins.”

Sarah Barry, the associate chair of dance at the University of Alabama’s Department of Theatre and Dance and director of the dance MFA program, adds that while summer dance intensives are a wonderful way to keep physically prepared for the school year ahead, she realizes they are not accessible to everyone. Instead, she encourages dancers to use the time to focus on cross-training. “Swimming, yoga, lifting weights, taking walks—these are all ways dancers can engage in bodily preparation,” she says.

Mindset Matters

Spending some time thinking about the upcoming year and making plans during the summer can help dancers sail more effectively through the school year. “Think about your personal goals—whether they are for the semester or simply a daily class goal—set those intentions and action steps,” says Dyke-Compton. “They might shift and change as the semester goes. I always tell students to approach the year with mindfulness and a plan to see the good and savor each moment so it can be reflected on throughout the semester.”

On a practical level, dancers should begin setting a daily routine well before the first day back. “Obviously, if you have been sleeping until 2 pm every day, you want to readjust to mimic the year ahead so it is not a major shock to your system,” says Barry. Maria Caprio, a rising senior in the University of Alabama’s dance program, adds that adjusting routines in August can help dancers prepare mentally for school-year challenges. “I usually have a little anxiety before a new semester starts, but getting in the swing of things early helps the new year feel more natural,” she says. “The first few days are always a little overwhelming, but some of the more overwhelming days are the ones that become great memories if you have already fixed your focus on the right things.”

Setting a Schedule

Taking time during the summer to parse through dance and academic schedules can help set you up for a balanced, successful semester. Once you know them, “note all the important dates in a calendar ahead of time—include all show dates, dress-rehearsal schedules, and auditions, then compare that to the syllabi of other classes,” says Barry. “Notice when big tests and projects take place, and especially look at places where it will become important to balance those with the unique demands of a dance major so you know when you might need to work ahead a little to avoid becoming overwhelmed.”

Caprio reviews the syllabus for each class before the semester starts and makes a color-coded spreadsheet that incorporates assignments, important dates, and study time. She emphasizes the importance of dancers building time into their schedules for rest, self-care, fun, and even meals. “Finding time to fuel and rest is so important,” Caprio says, “and so is continuing to prioritize taking care of your body and mind with cross-training and time with friends. It can be hard to justify taking time for self-care breaks once the year gets busy, so I highly recommend adding it into your schedule regularly.”

A Solid Start

Before starting as freshmen or transfer students, dancers should familiarize themselves with campus resources and how to access academic assistance programs, join extracurricular activities, and utilize mental health support. Barry cautions dancers not to feel pressured to do everything right away. “You have your entire college experience to try new things—pace yourself,” she advises.

During the first weeks of college, it can be highly bene­ficial for freshmen to dedicate time to getting to know their professors. “Take advantage of office hours and do not be shy about finding specific faculty members who will be good advisors for you,” says Barry. Establishing solid relationships with professors early on can lead to the potential of them becoming invaluable mentors. “It is never too early to seek out career advisement or get help handling your schedule,” she says.

Ultimately, Barry believes dance majors should start each new academic year with a holistic approach. “Do not just prepare for the intellectual side of being in college—especially as a dancer,” she says. “Make sure you have a plan to take care of your physical, social, and emotional needs.”